"My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations." Michael J. Fox
Over the weekend I had an interesting chat with my sister-in-law. She was reflecting on the malaise of her generation (she is 28) and how it relates to job prospects and general quality of life. The conversation eventually swung around to the topic of expectations and how they are directly linked to contentment.
Her basic premise was that people who trundle through their school years with the notion that by following the rules, finishing school, and behaving well they will end up with a wonderful spouse, two car garage, and a fabulous job (and retirement at 55). We all know how rarely this happens and that living your life beholden to unrealistic expectations only sets you up for disappointment.
In our line of work unrealistic expectations are as common and as challenging to keep up with as green grass. On a daily basis we deal with rising demands for faster greens, fairways that require a stimpmeter, blemish-free roughs, and meticulous landscaping. We attend board meetings, management meetings, and on course meetings with those who demand we do all this and more while staying on budget.
These expectations can also come from a source that is closer to home: ourselves. Often times the motive behind what we do can be linked back to the belief that we have to continually go above and beyond what is reasonable. This inherent need to set the bar higher and higher leads to personal suffering because we aren't chasing attainable goals. By setting the bar too high, we just end up scaling a mountain with no peak.
Now don't get me wrong, I set goals like the rest of you. And to tell you the truth I usually like to set my goals as high as possible and work backwards (you usually end up further along in the long run). The trick is learning to free yourself from attachment to the outcome. If you set a reasonable goal, make a plan, execute, evaluate, learn and move on, thats great. It's when you set an unattainable goal, make a plan, strive, execute, fall on your face, and then fail to learn from it that we start to see issues arise.
We can always work to make things better; that's part of a healthy management strategy. But we can also go a little easier on ourselves when things dont work out, and not take it so personally. When an unrealistic goal leads to the occasional misstep, we have to be careful not to let it take us down with it. Our job is tough enough when things are going well, but adding on extra stress because of unrealistic expectations and an unhealthy attachment to outcome can make our job unbearable.
By training ourselves to be less personally attached to the outcome, we are freed to focus on the task at hand. Staying in the moment always leads to a more relaxed, productive work environment. So stay grounded, keep your expectations within reason, and when the day is done, forget about it.