Generosity and Expectations

We have been talking a lot at Transcend about expectations and customer service. Good customer service is very difficult to find in the market place, and I think that the biggest problem with this deficit is most of us have unmet expectations which leave us feeling cold. We have been talking about exceeding people’s expectations as a way to win at customer service, but that requires that you actually know what the expectations of your customers are, or alternatively help to set those expectations.

I think the same is true in life. I think that many of us live our lives without any real thought as to what our expectations are in life, and as a result, often find ourselves disappointed and frustrated.

I know that I fall into this pattern of living. It is easy to drift into the daily grind of getting up, doing work, catching a bit of TV, maybe if we are lucky a little exercise and then bed. The cycle continues day after day, until another month, year, perhaps a decade has passed, and we look back and wonder where the time has gone, and why we feel so disconnected.

I have never been good at setting goals. I tried once to outline a five year plan and it was a complete waste of time. I feel constrained by plans, goals, metrics. But I also know that I often find myself disappointed in life and I think that is because I have very rarely taken the time to understand and more importantly communicate what my expectations are to myself and those around me. I am not talking about being demanding, or pushy, but rather being clear about what is important to me, so that others know, and can assess whether they are up for being part of the journey, and can decide whether or not they can actually meet my expectations.

I know that I have always longed for meaningful community. I wrote a small blog post a while ago on this subject. Truthfully, I have never had that longing met. I talk about community, think about it, but I don’t think I have ever stopped to identify for myself what my expectations are in and around community. As a result, I am often disappointed and frustrated with any attempt to build or nurture community. True vulnerable mutual friendship is a rare thing in my life, and I am guessing in most people’s lives. We all are busy, we have more to do than time to do it, work and family consume most of our time leaving most of us sleep deprived and exhausted. When we do find time to get together with friends, it can often feel hollow and unsatisfying. I am beginning to wonder whether this is because we (I) have failed to define for ourselves and communicate our expectations, and as a result, have them left unmet.

The problem with communicating expectations is that it is scary, at least on a personal level. Being vulnerable and communicating our needs to others opens us up to rejection which in turn causes pain. So instead, I know that I mostly choose to live in a place of frustration, due to unspoken and unmet expectations. I would say this is true in my life, even with those closest to me. I have never sat down with my friends and articulated what I would like to see in terms of how our friendship might work. I have never had one friend sit me down and tell me what they expect of me either. So I am guessing that like me, they have experienced frustration and disappointment as well (some of which I am likely the author of).

I have always held generosity as a personal core value. I like to think of myself as a generous person. While I think that I can say that this is mostly true (I am not always generous) I can honestly say that I rarely establish boundaries around that generosity. The result of this is often disappointment and unmet expectations; feelings of being taken advantage of, always having to be the one who initiates….

Brené Brown talks about “living big” and poses this question: what boundaries do I need to put in place so I can work from a place of integrity and extend the most generous interpretations of the intentions, words, and actions of others?

She goes on to define integrity as the act of choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.

I know that the thought of communicating clear expectations is a daunting prospect. Even as I write this, my thoughts rush to the assumption that my heartfelt needs in friendship are likely unreasonable (if they weren’t why do they seem so unattainable). This thought pattern may be totally inaccurate, but up until now, I have rarely (perhaps never) had the courage to articulate my expectations even to those people closest to me. So rather than exercising courage, I have chosen the easy way out, but the easy way leads to frustration.

Brené suggests that we take a piece of paper, one inch by one inch and write down the name of everyone in our life that has earned the right to hear our deepest thoughts and feelings. She says if there are more names than can fit on that tiny piece of paper, we need to edit that list because we aren’t being honest with ourselves. My initial thought when she said this was wow, that is harsh. But is it? It seems ridiculous that I am approaching a half century on this planet, and for all of it, I find myself in (what must be very common) a place of solitude because of my own inability to be vulnerable with others. Years of wearing armour, upgrading that armour, to ensure that nothing gets through the cracks has led me here. And yet when I am honest with myself, I don’t want to be where I find myself, and worse, I don’t have a map to show me how to navigate to where I actually want to be….

More rumbling required.