How High Expectations Enable Success

High expectations make greatness possible. I learned this 15 years ago when I was just 12 years old.

It was a beautiful spring night in Florida, and several of the neighborhood kids met at the nearby park for a game of football. We divided into teams, with my dad playing quarterback for each.

About halfway through the game, my team had the ball and it was fourth down. Since punting seems boring to kids, it didn’t matter that we were backed up at our own goal line. We were going for it, and going deep.

“Hike!”

I sprinted off the line, straight ahead, and two defenders ran with me. My dad set his feet and gave it all he had. The football was headed into the end zone. Catch it? Touchdown. Incomplete? Their ball on our goal line.

But there was a problem. Dad overthrew it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t catch up to it – he put plenty of air underneath it – it was that we weren’t playing on a true football field. The end zone line was an asphalt sidewalk cutting through the field. After a few yards of grass beyond the sidewalk, stood a row of bushes.

Dad must have thought the bushes were on our team, because that’s where the ball was headed.

Before I tell you what happened next, let me give you a brief backstory.

I was obsessed with football. I watched football every Sunday (still do) and played it almost every day. After playing catch one afternoon, I was so pumped up that I opened the front door of our house and launched the hard rubber football at the couch. It was a hard bullet pass with a tight spiral and it went right through the window. Oops. After being terrified (we had a strict “no ball in the house” rule), I was secretly proud that the ball made a clean circular hole in the window. Awesome physics!

stephen football

This is me. The smirk on my face is because I’ve always been a Lion’s fan, but we only had a Dan Marino Dolphin’s jersey. And the football in my hand? That’s the one I launched through the window. 😀

But my dream was not to be a quarterback, given my obvious accuracy problems. I was to be a wide receiver in the NFL. I practiced often with my dad and I loved diving for catches. I developed excellent hands and more importantly, the expectation to catch every pass.

An Unlikely Event At Windmill Park

The ball peaked in the air and began its descent. Although the bushes were technically in bounds, I noticed the two defenders with me slowed their pace once they calculated the football’s prickly destination.

But I kept running full speed. Heck, I thought jumping into a bush might be fun. Remember, I’m only 12 in this story. 🙂

I had some doubt, but I also had hope. “If this ball is somehow catchable,” I thought, “I’m going to catch it.”

With a step on the defenders and a last second calculation, I hit the bushes, stuck my hands out, and closed my eyes (to avoid being poked in the eye). Reflexes took over from there.

Touchdown.

The ball had somehow navigated through the branches and landed right into my hopeful hands, which had also not hit any (major) snags. One differently placed branch could have deflected it and made this a non-story, but that branch wasn’t there, and I did catch the ball. It was a moment in my life I will never forget, immortalized forever in the Backyard Football Hall of Fame.

Expectations Are Either Your Strength Or Your Weakness

What can anyone learn from a 12 year old kid playing football in the bushes? Well, kids have expectations too, and my expectation to catch every ball is what made me stick my hands into the bushes. My two friends did not expect the same, and that’s why they slowed down. Everyone present thought it was a lost cause, but when I pulled the ball out and raised my arms, even the other team celebrated the unique catch.

That’s how it is with life. Your dreams usually seem ridiculous or even impossible to others, which is why they’re your dreams. Others may not understand why you’re running towards the bushes, or trying to start your own business, or writing books, when there are easier, proven paths to take. But when you catch the football, make your first sale, or publish your first book, they too, will see the light.

Llama in the bushes!

The bush I ran into did not have a llama in it, which made the catch relatively easy.
Photo credit: © Plsa from Dreamstime

Low expectations won’t nudge you when you’re running towards the bushes, they’ll more likely slow you down, as they did my friends. But maybe you’ve heard that it’s good to have low expectations in order to reduce disappointment and set the bar low. The problem with that theory is it assumes that humans are incapable of dealing with failure. The truth is that the less you deal with failure, the worse you’ll handle it. Avoiding failure by setting expectations low will backfire.

High expectations, however, make greatness possible by giving us confidence to take chances. To have consistently high expectations, you need to be able to answer the two key questions below.

1. What if other people expect less from me?

This should be expected.

People tend to react more than predict when it comes to others, so they won’t openly expect much of you until you prove your worth somehow, at which point you’re already successful on some level. This is especially true when people have no reason to cheer for you.

The job of setting your expectations is firmly yours. Nobody else’s expectations matter for your life. Everyone else may expect you to fail, and of course that can affect your own expectations, but the only thing that matters in the end is what you decide will be in your future.

Your expectations guide your decisions and actions. High expectations mean bold decisions and frequent action – a recipe for success.

I had the expectation of catching any football that was catchable, and that meant my decision to go for the unlikely catch was mostly predetermined. To this day, I maintain the expectation to catch every football, and I’m impervious to any doubts about it. That’s the confidence that comes with high expectations. At some point, you’ll know what you can do.

Of course if you’re just starting out in a new pursuit, you might expect great things in the future. High expectations aren’t about denying reality by expecting success instantly. High expectations enable you to maximize your potential and do something significant. Regardless of where you are in the process, you can see a great end to your path in any pursuit.

When it comes to expectations, expect others to doubt you, but don’t fault them for it. Show them what you’re capable of and they’ll adjust.

2. What if you have high expectations and turn out to be a failure?

This is an invalid question because failure is not an event, it’s a perspective. You may fail one time, or seven, because to fail (verb) is an event. But “failure” (noun) in regards to a person is a descriptive state of identity. We just established the importance of identity, because that’s where expectations come from. If at any time, you think of yourself as a failure, consider this…

If you’re still alive, so are your dreams.

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Douglas Prater

Stephen,

This is an exceptionally well written article, and you bring up some very important points. Your emphatic red text about denying reality by expecting success instantly is critical (hence the empathic red). But more importantly, having high expectations for yourself gives you the courage to try. For far too long, I allowed a fear of failure to prevent me from chasing my dreams, and I’m certainly still guilty of this more often than I care to admit. But, as you said, raising your expectations enables you to do something significant and reach your potential. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want (my cat sure isn’t).

I also love the way you simply but eloquently phrased the idea that “failure is not an event, it’s a perspective.” In American Ninja Warrior, the competition for which I’m currently in training, no competitor has ever completed the course. Ever. And yet, there is a core of athletes who continue to get back up and attempt the course again, year after year. They don’t say “Wow, that’s impossible. No one will ever do it.” Instead, they adopt a perspective of “here’s what I learned from that run, here’s how I’ll train to rectify the mistake, and this is the strategy I’ll adopt next time.” Their attitudes allow these athletes to continually attempt superhuman feats without ever conceding that they’ve “failed”. That’s a valuable lesson.

Thanks for the food for thought,

Douglas Prater

P.S. I love the fact that the absence of a llama deserves its own photo.

Stephen Guise

Hi Douglas,

Thanks very much for that amazing comment.

Cats are inspiring, aren’t they? 😛

Wow, American Ninja Warrior sounds awesome. That course must be ridiculous if no one has ever completed it. I like the story of them continuing to try – that’s inspiring they do that when the odds of success are proven to be slim. It makes some of the things we’re afraid to fail at (things that people have been succeeding at forever) seem petty in comparison. Thanks for sharing that.

I was looking for a picture of a bush, and that was the best I found, but it had a llama in it… 🙂

Trevor

I love this post Stephen! Such a great message. And true to boot.

The thing about expectations is that we tend to live up to them. Or down to them. So why set the bar so low? We’re only hindering our own possibilities by never going for the gold.

And sadly, it’s not only our own expectations that we allow to limit us. The expectations of others, as you point out, are often out of alignment with our own. Unfortunately, people often use that as a driver in lowering their own expectations of themselves.

Bad move.

We need to keep high expectations not because we think we deserve the best, but because we’re actually capable of giving our best. If you do that, you will never be disappointed.

And I gotta say, the llama pic cracked me up something fierce.

Cheers!

Quarterback dad

I saw a poster that relates well to your last point. It said….

YOU MISS 100% OF THE SHOTS YOU DON’T TAKE. SHOOT FOR THE STARS!

Ps. I was aiming for the bushes.lol

Stephen Guise

“We need to keep high expectations not because we think we deserve the best, but because we’re actually capable of giving our best.”

This is a great insight. High expectations should come from a feeling of empowerment, not entitlement. Thanks!

I’m glad you enjoyed the llama, haha. It’s funny that he was inside of the bush when this picture is taken. What motivates a llama to do that??

Stephen Guise

Haha, thanks “Dad Marino”

Suuuure you were aiming for the bushes…at least it made for an exciting play. 🙂

Louise

My mother always expects so highly of me. Nevertheless, I’m not still successful. I haven’t reach my goals yet.

Shawn Ryan

I love how you summed up failure at the end. If you put it as a perspective, you can see the different angles…
Quarterback dad also reminds me of the saying, “Aim for the stars and you you will at least hit the moon.”

Thanks for the post!

Stephen Guise

Thanks Shawn!

Lizbet

This is perfect timing (I dont know how but you’re good at that). My husband and I are currently working on a couple of big projects (with a couple ticked off the list!) and it’s so hard for me sometimes to keep my expectations for my work high. So many people get away with mediocre that I have to remind myself constantly that it’s not ok. This post was just what I needed. Thank you so much!

Stephen Guise

That’s great, Lizbet. I’ve found high expectations to be a significant motivator. Expect the best! You’re welcome and I’m happy you enjoyed this.

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