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Setting yourself free from expectations

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

When I was young there were these unspoken expectations. To do well at school, then go to learn something else, so that you can then create a career, after which you can get a part-time job as you bring up your children. Oh yeah, and work hard, never have a breakdown, work through adversity. Be strong. But above all, be safe.

That was pretty much how I understood the expectations my parents had of me.

So that's what I set out to do.

All so good, so predictable.

Until I met my British partner, moved to the UK, no longer showed up at various birthdays, or Christmas, did scary things like move jobs, undergo a career change, or two, go self-employed, become a coach.

Only in the last few years have I really understood the influence of others on me. The unwritten, unspoken 'rules' that determine your path. If you let them.

What are expectations?

Expectation is believing that something is going to happen or believing something should be a certain way.

Expectations are based on what you believe to be true, on your experiences, on your beliefs about the world, and are heavily influenced by our social surroundings.

Expectations are therefore very much a one-way street. It is your expectations, against what is actually true and real.

Expectations versus rights

Over the last few months we've seen so many demonstrations, protests against lockdown. It has made me think about expectations. It has made me think that lots of people believe that expectations are the same as rights.

I believe this is an impossibility.

Because everyone's expectations are different. Everyone's beliefs are different. Which means that people's expectations cannot be translated into rights. That they cannot (always) have an incontrovertible right to get what they want.

In other words, your expectations, expectations of others, are not automatically translated into something that WILL happen. It's just not possible..

Expectations versus agreement

Years ago I listened to this recording by Steve Chandler, famous business coach. He said that expectations are not the same as agreement.

You know how your senior manager can come up to you and wants you to deliver something in a deadline that's not realistic? That's expectations, not agreement.

The same is true for every other type of expectation.

Your parents wanting you to choose safety above anything else? Your surroundings wanting you to conform to their standards?

These are expectations. You have not agreed to them. And you don't have to agree to them. There is no agreement. Which means that you don't have to tow the line and do what is expected.

Who influences you?

It's interesting, this. Because who is influencing you is not always that clear.

Yes, as a child it is your parents, the people in your household. But, in turn, they have a wide range of influences to deal with themselves.

As you grow older that circle of influences broadens. Your wider family, your friends, your neighbours, your classmates, your teacher, your partner, your colleagues, your manager, the culture of your organisation, the media, social media, society.

You may take them at face value. You may believe that what they are saying is true. You may believe they have your best interest at heart. You may even agree with them.

Fact is that it is important to understand who your influencers are. To make up your own mind about whose word you believe. Who you agree with. What expectations you are willing to absorb and live by. To take active steps to get more input from people you trust and less of those you don't.

Where have you reached agreement?

When you were young you were influenced by the people around you. The influences of people around you when you were younger very likely have shaped your values.

But the expectations that people have of you, to what extent have you agreed to them? When did you actively say 'yes, I wholeheartedly agree, based on who I know I am and what I think is important, that THAT is what I should be doing'?

An example?

Safety. My mum's objective was to keep me safe. At all times. Which - to her - meant a permanent job, a stable career. Certainly not a career change. When I started querying my own belief that I needed that permanent job to be safe I turned out not to be my belief at all! Instead it was an expectation, a fear, something my mum believed. I had taken this on as if I had agreed it.

What are you going to do next?

Expectations. It's a big thing in my family. An even bigger thing is the disappointment and the guilt that follows.

The antidote to this? Distance.

Quite literally in my case as moving abroad provides the ability to step away and look at your relationships, the expectations and what YOU want with a sense of distance.

But you can do this in a less physical sense too.

By having a good objective look at the invisible ties, the unspoken expectations, the emotions you're feeling.

But most importantly by determining what your values are, by getting to know and stand firm in what YOU stand for, and by agreeing with yourself the rules that YOU set for your career and your life.

So there you have it. Expectations. And how to get yourself out of them. By creating distance. By knowing what is important to YOU. By agreeing with yourself how you want to live your life. By living into your values. With a firm hand, and no guilt at all.

So that everyone knows what to expect. So that you can follow YOUR path to career happiness.

What do you think?


Tineke Tammes is an ICF credentialed Career Coach, who supports professional women in making successful transitions to careers of Freedom, Flexibility and Fulfilment! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

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