What did you expect?! (warning: this is a bit of a rant)

24 Jul

This article is part of the series “31 blogs in 31 days” during July 2017 on howtofab.com.

Yesterday’s post on the problem with Rejecting a Thank You ended with a nod towards Expectations. To me Expectations are a fascinating (and sometimes infuriating) subject, one that really gets me going on an intellectual and emotional level. Expectations are everywhere, around us and within us, but most of them are only slightly visible (think iceberg). And many of them are a great source of pain and suffering.

In my 2016 article on burnout (see here in German and here in English) one of the points I made was that wrongly set expectations are the ultimate premise for the development of a burnout syndrome. In a nutshell: if you set yourself expectations that are too idealistic (and many of us do that), your chances for suffering and ultimately a crash are a lot higher than if you restrain yourself in the beginning and stick with more realistic expectations. I still stand by that thesis and I continue to be baffled when I speak to (young) people about their expectations – especially in relation to work.

Considering the job as something that gives meaning to my identify and life, that makes me happy, where I don’t just exist but where my inner self is truly being seen, where I can develop myself beyond my own imaginations, where somebody sees my true potential and puts me on a journey to thrive….. well, that’s just a bit too much, I’d say. And almost ironically, that’s the quickest way into an existential crisis. Expecting existential fulfilment and happiness from a job can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t understand that these things are created within and by yourself. Even worse when those expectations come with a sense of entitlement – when did this happen?!

I think very, very fondly back to my early professional years, when I was a trainee at a TV station. I worked many hours and the tasks handed to me where sometimes not the most exciting, but they allowed me to be in a place to watch and listen. It was up to me what to make of those two years and looking back, I think I did a pretty good job. Also, because never in a million years would it have occurred to me to ask for – sorry, expect to be given – a Manager title, a budget, key account responsibility, input on a strategic level or the ability to shape the organisational goals. I knew I might eventually move up and into a position with a fancier title and pay check, but at the time, I was in the right place with the right set of expectations – the company’s towards me and my own towards the company and myself. It was a time to gain practical experience, to try out a few things, to make mistakes, to watch others make mistakes, to see how organisations really function on a day-to-day basis, to see why some people are successful and others aren’t and to try and understand and appreciate (from afar) the complexities of management and leadership.

The thing is, organisations haven’t changed – but expectations have. And that’s true for both employees and employers. There is still tons of menial work to be done and there are good reasons why the less experienced people should use those tasks as a test of their abilities. And there are complex tasks that require a certain level of maturity, knowledge, experience…something more suitable to people with a few more years under their belt. That should be totally fine and ok.

The problem lies with wrong expectations that have created truly unhealthy work environments, including the growing inability to take and accept responsibility. “My manager is an idiot” – he/she may be, but there is still a lot you can do that does not actually depend on them. “My colleagues don’t understand what’s important” – if they really don’t, you need to do a better job explaining it to them. Perhaps they understand your point, but disagree – perhaps you are not listening to them.

Also, if everybody is given at least an “Executive” title – what does than then mean? What’s so wrong with being an Assistant when I have just fallen out of university, at the age of 22?! Why do job adverts even use the words “unicorns”, “angels” and “superstars” when the job in fact is customer support – a very important unit for customer-facing organisations, but why unicorns?! If employers expect young people to already be at a “superstar” level, or worse, to consider themselves at a “superstar” level despite a solid foundation, they are creating monsters.

So many organisations don’t live up to the expectations they create – starting with job ads that promise the world. Even if these organisations actually want to create something special and want to be a good company to work for – they so, so often get the basics wrong and they simply don’t deliver what they promise. Selling has always been a core business discipline. And selling has never been about facts and “the truth”. But the further you move away from the actual core of the product (and that includes organisations talking about themselves), the more vulnerable you become. You don’t necessarily need to actively start lying. But you may simply lose sight of the core, you may lose your focus and you may lose the basic understanding of what it is you are doing.

The same goes for people. Self-confidence can be a great asset in life, but in so many cases, especially when paired with inflated experiences, it’s utterly misplaced and doesn’t actually make the person stronger. There is nothing wrong with high expectations, if they come with a realistic chance of success, and few things in life are as great as meeting high expectations – but you need to understand what’s required to meet them. Whatever is in your area of influence, you can and need to take responsibility for. Whatever lies outside of your area of influence, is something you can perhaps inspire, but it may create limitations that you may not be able to break through without extra effort, not for a while or not at all. If you are ready to roll up your sleeves, if you accept that listening may be more important than talking, if you have at least some patience, good for you. If you expect it to be easy or quick, you may soon get disappointed. And while disappointment sucks, it sometimes is the best recipe for getting out of the clouds – where all the unicorns, angels and superstars hang out – and back onto your feet.

Rant over!

Picture: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay / CC0


One Response to “What did you expect?! (warning: this is a bit of a rant)”


  1. Where have all the big dreams gone? | How to Fab - July 29, 2017

    […] back to the potential trouble with expectations, it’s probably not a bad strategy to keep most expectations and plans achievable but at the […]

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