Our expectations cause most of the frustrations in our lives. Think about the last time you were deeply disappointed. Chances are, something or someone did not live up to what you expected.
Even more painful are the wounds we carry from not meeting the expectations we have set for ourselves.
At the same time, our high self-expectations can be the foundation for dreams, ideas, and possibilities. And the drive to realize those possibilities is often the source of extraordinary accomplishment.
The life of Dr. John Schmidt, protagonist of our recently published true saga CALLED, reveals both the value and the curse of high self-expectations.
John grew up in the early 1900s on a farm in a poor Low-German Mennonite community in central Kansas. Even as a child, he knew he wanted to do something more. Something important. Exciting. Something that would be of service to God and to those in need.
John’s high self-expectations led him to spend his life as a medical pioneer in the backwoods of Paraguay, South America. The greater the opposition from his U.S. sponsors, government officials, and neighboring villages, the more his stubborn tenacity, fueled by seemingly impossible self-expectations, drove him to overcome one hurdle after another
Without a doubt, Dr. John’s lasting contributions made this world a better place. Among his many achievements, medical experts around the globe recognized him as revolutionizing the treatment of a dreaded disease called leprosy.
But his journey from bare-footed Kansas farm boy to world-renown was fraught with obstacles, which he confronted with dogged perseverance that often verged on madness.
In a recent radio interview about CALLED, we were asked, “As an old man, did Dr. Schmidt look back on his life and feel a sense of accomplishment, given his many accomplishments?”
Our answer: “No. He never felt he had done enough.”
The expectations Dr. John set for himself were so unrealistically high that he would never have been able to meet them, no matter how much he accomplished, leaving him disappointed and depressed at the end of his life.
Expecting too much of ourselves can motivate us to show up and accomplish the extraordinary. And if left unchecked, it can leave us with a deep sense of worthlessness, guilt, and even depression.
Here are three lessons we can take away from Dr. John’s story:
1. Make our self-expectations explicit.
When we don’t clearly articulate what we expect from ourselves, our sub-conscience can spin those self-expectations into guilt-induced obligations.
2. Stay present and mindful.
When self-expectations are solely about the future, they prevent us from making adjustment, when necessary, to the realities of the present.
3. Focus on what we ‘can do,’ rather than what we ‘should do.’
Framing self-expectations in positive self-affirming language, rather than self-criticism, allows us to stretch into new possibilities without debilitating guilt and blame.
High self-expectations can feed us, inspire us, and help us to become the truest versions of ourselves, as long as we don’t lose ourselves in our attempts to fulfill them.