Expectations and Obligations – often confused. And this confusion can be the source of a great deal of angst in our lives.
We have expectations of ourselves – these expectations are our goals. If they are not explicit then they are easily ignored or compromised. You’ve no doubt heard that writing down a goal helps to make it more achievable. I’m not sure I believe that, but I do believe that writing down your expectations of yourself makes them explicit. And by writing down these expectations (aka goals) we make them very concrete – there is no debating what we meant by them if they are clearly written. And since there is no way to debate them, it becomes very easy to tell when we’ve met those expectations – and when we haven’t. Implicit or unstated expectations, on the other hand, tend towards compromise when any unfavorable condition arises that makes meeting those expectations difficult. By making them explicit, we hold ourselves accountable. And yes, I think we should review those expectations regularly.
Expectations of others are often a challenge. This is generally because those expectations are implicit as well. How often has someone done something that fell short of your expectations of them? Have you been passed over for a promotion that you felt you deserved? Have you had someone forget something that was important to you? And why do you keep getting frustrated when that same person does the same annoying thing over and over again? All of these questions point to missed expectations, and there is a pretty good chance that the reason the expectations were missed was because they were never discussed. Others can’t meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are. Speak up. Or don’t. But if you don’t, then don’t be upset when you don’t get what you want. This is not to say that making your expectations explicit guarantees them to be met, but it does certainly increase the chances.
Obligations to ourselves are at the very core of who we are. More than goals or expectations, our obligations provide our moral and ethical fabric. We are obligated to be truthful. We are obligated to do no harm. Failure to meet these obligations makes us question our values and our self-worth. Like our expectations, writing down our obligations to ourselves makes them concrete – and this should be revisited on a regular basis. New Years’ Day is a great time to revisit these.
Obligations to others are the flip side of our obligations to ourselves. If we are obligated to “do no harm”, then we are obligated to respect the freedoms and liberties of others. If we are obligated to be truthful, then we are obligated to be truthful to others as well as ourselves. I’ve summed up my take on our obligations to others (aka responsibilities) before.
Obligations of ourselves are things that we commit to do for ourselves, and expectations of others are things we expect them to do for us. Things get ugly when we make our internal obligations into external and often implicit expectations of others. This, I believe, is the source of much of the frustration in our lives.
My resolution, which you are welcome to take as your own, is simple. I will make my internal obligations explicit. I will make my expectations of others explicit. And I will not confuse the two.
Happy New Year.