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Kinder Expectations...

Paul MacCormack


“When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.” — Stephen Hawking

There have been many occasions during the past number of months for pausing and reflecting on how the pandemic has impacted our lives both personally and professionally. At any given time, we can find ourselves getting frustrated by the ways our current reality is not matching former expectations of self and other. We generally operate at a certain level, and when that baseline is challenged as it has been during this pandemic, it can feel like we are in a constant state of destabilization.  

Why doesn’t what used to work for me in a given situation just not work anymore?

Frustration with our current reality not matching our expectations can manifest in many different forms:

  • We can be frustrated with a reduced level of staffing and its effects on the maintenance of our respective courses. Many of us have operated with reduced staff and budgets, but the play has exploded and golfer’s high expectations of our product haven’t changed over the course of the season. 
  • We may find that there is a gap between our expectations of our own performance and our ability to meet our own standards. 
  • We may find our expectations do not match what our staff has to offer lately.  
  • Our interactions with family and friends may be more strained than usual because everyone’s coping is maxed out and people may not have the resiliency they normally do. 

It may seem obvious when someone stops and points it out because there is a glaring reason for all of this. 

We have collectively been going through something that has been wearing us down in a way that is hard to describe. It’s as if we’ve been dragging around a 50lb weight for the best part of a year now, and as a collective, we are getting weary of all the heavy lifting required just to manage what was normal in our lives pre-pandemic. 

What if we stepped back and really took a more open and compassionate view of what we have all been through...

So how do we best navigate this incongruence between our normal expectations and the ability to meet them under the new pressures we are living?  As Superintendents we pride ourselves in our attention to detail and usually have high expectations of how we want the job done. But how do we manage when we are struggling to meet the level of excellence we and the public have come to expect? Do we push ourselves and our staff harder? Do we mete out tougher consequences? Do we recalibrate and raise the bar even higher? 

This may sound radical to many of us, but what if instead we simply lowered our expectations? What if we stepped back and really took a more open and compassionate view of what we have all been through over the past number of months and gave more latitude to those people who matter most — including ourselves? It’s really hard to know how people around us are experiencing the effects of this pandemic. What may not be so difficult for one person may be almost insurmountable for another.

“Success is most satisfying when you have high aspirations but modest expectations. You can set ambitious goals without taking for granted that you’ll ever attain them.”    Adam Grant

What if instead of pushing and pushing ourselves and our staff for that high goal we are all used to attaining we rather pause and ask everyone how they are doing through all this? Stopping and carving out intentional time for someone who is having a tough time can mean far more than we first realize. Allowing someone to vent and share their vulnerability in a safe space can be a powerful experience for all involved. 

The cultures and businesses who put the well being of their employee’s front and center during times like this will be the ones who still have employees when this is all said and done. Instead of feeling like they were taken advantage of and their internal experiences not appreciated throughout this crisis, they will emerge with a sense that they were actually cared about; and that is a priceless feeling for employee and employer both.

The cultures and businesses who put the well being of their employee’s front and center during times like this will be the ones who still have employees when this is all said and done.

The toughest set of expectations to temper are always our own. What if we took a step back and had an honest look at how high the bar is internally set right now? Would it be the end of the world to lower it ever so slightly? 

Studies show that at the end of our lives most people don’t reflect back and wish they had worked more and been harder on themselves and others. No one laments on their death bed that they really wished they had just spent one more evening at work when they could have been home. 

Maybe we could just try relaxing our own ideals a little and see what space opens up for ourselves and others in our lives.

And remember that either way, expectations don’t always line up with reality. We can set goals, make plans, and strive for excellence but in the end, it doesn’t always work out. Then there are other times we surprise everyone and surpass expectations set for us.  It can be difficult to accept that we don’t actually control nearly as much as we think we do. Leaning into and accepting this uncertainty can create more ease in our lives. 

When we let go of things always having to meet our expectations we make more room for how things actually are. And that can lead to a great amount of freedom. 

Thanks for reading!

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Great article as always but I would offer that lowering expectations is a slippery slope. Lower them today, and again next week, and again next month and next year and you'll likely find yourself in a dangerous situation. Share your expectations and reasoning. Offer encouragement and praise. Open up about struggles and frustrations. Allow others to take ownership. 

Bring others up to your level and maybe your expectations will not only be met, but exceeded.

Chasing perfection may bring excellence.


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I think the message David is more one of managing expectations rather than lowering them constantly. Having expectations that exceed both you and others may feel are possible is fine, until those expectations begin to carry with them things like judgement and a negative relationship with failure. 

If we move through our lives with expectations that could never possibly be met and then use them as fuel for judgement against ourselves, then we are not relating to our lives with presence. 

Chasing perfection may bring excellence...but it can also bring misery if one is not mindful. 

Take care! 


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