Life is filled with all kinds of expectations. They become the measuring stick in determining our success in all areas of our lives. But whose standards are they? Our parents' expectations for us begin even before we are born. During the nine months of gestation, they begin to have hopes and dreams about what our potential might be. We go to school, and our teachers add to the list of expectations as they carefully craft experiences that will help us reach their expectations.
Friends, siblings, counselors, employers-all the people in our lives-contribute to our growing list of expectations. We live our lives trying to measure up to expectations. But whose expectations are they and who owns them? Our expectations for ourselves are greatly influenced by those of others. The lines of demarcation become blurred when we ask whether the expectation is my expectation for me or whether it is what I think others want for me. This becomes a critical concern because our expectations influence the goals we set for ourselves as well as how we judge ourselves. If we think that our parents or colleagues will be disappointed if we don't earn an A in every course, we will set a goal for high achievement. If we expect to get into a prestigious school, we will strive to earn the highest grade. If we expect friendship to mean loyalty then we will judge our friends on how loyal they are to us. In short expectations color our world in both positive and negative ways.
When expectations align to our Strengths, Talents, Ethics & values, Personality profiles and Passions, they will provide healthy guidance. In short, we are "IN STEPP?" Please note where the acronym comes from. Focusing on expectations that arise more from wanting to please others in order to be loved or accepted, or that are based on some inaccurate perception of who we are will likely have harmful results. Falling prey to these kinds of expectations, will not only create high levels of stress but will cause us to relinquish control. We will no longer be "captains of our souls".
To be "IN STEPP" will require us to examine the expectations that are guiding our actions at any given period of our lives. We have created an Expectations Management Matrix to help with this evaluation. Expectations are listed in the left column The next three columns ask critical questions that will guide the evaluation process with a discerning and objective eye: (a) Whose expectation is it? (b) Is the expectation realistic or possible to fulfill? (c) Is the expectation in STEPP or aligned to strengths, talents, ethics, personality, and passions? The last column is action-/ oriented and leads to a decision about the appropriateness of the expectation.When Alexander the student who was described in the case study at the beginning of this chapter talked to his guidance counselor she realized how stressed he was becoming about his future plans. She then suggested that they review his expectations using the matrix shown below. Indeed, the process resulted in a better understanding of his social and academic expectations. With this information and a careful consideration of his own goals he revised his thinking and set up a variety of action items. After a few weeks Alexander said, "Gee, I hardly feel stressed at all!"