Swap out your expectations for goals and you won’t spend so much time feeling disappointed.
I bumped into a coworker at the copy machine and made the mistake of asking her how her day was going.
“Terrible!” she replied.
We both teach the same students in the same high school. She told me about everything wrong with each of her class periods that day. Some students sat with their heads down and others spent the period sneaking glimpses at their phones. They didn’t have their homework done and they didn’t participate in the activity she had planned.
It wasn’t the day she was expecting to have.
When she asked me how my day was going, I paused to think before I answered, “Actually, great!”
Kids in my classes also had their heads down. They didn’t have their work done and some were on their phones. But a student who never spoke up gave a great answer and then followed it up with a great question. A couple of kids chimed in with more hesitant answers and then when I gave them a follow up question, another kid chimed in. By the end of class, they were back to heads down and I was basically talking to myself.
If you were an objective observer, our classes probably looked very similar.
So why did she feel disappointed when I felt great?
We both wanted our classes to be wonderful. It’s a built in part of every teachers’ personality to want every class to be the best class ever. Without it, we wouldn’t have the guts or endurance to show up at school every day.
The difference is she expected her class to go great while my goal was to have a great class. She made a plan that would bring out the best in each student, leading them towards deep thoughts and enthusiastic participation. She had a high standard and plans that would get her there.
If it had worked out, she would have felt great.
I also had a plan. I chose a video and text that I thought would make my students curious about a topic. My goal was for everything to work out perfectly and for my students to high five me on their way out the door to celebrate the great 55 minutes we just shared!
But I’ve been teaching for a long time and I know that all it takes is one major gossip event or a couple of key absences to dump my plans in the trash.
At best, I hope I can reach a few kids. I hope that every student has at least one moment where they think, “Huh. That’s interesting!” I hope that the kids with their heads down are still listening and the ones sneaking peeks on their phones are googling “birds that kill their own babies” which is what we were discussing in class.
My goal is to someday teach a class where everyone is focused, engaged and eagerly waiting for the little gems of knowledge that I have queued up for them.
I’ve been teaching for ten years and it hasn’t happened yet.
Imagine if every day I went to school expecting that my classes would be terrific. Every day, I’d come home disappointed because my expectations weren’t met.
Imagine my attitude after the tenth or hundredth day of disappointment! It’s hard to think that anyone would want to be around me!
Instead, I think in terms of goals. I can inch slowly towards my goal of having the perfect class and feel the satisfaction of progress. If a student that is usually quiet speaks, that’s progress. If I can get everyone to read out loud, even if it’s only a sentence, that’s progress. When I ask a question and nobody answers, it’s a little disappointing. But I can move on in the hopes that the next question will elicit a better response.
Disappointment feels bad. Progress feels good.
It’s great to have high standards, but they come at a cost when they are so high that they can never be reached. This is what happens when you think in terms of expectations. Living in a binary world where your expectations are either met or not met leaves you feeling bad a lot of the time.
So instead, try setting goals. You can work towards a goal a little at a time, celebrating small milestones. I always say to my students that they haven’t reached their goal yet. You don’t have to feel bad if you don’t meet your goal on Tuesday because there’s Wednesday an Thursday right around the corner.
Expectations are different than goals. They are an invitation to fail. When you expect someone to show up for you, to say the right thing, to understand your twisted mind or your unspoken requests, you are knocking on disappointment’s door.
It feels bad to constantly be let down. When other people don’t live up to your expectations, you get angry, stressed and upset.
You can’t control what other people do or think, but you can reframe your own thoughts.
Instead of having expectations of other people, set goals. Set a goal to communicate your ideas more clearly. Set a goal to do one thing better today than you did yesterday. Set a goal to be more compassionate or to recognize someone for a kind action.
If you don’t reach your goals today, maybe you’ll reach them tomorrow.
The people who tell you that you’re just lowering your standards are assholes who don’t want you to feel happy. And joke’s on them, because you’re far more likely to reach your goals when you work slowly towards them day by day rather than setting the expectation that everything will work out perfectly on the first try!
Maybe you’ll reach your goals and maybe you won’t. But I promise you, keeping them in sight as you make the long, tedious crawl towards them will feel much better than the daily disappointment of not meeting the unrealistic expectations you set for yourself!
Feeling bad sucks. So try ditching your expectations and setting goals for yourself. It will make you feel better and people won’t try to avoid you when you’re making photocopies.