Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unrealistic Expectations in the Real World

About a week ago, before leaving for a brief one-last-vacation before the start of fall semester, I was chatting with a Harley-riding friend of mine who recently had gone on a job interview. He said that he turned down the job offer. He is retired from his last position (25 years as a chemist) and a rather intelligent and well-educated individual (with a MS degree in chemical engineering and a MBA degree), and basically was looking for a new career. At the end of the day-long interview, he said to the VP of Operations, “I carefully studied the job description and have a good idea as to what you are expecting of this position. If you hire three people into it, you’ll be pleased with the outcome. Or if you guarantee me that I would have two assistants to assist me, I’ll take it.” The remainder of our chat focused on the unrealistic expectations the company apparently has of its employees – current and future.

An expectation is what is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. And as I thought about my conversation with my friend, I found myself ginning over and over again at the ways people in our society, as well as our institutions, corporations, bureaucracies, etc. – have so many unrealistic expectation of themselves and others around them.

In my pop-psych book, Living Life Anyway, Chapter 8, “Living Life, Honestly,” I talk about the importance of realistic expectations:

On numerous occasions in my life, I have had difficulties in honestly anticipating and predicting how long it would take me to do something. I wish I had a nickel for every time I said to myself on a Saturday morning, “I’ll have the lawn done by noon”, and as I put the mower away at 3:00 p.m. thought about what my students refer to as the famous Emener Formula: “When you figure out how long it will take to do something, multiply the number by 2.75.” (p. 69)

Typically, the characters in my novels, such Marcia in Fear of Feeling Loved and Diane in If Ever Again… It’ll be for Love, struggle with their disappointments in their significant others then usually realizing that their expectations of them were unrealistic in the first place.

In my pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom… You Gotta Love ‘Em, I share a pearl of wisdom my mom gave to regarding expectations. She said to me:

When you are feeling down about something,

remember to think about

what you were expecting in the first place. (p. 31).

Regarding relationships, eharmony.com recently talked about unrealistic expectations:

To date is to have standards. But expectations for your future flame must have compromising perimeters to allow for the unpredicted. Impractical expectations can cause dissention and resentment in existing relationships and ultimately curb your opportunities for new ones. With expectations set so high, are you just setting yourself up for inevitable disappointment?

There indeed are many other interesting and poignant quotes regarding expectations. Here are some of my favorites:

Dennis Wholey:

Expecting the world to treat you fairly
because you are a good person
is a little like expecting the bull not to attack you
because you are a vegetarian.

Edward de Bono:
Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations.

Treat a man as he is, he will remain so. Treat a man the way he can be and ought to be, and he will become as he can be and should be.”

Leo Buscaglia:
Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.

Mark Twain:
Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.

Patricia Neal:
A master can tell you what he expects of you. A teacher, though, awakens your own expectations.

Yogi Berra:
You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.

Question: Have you ever been disappointed, angry, frustrated and/or annoyed because you had unrealistic expectations of yourself or another person?



Anonymous said...

I constantly am frustrated with myself and others due to my expectations. Sometimes it's difficult for me to remember that everyone has their own frame of reference with many other things going on in their lives than just what I'm doing with them. Just because I know it should only take four hours to do something does not mean it will actually take four hours to complete it. Other priorities arise and sometimes people just don't operate at 100%. One place I really notice these frustrations is at little league and other youth activities. Parents easily forget (myself included at times) that kids are still kids and don't have the focus and skill that (most) adults have. When I was in college, a few friends and I coached a local T-ball team. One of our parents screamed at his six year-old for missing a ground ball that he could have gotten if they were paying a bit more attention. He then got in my face when I told him to settle down. It was so bad that the umpire him removed from the field. The sad thing was that the kid had hit two home runs that game and was crying after the game because he know his dad was upset with him.

Interesting topic!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Maconole,
As usual, your Comments and sharing are right on the money. Moreover, your thoughts give me pause to ponder a number of considerations. Here are a few.
First, I couched numerous teams that my now adult three children played on when they were younger and on many occasions saw the parents you describe. When adults do things like this, they tarnish their children’s excitement and enjoyment of the game and certainly do nothing for the child’s self-concept and self-esteem. (I just hope I wasn’t like that.)
Secondly, a course in astronomy should be required of all high school students – then maybe when they grow up they will not assume that they are the center of the universe. Unfortunately, as you say, many people fail to realize that others may not have the same high value of their projects and activities, and actually may have their own lives and high-priority activities.
And third, while it is easy to get caught up in competition (as we all can do… especially children), it would be nice if the adults/parents could “maintain a sense of perspective.”
Thanks, Maconole – I’m touched by your considerations and complimentary remark!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments in this posting about expectations and it is very timely for me. I just received a rejection email from XX Corp last evening - they obviously send them out at 5:00 PM right before they leave for the day! You hit home with your discussion on unrealistic expectations, and I had started having those thoughts about the XX position before they turned me down. Nevertheless, I was very upset about it last night, likely because of ego and pride and feelings of rejection and failure professionally. Then I told myself this morning that I had been agonizing over how I would possibly be able to travel nationally in light of the position that my husband just accepted, not to mention the lack of assurances they gave at the interview considering this was a new concept for them. They have 8 geographic regions and layers and layers of bureaucracy and thought they could hire ONE person (preferably a lawyer) to give the potentially incoming professionals they are recruiting a "comfort level" to calm their "fear of the unknown" regarding setting up their own shop under their umbrella - mind you, all this without really giving them legal advice, and the ideal person would have the legal knowledge and the marketing/business development personality.Now I realize in the light of day that it is a blessing and an opportunity for me to regroup and create my own destiny with something more realistic that will permit me to pursue other ventures and interests. By the way, I believe my time multiplier for underestimating time for completion of projects is higher than yours...at least a 3.25! Just ask my husband...

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Anonymous,

Thank you for visiting and sharing your experiences and insights in your thoughtful Comment. No question – the issues in my Post indeed were timely for you. One of my favorite expressions is, “Successful people fear failure.” And as an attorney – a successful person – it indeed makes sense to not be offered a job. Interestingly, nonetheless, the “turndown” was a blessing in disguise. Another of my favorites is, “Be careful what you ask for… you just might get it.” What seems to have stung, nonetheless, was the gutless way of informing you late on a Friday so that whoever the messenger was would not have to talk with you. And as I was reading your Comment, I thought, “Great job – for about four people, each having an administrative assistant.”

Wow – 3.25! You indeed sound like an over-achiever. Being in the autumn of my professional career as a university professor, I have found myself being more diligent in deciding how to spend my time and on what to spend my energy, AND make time to smell the roses along the journey. I’m also appreciating how life indeed can be like a roll of toilet paper – the closer you get to the end the faster it goes.

One last thought – as you are making time to smell the roses for you (building in “Me Time” in your life), remember to build in “Our Time” for you and your husband.

Good luck with the job hunting, and thanks again for the visit – I hope you will return in the future!


walkershay said...

Yes...ALL of my frustrations come from what I EXPECT. Today I am in a more down frame of reference, because things ARE going badly. I get stuck in that frame, when in reality things are moving along at their normal pace.I INTELLECTUALLY KNOW that negativity is seeping in, but knowing and being able to change thoughts/behavior is two different things. As I grow older, I am experiencing a dichotomy which I never acknowledged. In my youth things were predicated on how I looked,who I hung with, and how "hip" I was... today it is not so much what is on the outside, but what is within...and there lies the dichotomy. Not only must I accept changes in my looks, but I must accept changes in my status. The problem lies in the fact that I AM STILL THE 25 YEAR old I was years ago. I need to reframe what I tell myself, because the fact is self-fullfilling prophesies work so strongly in our lives. To KNOW it is one thing, but to do it is a different animal.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello mriggins,

Thanks for sharing your experiences and thought-provoking comments. I’ve many times smiled when realizing that about 90% of the things I worry about never come true. And, for what it’s worth, when situational “down frames” emerge, “Faking it ‘til you make it” can be helpful. And while this approach can be helpful when an occasional speed bump on the road of life comes along, if “faking it becomes a lifestyle” it might be helpful to have a mechanic (aka, a licensed professional counselor) help you look under the hood. Metaphorically, you know that old expression about “mechanics who to try to repair their own cars…”

Be well, mriggins, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and “live life.”

With all best wishes and regards as you traverse the next leg of your journey,


walkershay said...

Thanks...and that is the direction I am going. I appreciate your website and pearls of wisdom. You are awesome!!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello again mriggins,

Thanks for your kind and gracious comment about my blog. It's heartening to know that you are finding it helpful to you.

With all best wishes, regards and success for the road ahead,