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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Chicken and Egg, Early 2017

How would your life have been altered had those most responsible for your development expected extraordinary things from you?

That hypothetical question has had me in a grip for some time. If it strikes you as unanswerable, consider this: In 1834, Transcendentalist Caroline Dall's father scoffed when his friends questioned his twelve year old daughter attending Emerson's lectures. He responded -  "I expect her to write abstracts."  How to measure the impact of a bar set that high? Who has ever expected so much of you?

My parents expected all four of us would complete a college education though they themselves barely made it through high school. By their Depression era standards that was an exceptional expectation; I can never repay them. And as my wife wisely coached me as Dall's at once inspiring and dispiriting tale became a recent topic of conversation, my latest dilemma is classic chicken and egg territory. That is, is it first the bar being set too low for some of us or ... is it that extraordinary is not a word meant to be used in the same sentence with some of us?

If I occasionally expect extraordinary things from others in the future, perhaps this iteration of my incessant navel-gazing will serve a purpose. When did you last expect something extraordinary from someone close to you?


  1. As a mother of five school aged children, and a teacher of many more, I can see both the challenge and the danger in this type of expectation setting. I expect great things of my children, but more in the way of how they treat others and care beyond themselves. My children are all excellent students...is that because their mother has made a life of education? Or would this have been their journey regardless? I am not sure. I do expect them to do very well in school, but when they have a moment of failure, it is not a disappointment of an expectation, but an opportunity for growth on which we focus and expend our energy.

    The teacher in me sees all too often the danger in parents setting high, unattainable expectations for their children. When these students fail, the parental disappointment does little for their future endeavors, but does wonders for squelching any innate desire to succeed.

    I believe we need to know our audience and help them to set expectations that are attainable and realistic, but higher than one would do by settling for the status quo. This is the path to growth...and continued growth throughout life is a wonderfully high bar to reach.

    1. d; As usual, your comment is insightful and thought provoking. Expectations are indeed a double-edged sword. And from your perspective, they can do serious damage if not judiciously thought through. Thanks for continuing to read.