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.


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.


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.

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