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Great Potential, High Expectations

March 25, 2011

* I started writing this post with the intention that only the first paragraph be “prose-like”.  But, for whatever reason, it kept on that same path.

** This is fiction.


You’re nine months pregnant and due any day.  You’re expecting a beautiful baby girl.  Next thing you know you turn your head and see your mother in a rocking chair holding your first born in a fuzzy pink blanket.  Her first grandchild.  With the great expectation of bringing a baby into this world, and the expectations to follow…wow, it feels like a lot of pressure doesn’t it?

(This post is about the way a life can be structured around that great word: expectation.  After all, it begins before we’re even born…that’s what it’s called!  Expecting.)

The next few years go without a hitch.  She babbles her words, walks, talks, poops, and screams.  Cuts her first teeth.  She even learns how to turn the pages in a book, a few letters…then eventually learns to read.  School begins and the usual expectations continue.   You can tell she’s smart; her teachers even say so.  Maybe you sub-conciously compare your child to another.  She makes friends easily.  The sky’s the limit.  Now she’s reading chapter books and teaching you things about sea creatures and how mummies are made.  The school Spelling Bee let’s her shine in front of the whole school, and you are so proud.  You get teary-eyed after her flute solo in the 6th grade music concert.  She can do nothing wrong.  She is perfect.


She experiences failure (cut from the soccer team) for the first time and has difficulty handling it.  She now experiences “pressure”, things she felt in few isolated incidents as a young girl…but now it is much more frequent, much more regular.  She is now creating her own social and intellectual expectations for herself, the same kinds her parents set for her as a girl.  But too often her expectations are too high and…she fails.   She begins comparing herself to her girls her age.  She doesn’t like what she sees in the mirror.  She pushes on with the need to live up to her potential and the expectations put on her by her teachers, coaches, and parents, the potential she lived up to as a young girl.

She extends this need of meeting expectations to her relationships with classmates, friends, and boyfriends.  Setting her expectations too high, and pressuring herself to do things she otherwise would never do.  Luckily, she is smart enough to succeed enough that she not succumb to learned helplessness.  But the setting of high expectations does not leave her.  It becomes so engrained in her throughout the years that her mind sets them automatically without even thinking.

She expects her neighbor to be one of her best friends, and is saddened when it doesn’t happen.

She expects to read at least 3 books this summer, and gets mad at herself when she only reads one.

She expects to meet her future husband by the time she is 27, and questions her worth when he doesn’t come.

She tries to counter/balance this by setting very low expectations, but then appears apathetic.

Grown up now she has a enough wisdom to recognize unrealistic expectations (and change them), and enough savvy to leave a situation that puts unnecessary pressure on her.  She’s learning the difference between a success and a failure.  As she better understands the ambiguity of the two.

There are more situations in her life where successes and failures have little meaning, and many places where success and failure do not exist at all.  It makes her so much happier to know this.

*** (Hearing students say things like, “I have to do perfect on this math test or my mom is going to be sooo mad.”  inspired this post.)

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