Should I Lower My Expectations? (Finding True Success)

“Am I unrealistic about achieving my goals and career objectives? Should I lower my expectations like people are telling me?”

The questions above are pulled from an email I received several years ago from a former client seeking advice on finding success in the midst of a big life change. Because her questions are so relevant to the challenges many young parents face, I asked if I could share her email with you, along with my response. She graciously said yes.

This post is much longer than typical posts, but I believe it is well worth your read!

Should I Lower My Expectations?

Email sent to me:

Hi Kent,

I hope you don't mind me emailing you a question that has been bothering me. During our life and career coaching sessions, you and I spoke in depth about setting and achieving goals.

Well, my husband and I recently had a baby who is even now only four months old. Everyone around me tells me to expect to lower my goals and career expectations with a newborn. Perhaps this is true to some extent, but working from home and having 30+ piano students and their parents come through parts of my home means I have to keep my house clean to a certain extent. I can't stop doing the administrative work either, or I will lose my clients.

The struggle to tend to my son, balance household chores/cleaning, and keep up with my business responsibilities and career objectives was overwhelming me so much that I spoke with my therapist. (As a side note, friends had become concerned that I had postpartum depression, so I booked an appointment. I am healthy.) My therapist says to lower my expectations. However, after I admitted that I have always felt I can accomplish more than the average person, she told me that I am just average and should get past my perfectionist attitude and my belief that I am capable of doing more. She thought I was almost snobby to think this way, even though it is partially because my parents always built an expectation in us that we were capable of greatness. I no longer feel overwhelmed or stressed, but I can't agree with everything my therapist advised.

My dilemma is this: you and I both know the great books by Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, etc. teach us to aspire to greatness, set goals, and follow through. Am I expecting too much? Can I just lower my standard a little (and only temporarily while my son is young) and still aspire to achieve my goals within my lifetime? Even my husband says I have my whole life ahead of me, so I can relax for now. However, if I waste even one day, I feel like that is a lot of time, and I have so much I want to achieve! Our culture would have us sit in front of the TV and achieve nothing.

So, which is it…am I unrealistic about achieving goals and my career objectives or is everyone else lazy?

One more thing…when I told my therapist that I'd like to work smarter, not harder, she made the comment that everyone who achieves great career objectives likely does so at the expense of family and relationships. In other words, all these successful people likely have unhealthy marriages or their children never saw them. Kent, you have achieved much and seem to have an incredibly healthy family, and I don't think you are just an exception! Can I accomplish my career goals and be successful in my work without doing so at the expense of my family?

Sorry if this is long-winded. I didn't know how else to explain my thoughts and tried to be concise. Thanks for helping a friend, as I can't seem to find any like-minded people to give me advice on this one. Perhaps I need to surround myself with different people.

Managing Expectations

My response:

These are GREAT questions!

Here are some questions I'd ask myself if I were in your shoes:

    1. The first question I would ask myself is: Are my high expectations in things that truly matter? Right now, I believe one of your highest expectations should be to learn how to invest well in both your family and professional roles. This is THE season of life to learn how to do this…and if you learn to do it well, then you will know how to live well in both these roles for the rest of your life. So, for instance, I purposefully did not pursue a lot of speaking opportunities when my kids were younger because I was already traveling a lot for work and did not want to add more days away from home even though it would have been good for my career. Now that my kids are older and other parts of my work do not require me to travel, I've ramped up my speaking a lot. I do not look at the decision I made when my kids were younger as lowering my expectations…I was actually raising my expectations. I wanted to build a strong family and a successful business, so I needed to learn how to do both in that particular season.
    2. I'm a big fan of the seasons-of-life concept, and since each season is different, success looks different in each season. So, if I were in your shoes, I'd also ask myself: What does success look like in my current season of life? For instance, when our kids were younger, it was “physically demanding” for Kathy and me. We had three children all under the age of two, so changing diapers, bath time, putting them to bed, getting them dressed, and all the other details of life made each day extremely full. In fact, every day took significant physical effort. Now that our kids are young adults, it's more “emotionally demanding.” We don't need to do things for them, but we definitely need to invest more “emotional” and “relational” energy and time with our kids…talking about life, creating moments and memories, being available for them, etc. With each season, Kathy and I have learned to adjust our personal lives and my business to fit the season. Again, I don't view this as lowering expectations; I view it as wisely raising our expectations to fit the season. What this means for you is that you need to figure out what are the RIGHT expectations for this season in your life and how you can raise your expectations to meet the needs of this season.
    3. I'd also ask myself this question:  What does true success look like? I agree and disagree with your therapist's statement about successful people not having a family life. I agree a lot of supposedly “successful” people lose their families, but I would argue that this is NOT true success…not even close! Real success is experiencing success in the most important roles of your life. Sure, I've done well in my business and have achieved many of my career goals and objectives, but not at the expense of what matters most (my relationship with God, my marriage to Kathy, our families, etc.). In fact, Mary Kay Ash once said her priorities were, “God first, family second, business third.” I've strived to follow her advice and it has served me well.

I could go on and on, but let me wrap things up by saying I believe the key for your husband and you is to figure out what are the RIGHT expectations for this season of life. Some questions to ask yourselves would be:

  • Is the right expectation to have 30 clients right now?
  • Is the right expectation to have a clean house all the time or just a clean room in which to teach lessons?
  • Is the right expectation to hire someone to clean your house? Maybe you can keep all 30 clients and hire someone to clean your house or perhaps you could go down to 20 clients and clean the house yourself.
  • R&R&R&R time is very important (i.e. rest, relaxation, recreation, and recoup time) because rejuvenation is important in EVERY season! So, what does R&R&R&R time look like for you? For me, it rarely means sitting in front of the TV. We take walks as a family 2-3 times a week. We exercise. I read, etc.  Figure out what rejuvenates you and invest time in those things. Such activity will pay huge dividends in all your other roles.

One last thought. Kathy is quick to say that I am one of the hardest workers she knows, but that I am not a work-a-holic. I LOVE my work, so that means I work at it a lot. However, I can also shut it off immediately. What this means is when it's time to invest in my marriage and my kids, I switch gears and strive to be percent focused on these things.

Even more, we eat dinner together as a family every night. And as mentioned earlier, we take walks together as a family. We do game nights. Kathy and I go to our kids' activities. In other words, we have a full and meaningful family life, and the relationships within our family are rich, loving, respectful, and meaningful.

Bottom line, Kathy and my expectation is to do both family and business well, so we have not lowered our expectations in either! At the same time, I know that doing both well might mean that it could take 12 months to accomplish a business goal instead of 6 months, but that's okay because that's the RIGHT expectation.

I hope all this makes sense and is helpful. It's a privilege to continue to give assistance to someone like you who asks such real-life questions.

Keep living it forward in the most important roles of your life!

Photography Copyright: 123 RF Photos / Olegdudko


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