What Did You Expect

Back in my first few years of school I went to a regular school, but I was placed in the gifted class after my 2nd day in first grade. My dad would ask me about school, and I always responded with the highest level of confidence. In my mind, and by testing standards, I was the smartest kid in my class. No surprise to my family, they knew I was intelligent before I did. I was fascinated by learning stuff, I read all the time, that was all they needed to conclude “this kid is going places”. My confidence took a quick uppercut when my parents decided I was going to take the test to get into Mark T. Skinner elementary. I knew nothing about this school, but my dad was adamant about me needing to go there so, that was that. 

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Building expectations

There were 11 other kids there the day I took the test, all of us going for the 1 opening they had available. We did the reading test first, if you pass that you move on to the math test. Every kid finished before me, and a few started laughing because I was taking so long. When the lady (who turned out to be the library teacher) came in to say “You have 20 minutes left” I realized I filled in the wrong section and began erasing. In my panic I didn’t think to transcribe my answers, so I had to go back and read every question again and fill in the scantron sheet. I finished the test 3 minutes before time expired. I went into the waiting room with the other kids and parents, and they were all confident I failed. I was too honestly. About 20 minutes later two ladies returned. One of them was tasked with talking while the other looked at us with the face of pity. She thanked everyone for coming out, and said after grading the tests, only 1 kid passed the reading exam, everyone else is free to go.

When I started the math test, the library teacher told me to make sure I filled in the correct sheet this time. She was super nice and her voice was very calming. I was in the testing room alone so there was no pressure at all. I breezed through the math test and did way better on that one than the reading test. Needless to say, I was accepted. My original school however, didn’t want to release me, so my dad had to get up close and personal with the principal and school administrators. Not sure what he said exactly, but I was pulled out of school on a Friday. Their slow rolling led to me starting at the new school 3 weeks into the school year. When I finally arrived, I realized that every kid in that new class was smart enough to be the smartest kid in my old class. Most of them were smarter than me too. My confidence was shaken, but at least I knew I was a legit smart kid and so did everyone else.

With the perception of being an intelligent kid comes crazy expectations. Almost as if me being intelligent was the only factor impacting my future success. No one ever thought I’d be a politician thankfully, but it was assumed I’d be a lawyer, doctor, business owner or that I’d have a good city job. Basically, something requiring a degree and a lot of smarts. These were very lofty expectations from my perspective, but they were the grownups so I figured they knew better than me.

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine”

Bruce Lee
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Trying to meet expectations

I went to a good junior high and high school as well. Kenwood Academy, it was known for having some of the best looking girls and it was located in the culturally diverse neighborhood of Hyde Park. I had to test to get in here too, we actually took a test for 3 schools, Morgan Park, Whitney Young and Kenwood Academy. Morgan Park was on the other side of the planet it seemed so there were only two options in my mind. Kenwood sent 2 guys from the basketball team and a really attractive girl to tell us about the school. Whitney Young sent over a White guy, an Asian guy and an Asian girl that only spoke about academics. I was sold. I intentionally did well enough on the test to be accepted to Kenwood without qualifying for Whitney Young. I knew if I qualified for both my dad would force me to go to Whitney Young where my sister was. No regrets at all either. Sure, Michelle Obama went to Whitney Young…but Kenwood had R. Kelly kind of. He was always there picking up girls when I went there. He dated more of my classmates than I did so he must’ve been an honorary student.

Initially, I tried to live up to the expectations people had for me. I had no interest in being a doctor or professor, but lawyer sounded pretty good. That came to an end when we had to do a mock trial in 7th grade based on the book Watership Down. I hated the book, so I was a bad lawyer for that assignment. I had dreams of being an accountant after that. After my junior year I did this summer mentor program at Allstate. They put me with the financial analysts, and those people were a lot cooler than the accountants. I assumed this was the path for me but all of them had Master’s Degrees and a few were Ivy League grads. I knew I didn’t have that in me but I did enjoy learning about trading and what they did day in and day out. I was there to learn and I did, but not the obvious lessons. I primarily made copies for them, shred papers, and researched stuff for them on the Bloomberg Terminal. What I learned was how to interact in the old school corporate world, and I was damn good at using the copy machine too.

Not meeting expectations

It’s a lot of pressure to live up to someone else’s standard for you when it’s not what you want to do or if you don’t know what you want. It’s also very difficult as a parent or adult to manage expectations that you have for your kids or kids you love. Doesn’t really matter how enlightened you are either, if you believe someone is capable of better than what they’re doing, you’ll feel a sense of disappointment in their decisions when they go against what you’d want them to do. My first attempt at college was awful for a lot of reasons, but the main one is I didn’t want to be there. Due to a mix up on my application to Lewis University I wasn’t accepted there and had to apply to Chicago State at the last minute. I went there because it was the only legit option I had available for last minute enrollment. I dropped out midway through my freshman year which I knew would be disappointing to all of the people that knew me as a smart kid. That’s when I joined the Air Force. A whole lot of other factors, but that too is for another time.

For kids and young adults expected to do something great or at very least better than what they’re actually doing, disappointing their authority figures feels bad. The one thing I had going for me is I was always confident in my brain’s abilities. It made disappointing the people that loved me easier, because I was certain I’d prove to these were good moves. The better way to do it would have been telling my parents “college isn’t for me right now, I’m going to do something else until it is”. I knew my parents wouldn’t accept that after school special, Cosby show type of crap, so what I did was enlisted into the Air Force and surprised them with that news a few days before I was due to leave.

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Managing expectations

It worked out for me. I turned my time and experience in the Air Force and Allstate into a small business doing a few mil in revenue every year. I’m definitely one of the outliers though. We’re given a very limited amount of time on this planet to experience all of the tragedy and triumph that life has to offer. Our childhoods are mostly dictated to us, young adulthood we’re finally trying to figure life out and some still dealing with parental figures unwilling to let you be you. If you’re lucky, you figure it out before you turn 30 and you get to enjoy most of your life free of the burden of expectations and disappointing others. If you’re average, you figure it out when you become a grandparent and you’re advising your kid on what to do with their kids.

I realize years later that I could have managed their expectations in a healthier way. My pops told me early on that when I become an adult, his role is no longer authority figure, he’ll just be an advisor when I need it. Even with that honesty, I knew he expected more than what I was doing. My fear of disappointing him and every other person with lofty expectations for me led to me being secretive about my plans. I expected a lecture on him being disappointed and how the military was a bad idea for someone with my abilities and all that. My sister was in Brown University at that time, killing it I might add, so comparatively speaking, me loading bombs in the Air Force was not up to par. All of that contributed to me avoiding my truth. Instead of trying to meet them, I should have been managing their expectations.

Of course, I was well aware of the expectations my parents had for me. They told me what I could be doing, what I should be doing, versus what I was doing…that they knew of. I had cousins that I spoke to that assumed I was doing well at Chicago State because it was perceived as an extension of high school at best. Nope, I went to class but my mind was usually everywhere else. People told me what they expected of me all the time. Not always in a scolding sort of way, even the normal “I figured you’d be getting straight A’s” moments. I think in matters of a person doing anything that is within their free will to decide on, we’d all be better served without outside expectations.

Advice you didn’t ask for

When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be

Mandy Hale

There is no step by step guide to removing expectations you either have them or you don’t. It takes practice doing it to make it second nature, but the actual act is 1 complex step. I’ve heard and seen people try to BS me and give a list of steps to remove expectations. Ultimately they give 3 or 4 restated versions of “remove your expectations” and those readers either catch on because they have good reading comprehension skills or start adopting their BS as legit advice. An expectation isn’t a drug that you can wane yourself off of, it’s an impulsive belief about something you have no control over. That said, here’s my 1 step process to removing expectations:

Step 1. When you realize you are expecting something to happen that can alter your mood, regardless of your perceived ability to control the situation, stop and accept that it may or may not turn out how you expect and that’s ok. 

If that sounds like I arranged 40 words to restate “remove your expectations” that’s because I did, you can count them if you like. Maybe re-read them so it sticks.

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