Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Expectations Of Others

Shannon does a great job at work. Everybody says so. Her performance reviews are always "Exceeds Expectations" and she's been steadily promoted to a position of major responsibility.

So, why isn't she happy? She'll tell you she's burned out. She has no personal life. She has no time. She can't think. She forgets the birthdays of friends. She's productive at work, but still very, very stuck in a life that doesn't fit quite right.

What would she like? "I guess I would say, 'Peace' -- time to hang with my friends. Time to maybe even have a boyfriend. Time to do quilting (which I love). Time to play with my nieces and nephews. Time to work out and get healthier. Time to do a really good job, too."

What's keeping her from that vision of a life? I ask her about her job and her eyes get glassy. "I work 10-12 hour days, probably six days a week," she says. "But there's always so much to do."

Any way she could delegate, or get more staff to help?

She pauses. "Well, I could try that, but I'm afraid I won't find anyone as committed as I am," she says. "I have pretty high expectations for others."

Hmmmn. I sense an avenue for exploration. I ask, "Shannon, what's 'success' mean to you?"

After a bit of hemming, hawing, inner cheek chewing and stolen glances toward the ceiling, Shannon says, "Success is not disappointing others, I guess. When I'm successful, I'm meeting the expectations of others."

"So," I start. "Other people get to decide how successful Shannon will be, and you have do what they say? You have no role in that? Because that's kinda what I hear you saying."

Tears well in Shannon's eyes. "I never thought about it that way," she says quietly.

"You can have a life of your own design, Shannon. It is possible. But you have to figure out what's most important to you and live by that, rather than accepting that assignment from others."

We take a look at Shannon's underlying fears and beliefs and began the process of eliminating and revising those that don't fit with the life Shannon would like to live.

It comes down to that idea Shannon has -- that success means meeting the expectations of others. Is there another way to cast that sentence in a way that allows Shannon to get the life she wants to live? After some poking and prodding, we come up with:

"I am successful when I meet my own expectations."

Which is true. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from (shout out here) my friend Grey Terry. In a very difficult period of my life, Grey looked me in my perpetually red-rimmed eyes and said, "Michele, just do things today you can be proud of a year from now."

It was in my power, then, to have the expectation that I would face a great challenge as a person of integrity, responsible and respectable, a person of honor. And have my actions flow from these values. As a result, there's very little I regret having done from that time of my life. Which is quite nice.

Shannon came to see that she, too, has the power to make and set her own expectations for how she will be in the world -- that she will make time for the things that nourish her whole life, such as relationships, interests, exercise and a healthy diet.

Attempting to live by the expectations of others merely held her back. Now, she feels free.

And you? How do you feel?

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