Growing up in a very dysfunctional family, I learned early in my life not to have high expectations.
As a consequence, my ideas didn’t often pan out. I guess I figured that if I didn’t expect much, I wouldn’t be disappointed. But instead, I ended up being disappointed most of the time.
As a child, I watched my mother begin each new project with eagerness and enthusiasm, hoping for success. But her expectations for a positive outcome diminished over time until she ended up believing that no good would come from her efforts, and so it usually didn’t. Somewhere along the way, I learned to mimic her low-expectation behavior, as I imagine she had learned to mimic her own mother’s point of view.
But I’ve recently discovered that a little enthusiasm can carry a plan or project to even greater heights than expected.
As women, many of us were taught in childhood not to expect very much – especially in our careers and life work. When I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, most women were still being programmed to support men in achieving their goals, rather than to anticipate fulfillment of their own professional dreams. We were set up to see ourselves as second best, to have low expectations regarding position, salary, and peer respect, to disparage ourselves and our efforts rather than valuing what we do and expecting others to value it as well. A certain percentage of women have overcome the old negative messages, achieving a high position in their chosen field. I applaud their chutzpah!
But some of us have an ideal of perfection that keeps us striving to overcome our unconscious feelings of being second best, even to the detriment of our mental and physical health. And the pursuit of perfection itself can be a result of low expectations: when we don’t expect much return for what we do, we’re driven to try harder, do more, make it happen.
How different would our lives be if we expected to achieve our goals easily, instead of picturing our dreams at the far end of a long road of struggle? And I wonder: is there a connection between high expectations and confidence, between low expectations and low self-esteem?
In celebration of Women’s History Month, I resolve to raise my expectations so that they’re in line with my dreams. I encourage you to do the same, and together we can create a new and better history for women. By expecting the best, you are immediately creating the possibility that it will happen.
Katherine Mayfield is the author of The Box of Daughter: Overcoming a Legacy of Emotional Abuse, two books on the acting business, and a book of poetry, The Box of Daughter and Other Poems, which was written as part of her process of healing from an abusive childhood. She has written for local and national magazines, and blogs on Dysfunctional Families on her website, www.TheBoxofDaughter.com.