Brutally Honest (holding my breath with this one)

I wrote about expectations a few days ago. We all have experienced poor customer service because of unmet expectations! Deliver on my expectations and I am satisfied (but only), fail to meet my expectations and I am pissed (and will tell everyone how you failed over and over again) and if you happen to exceed my expectations, I will sing your praises until the cows come home (Canlis, Au Pied de Cochon). I may be wrong, but I think this is just human nature. These concepts around customer service is what we are trying to instil in our team at Transcend; exceed customer’s expectations and we win! I point to companies like Apple, Virgin Airlines and Mortons, as all of these organizations are famous for exceeding patron expectations and as a result garnering rabid customer loyalty. We all love to be treated well, to be known, to feel connected, to feel like we are included and belong, even with businesses we engage with.

Brené talks a lot about those who are wholehearted. Those subjects (research subjects) who have this innate sense that they are worthy of love and belonging. After reading Daring Greatly, I actually thought of myself as one of those people (confident of their innate worthiness of love and belonging). Oddly, after reading Rising Strong, I realized that I am actually not one of those people who inherently believe that they are worthy of love and belonging (I was lying to myself). I have another blog post in the cue about that, later.

Getting back to expectations. I realize that I am poor at communicating them. I rarely communicate them, maybe because I haven’t taken the time to figure out for myself what those expectations even are, and perhaps because articulating expectations is an act of vulnerability. With that said, I have started thinking about what my expectations are going forward when it comes to the notion of friendship. For those of you who (Still) count me as a friend, I apologize in advance.

I realize that I am disappointed largely because of my unspoken expectations in and around friendship. And yet I know that the people in my life cannot meet my expectations if I never communicate them. Even having to think about what my needs are in relationships is venturing into foreign territory for me. The process of communicating expectations requires courage (obviously something that I lack) to suffer discomfort and perhaps more risky, having my expressed needs rejected. So instead of taking that risk, I have in the past, mostly opted for the thing which is fast and easy, namely suppress, quell and ignore my needs and expectations, and then live frustrated in the reality that my relationships don’t measure up (circular and self defeating reasoning, I know!).

As I journey through all of this, I am beginning to realize that the lack of mutual connection in my life, is a source of pain. As I critically evaluate many of my friendships, I am finding that I have to admit that I am the often the instigator when it comes to facilitating connection. I enjoy hosting people, enjoy cooking for people, enjoy throwing a party (smaller lately). While all of this is true, what I am also starting to realize is that being the one to initiate these connections most of the time makes me wonder about the actual strength of my relationships. I get that that sounds shitty, TRUE, but I am trying to be more honest and vulnerable.

As I begin to attach words to long held feelings of unworthiness, I am asking myself why it is that I initiate text conversations at a ratio of 10:1? Probably because I crave connection? The same goes for hosting people for dinner. But at the risk of being considered petty, I am starting to realize that if I don’t initiate contact with many friends, it rarely seems to happen. Assuming that all of my friends are doing the best that they can, I have to assume that everyone is busy, everyone has a lot on their plate, and that life swallows up time and opportunity to connect. Yet, with that said, I also have to acknowledge that upon reflection, it doesn’t feel very good knowing that without my initiative (on the whole) my life perhaps would be largely devoid of meaningful connection. This realization is definitely an area of shame in my life, and one that I want a reckoning from.

So if I have to articulate my needs and expectations in and around friendship, I have to say that I have a need for greater mutuality when it comes to connection. How can friends be vulnerable with each other if there isn’t an opportunity to connect and build relationships of trust? If we are all too busy to connect, the chance of meaningful conversation built upon mutual vulnerability will likely never exist. Perhaps this is the reality of the world we now live in? And while the mad scramble of life seemingly takes no prisoners; I don’t have to like this reality that I find myself part of.

I realize that what I am writing is probably going to be perceived as being shitty. I realize that this may possibly result in less dinner invitations being accepted. But in truth, this is not my intention. My intention with this post (albeit raw) is to be brutally honest, and truly vulnerable about how I feel. As someone deeply committed to the notion of community, one of the things I long for is authentic connection. I also realize that many people in my life aren’t in the same place I am, aren’t in the same stage in life or career. I am aware that I am afforded a rarefied luxury of flexibility and freedom in my day-to-day life, and I think that this freedom perhaps, is in part to blame, because I have time to connect when most everyone else in my life is busy with work and family.

Me writing this, doesn't diminish my affection for my friends, on the contrary. Me writing this doesn’t negate my desire to host dinners, fires, or get-togethers. But having said all of that, what it does articulate is a deep desire to know that I am worthy of love and belonging and that my friendships aren’t simply a byproduct of my own creation, a product of my constant persistence (a polite but persistent nagging) and people simply giving way. Sounds a bit like junior high, I know, but this is where I am at; forty-nine years in the making.

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.