Reviewing standards, changing expectations

expectationsMany years ago I had a wonderful Principal who I’ll call Marlene (because that was her name actually).  She was wonderful for many reasons, but what I remember most of all today is the story I’m about to share.

Marlene was a very a busy woman (Principals of elementary schools usually are) and she had a toddler at home.  That meant she also had a nanny at home who took care of her child when she was working.  Every month she would sit down with her nanny and do a performance review.  Okay – this was a bit much.  She’d been trained to do this with her teaching staff and I guess it seemed like a good idea for the home front as well.  She’d review her objectives and goals and then she’d sit with her nanny and they’d talk about whether or not they were “meeting targets” and then they’d have to negotiate changes so that standards were met.

One Monday morning (after a performance review weekend) we sat sipping coffee before the school day began and I asked her how it had gone.  “Not so well”, she said, “in almost every way the nanny isn’t meeting my expectations.”  Truly what surprised me most was how calm she seemed when she said this.  And so I followed up with the obvious question:  “So, Marlene, what are you going to do?”  I was thinking about the difficulties she’d have to face in finding a new nanny, getting the nanny settled in, getting her child adjusted to a new caregiver … and so on; all of this of course seeming like an overwhelming challenge.  Marlene took a deep breath before responding to my question; that kind of breathing that ends in a slowly exhaled from-the-kishkes sigh.  “Well”, she said, “I’m going to lower my expectations.”

Now that’s a wise woman.  Maybe the problem is that we set the bar so high we can’t jump over it and then we have to punish ourselves with all that slipping “under the bar” (read … living with disappointment) means.  Maybe sometimes the smart way to proceed is to review the expectations and check to see which ones just aren’t attainable … and adjust.

I’m nearing my six months in retirement date and not feeling too happy.  I’ll write more about that next time; both what’s going well and what isn’t.  For now I’m going to remember, as I review my progress these past six months, that lowering expectations is sometimes the wisest thing to do.  Maybe if I can change the “standards” I’m applying to feeling like I’m living a meaningful life I’ll be happier.  Maybe.

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