Expectations. For me, this is a scary word. It elicits anxiety. When I think of expectations, I think of all the ways that I have not met them before I even consider what the expectations are. The word has a heavy, negative feeling, reminding me of where I need improvement. But recently, I have been re-thinking its meaning, after hearing it used in a context that was bold and empowering.
Expectations are either internally-driven or externally-driven. Externally-driven expectations are those that others set for us. As an adult age-group athlete, external expectations come from our coach, our teammates, our partner, or our family. There are expectations about our performance, as well as expectations to honor our non-athletic commitments while pursuing athletic goals. And as much as we sometimes wish that we could live in a dream bubble of swimming, biking, running, and adventuring, there are others in our lives who have expectations for other dimensions of our life - like our parents, who have expectations of our character, our boss, who has expectations of our professional pursuits, and our friends, who rely on us for social fulfillment.
If you were to consider all of the sources of external expectations for your athletic endeavors (or anything in life, for that matter), and write them down on a piece of paper, you would likely find that the list would be overwhelmingly large, and there would also be items in conflict. In essence, you would have created an unrealistic and unachievable to-do list.
No wonder I was feeling dread when I heard the word "expectations." I was honoring all of the external expectations of me and not considering the rest of the story - my internal expectations.
If you were to flip that piece of paper over and write all of your expectations for yourself, as they relate to your athletic pursuits, you would create a list that looks pretty close to a list of your values. Your internal expectations define who you are, and what is important to you. You would also likely find that your list of internal expectations is achievable, providing you points of focus amidst the chaos of external expectations. (Hint: Don't make one of your internal expectations read "Meet everyone else's expectations of me.")
Meeting expectations is closely tied to a personal measure of success. When we meet expectations, we feel successful and when we don't meet expectations we don't feel successful. But sometimes the simplest concepts are the hardest to put into action. If you are trying to live up to unrealistic expectations (aka, the collective of the external expectations), you will not meet expectations and will not be successful. If you feel overwhelmed by the expectations that others have on you, as I did (and do ... still learning), try throwing those external expectations aside. They don't belong to you. They are not yours. Create your own expectations. These are yours. They define what success is to you. If you focus on your internal expectations, you have begun on the path to success.
Honoring your internal expectations above your external expectations is not about ignoring the people around you. Their expectations of you are conceived from a good place. They want the best for you. But you are the only person who is in control of what you do or do not pursue. Once you are clear on your internal expectations, it will be easier for you to focus, prioritize, and (when needed) respectfully put others in their place.
The woman who changed my interpretation of "expectations" was Michelle Simmons, a professor of quantum physics and recipient of the 2018 Australian of the Year award, who has a message about challenging young people to dream big. The thing she said that changed my point of view was this:
"Don't let yourself be defined by others' expectations of you."
To dive deeper into internal vs. external expectations, I highly recommend reading anything by Gretchen Rubin, who has done some vast research in this area. Gretchen was also featured on one of my favorite podcasts, the Rich Roll Podcast #317.