What’re your expectations?

Steve Jobs was in this zone when he talked about dogma in his wondrous Stanford speech:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I thought of expectation as I read about stereotype threat in this (fascinating) article about a school exploring whether racism can be “un-taught.” Our expectations for ourselves and other’s assumptions- their expectations of us- are such interesting, invisible, and powerful forces. I believe they quietly determine much of our lives. Almost the invisible puppet strings of a long life; the dots we only connect looking backward.

“Expectations” are complicated. Whose expectations? Ours? Others? If you don’t internalize, don’t notice, or just don’t give a shit about others expectations of you, do they even matter?

I remember many expectations: From family, kids I grew up with, and others in my orbit. Most importantly, I can, years after, see how they all resolved so insidiously and powerfully into the expectations I would form for myself.

I believe if we’re not careful our expectations wander off into the wilderness of our brain and return as the dogma that dictates our lives. The unspoken trappings of a life we never truly wanted. Accepting the more prestigious position instead of the more intriguing opportunity. Striving for a trophy spouse that validates our sense of worth instead of a kindred connection. Moving up into the house, cars, and vacations of your peers. Accepting a value system instead of consciously choosing one. It’s keeping up with the Jonses, writ large and internal.

What is choice, anyway? If I’m just this amalgamation of memories and experiences that form my unique perspective on the world, isn’t that just the dataset that trained my decision-making algorithm? Is that the me “choosing”?

I started this letter weeks ago and now have no idea why I started on this topic. Maybe it’s born of an existential longing to understand my current situation.

After the recent sale of my company, I’ve been asked “What’s next?” a lot. I guess it’s a nice logical point of transition to some next big thing. I’m asked by strangers and loved ones, alike.  My answer came quick and some variation of: No plan. I’m going to see how it goes. The one day, too many, I wake up unhappy, I’ll make a move. Until then I’m sated and committed to growing in the soil. I often say the right things to superficial questions because I both hate small talk (effective answers don’t prolong it) and because I’m a practiced bullshitter. But I was a bit startled when I realized I totally meant it this time. Then I wondered if some folks asked because of their expectations of me.

Having done so much random stuff, were they wondering if something exciting… something big, maybe even important was next? I’m not really sure. It’s a subtle, self-inflicted pressure I’ve felt before. The creeping notion in the back of my brain wondering if I’ve hemmed myself in by a limited view of the future and of possibility. It yearns to not suffer from a failure of imagination (or courage) and pushes me to be bolder, more ambitious, to realize some untapped potential within. For now, that voice is quiet and maybe held at bay. It’s been replaced by an internalized expectation both simple, yet powerful: I should be happy each day, however that looks to me.

For now I accept this as a reasonable, acceptable, and (maybe even) wise expectation.

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