Expectations: Motivator or Taskmaster

How do you gauge success? Do you base success on whether you achieved what you thought you could do or by the skills you learned while in pursuit of your goal?

If  you chose the first, then you probably go through life quite frustrated at times because often what you set out to accomplish doesn’t always materialize, but slips through your fingers like shifting seashore sand.

Expectations create the tipping point for action; and yet, if inflexible, morph into a taskmaster that drives you relentlessly.

Motivator: Tipping Point for Action

Have you ever seen one of those innovative contraptions in which a little ball travels down a series of channels? When the ball reaches what I call the tipping point, the weight causes the release of a lever, which, in turn, opens up a new path.

So it is with expectations. Our desire to achieve a particular goal motivates us to work hard, yet often the initial pursuit ends up falling short of what we envisioned. In fact, it often takes us in an unexpected direction. 

A Taskmaster: Source of Self-flagellation

The reverse is also true. When you cannot achieve your envisioned outcomes, expectations morph into a taskmaster. Incessant mental chatter pummels: You just need to work harder. Don’t be a loser. You’ll be perceived as a quitter if you don’t make this happen.

So you work even harder until the reality finally sinks in: Your expectations are unrealistic.

Knowing when to hold on and try harder and when to let go and accept the fact that your previous goal was not right for you is necessary but difficult to do.  Yet mastering unfulfilled expectations is essential if you are going to release your artistry into the world. This is because the release of your artistry will often materialize ways you never anticipated.

I’ve experienced these unexpected directional changes repeatedly as I’ve journeyed along my life path. What I initially thought was God’s will for me ended up curving into a new direction that was far different from my initial plan. For example, years ago, I thought I was supposed to partner with someone to build an educational technology business. The business failed but the pursuit of the goal propelled my technology talents forward in an unprecedented way.

This reality leads me to another important awareness:

It is often the skills we acquire while in pursuit of our expectations that are the important outcomes, not grasping the initial prize we envisioned.

All is not lost if what you dreamed of doing doesn’t materialize. If you pursued your dream you most likely learned new skills needed to achieve your goal. So even though you failed to finish what you set out to do, you can take your talents with you because they have become a part of you.

My experience with self-publishing is a working example. I made it through the grueling five-year writing season and even the yearlong self-publishing marathon. Then I met with the seemingly impenetrable wall of marketing. My online marketing plan seemed sufficient enough but never produced the results I envisioned. After eight months of endless effort, my book sales were far below the number I was so certain I could reach. I was devastated, to say the least.

Yet the skills I learned while pursuing my goal have greatly benefited me. Here’s one example of how. Recently, I changed jobs from classroom teacher to Middle School Support Specialist. My writing and technology experience helped me to prepare, along with other educators, for teaching at our district’s Summer Institute. So all was not lost, just redirected.

I also decided to move forward with self-publishing my other manuscripts because I regularly come across people who need assistance with areas of expertise I gleaned while pursuing my self-publishing goal. I figured that releasing my artistry was important whether I sold one book or thousands.

In fact, I went through a season of self-reflection and realized that I needed to readjust my value system. In the end, the importance of my efforts should focus on inspiring one person at a time and not on reaching the masses I would never know on a personal level anyway.

So if you find yourself taking an unwanted detour in direction, don’t fight the directional shift. Try to harness your disappointment and ride your newly acquired skills into a hopeful future. Be assured that the skills you learned along the way will open up pleasantly- surprising opportunities for you.

*A special thanks to my daughter, Elya Filler, whose photos are featured in this post. She is a poster child for flowing with life’s unique directional changes. 

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