My general life-ethos is based on positivity – believing in yourself, moving forward with confidence, never losing faith and quitting. But a few situations (and conversations) have arisen recently to make me wonder whether sometimes it’s important to lower your expectations.
Now, when I say lower your expectations – I don’t mean at the outset. I still think it’s important to set out believing you can achieve anything, but then you need to let go (once you’ve had your interview/ sat your exam/ entered that competition/ submitted that piece of writing) and move on. Forget about it.
As it’s topical – I’ll use the example of A Levels. You sit these exams having been predicted certain grades. You might have a conditional place at university and you’ll need to achieve a particular set of grades to secure that place. So you work hard, believing in yourself, knowing that you can bag those grades, or even higher.
You sit the exam, confident that you’ve worked hard enough and then, once you’ve finished the exam – forget about it and move on. When people ask how it went say: fine. Don’t boast about how amazingly it went, in case it didn’t. And don’t share your dismay. Just hold your head up high and get on with having a banging summer.
See, once the paper’s been handed in, there’s nothing you can do. Likewise, after you’ve had a job interview and left the building, that’s it – it’s over. You may or may not get the job. If you do, great, if you don’t – believe that something else will come along, as it always does, and move on with confidence.
If we manage our expectations – set high, but attainable goals – we won’t be disappointed. So if you’re applying for a job and you have no experience whatsoever, it’s worth applying, and possible that you’ll get an interview, but unlikely. So set your expectations low. If, however, you have the right experience – set your expectations high, because there’s every chance you’ll get it.
Of course, expectations aren’t just instigated by you. Other people will have their own methods of preparing you for certain situations, likewise – you have the power to set expectations when discussing your own life, or work, with other people.
Last year we went to see a film that had been made by a friend and was being screened in town. It was quite a big screening and quite a big deal. We met him beforehand for a beer and he explained that the film was ok but that there were lots of things he would’ve liked to have changed. He listed them.
In fact, he ended up talking down the film so much that I didn’t even want to see it, but we already had tickets so we piled in and took our seats. And it was brilliant – hilarious, well-structured, great characters. It won an award. Going in with low expectations actually enhanced that experience for me. Perhaps it was ok to do that because it wasn’t my ego that was ripe for damaging if the film was shit, it was his.
But to go back to positive thinking, briefly.
A few years ago I was reading books like The Secret and The Power of Now. I don’t like the term ‘self-help’ book – but if you were going to look for these in a bookshop, that’s probably the section you’d find them in. Both these books advocate positive thinking, high expectations, believing you already have whatever/ whoever it is you want in your life.
Whilst reading these books, my life started to change. For instance, I went shopping one day and found this amazing jumpsuit. I took it to the counter but when I got there, realised I didn’t have enough money. The shop assistant said it was fine, I didn’t have to pay, and he put it in a bag for me and I left.
Other similar things were happening all the same – I was attracting lots of positive people and experiences into my life.
I made a little life plan and everything that I wanted materialised (a place on a journalism MA course, to move to the countryside and keep chickens, to be paid to write).
But I remember having a conversation with a friend who said: this positive thinking all sounds lovely, but what about when two people want the same thing (or person)? The author of The Secret would say that there’s enough to go round. But that doesn’t answer the question. What if two people are in love with the same man? Or want to rent the same flat, or want to get the same job? Well, this is when you need to lower your expectations.
So if you want a particular person/ place/ object/ job – keep that thought at the back of your head, but open your mind to all possibilities. Something else might pop up that’s even better than the original person/ place/ object/ job you had your eye on.
It’s a bit like the job interview, or A Level exam scenarios. You decide what you want. You work as hard as you can to get it. And then you move on and forget about it. If it’s going to be yours, it will be, and if it’s not – have peace of mind that something equally as good, if not better, will happen because of that original plan not going quite as you’d hoped.
So to conclude. Believe in yourself, set your aims high, work hard and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Because you can. But once you’ve given it ALL you’ve got, move on – and don’t look back. It will catch up with you if it’s meant to be.
Hope all the A Level people got their grades but remember, even if you didn’t, life goes on. You’ll find another path. And it may well be even more of an adventure than it would’ve been if everything had gone to plan.