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High Expectations

I am the kind of person who has “high expectations” of myself (and, to a lesser degree, others). I have always viewed this as a virtue. I strive for the best in all that I do and therefore I am being the best I can be. Aren’t I?…

Well, yes, perfectionism will lead to excellent results initially. You will outshine others, set precedents for work ethic, raise the standards considerably… become unpopular with colleagues, take on more than is manageable, allow others to set unrealistic targets for you and ultimately, inevitably, unwittingly you will let people down.

So how do you manage your expectations? I hear people say frequently that it is the pressure they put on themselves rather than external expectations that has caused stress. I disagree. It is ALL external.

Having gone through an episode recently where I had to relinquish ALL expectations I came to a realization. There are very few people who accept me entirely for who I am. Who can I actually go to, safe in the knowledge that they will not judge? Who would I ask if I needed to “bury a body”!?

I came up with one person. One. Out of the hundreds that I know. She would not run or be horrified at my truths. If she could hear my head and my heart she wouldn’t flinch or turn away. I will never be “too much” for her. She has no expectations of me other than this: I exist as well as I can.

I am therefore not judged by her standards of existence. Nor her standards of living, working, friendship or any other life skill.

We say that we set our own expectations. It is a lie. Everyone in our life has expectations of us that influence our choices. The media, society, our peers. We can say that we make the choices, that we won’t allow others to set the expectations but it is inevitable that they do.

The societal expectation is that we will get students through their exams. Is this YOUR true priority? Your core expectation of yourself?

There is an expectation that we should complete marking and data drops. Do you honestly set this expectation for yourself?

It is only when we stop, place the values we hold dear at the core of all that we do, and are prepared to shun some of the expectations that have been subtly placed on us by society, that we will be able to truly steer our own course.

The next time you worry about meeting an expectation think this:


And will it still matter to you ‘when the chips are down’ and you’re on your knees?

High expectations are not the same as aspirations. You can aspire to the clouds and beyond. Dream and envisage being everything you want and work to get there. Aspiration will build you up, not knock you down.

Expectations are a yard stick by which to fail if not chosen and set with care.

You are enough. Expect no more than that.

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The author

Cate has been a teacher for 20 years. She has worked internationally and across all key stages in the UK. Her secondary specialism is Performing Arts with a keen interest in PSHE/RSE. Cate is recently married with two cats who keep her busy and an allotment that requires more time than she can give it!

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