Discovering excellence: Why I believe in raising expectations

It’s discouraging to me that there seems to be an increasing tendency to lower expectations in our society. This can easily be observed, whether in young children or the leaders of the land. We’ve all heard phrases like “dumbing it down,” “leveling the playing field,” “lowest common denominator,” and many more. They all add up to one thing: Lowering expectations. I think that is very sad, as well as a dangerous precedent.

A phrase I’ve heard recently (although I’m sure it isn’t new) is “No expectations, no disappointments.” I get what this means: The less you expect, the less likely you are to be hurt or let down. I can’t fall out of bed if I sleep on the floor, right? I wouldn’t argue the truth of this concept; however, I do believe that by adopting this attitude, we cheat ourselves out of a lot of possibilities. Sure, something bad could happen to me, but what if I’m wrong about that?

Some of my friends who are parents of 20-somethings complain that their kids are apathetic, that they seem to have no hope for the future. The attitude of “What’s in it for ME?” is common. “I might as well not work, because Social Security isn’t going to be there for me years from now.” I can understand this outlook. It just proves my point that when expectations continue to be lowered, the loss of hope is the price we pay. We simply can’t afford that.

We need young people to grow up believing that integrity, compassion and kindness matter. That it is sometimes necessary to choose an action (or lack of action) simply because I believe it is the right thing to do. Even if you are no longer young, these things matter. In fact, these choices are critical. People tend to live up (or down) to expectations. By raising expectations instead of lowering them, we send the message that “I believe in YOU. You are important in the world simply because you are here.”

Everyone deserves opportunities. Everyone deserves to find those possibilities. Everyone deserves the chance to discover his or her passion, abilities and purpose, and to use them to contribute something of lasting beauty and value in the world. Isn’t that what we all want more than anything? To believe that, even if I am not the one who discovers the cure for cancer or who writes the prize-winning musical or who has the most money, I am here because I have a contribution to make. Grasping that belief allows hope to enter the picture.

We’re living in a sound-bite society. “You have thirty seconds or less to get your message across; the viewer’s attention span is very short, you know.” (Another example of lowering expectations.) This is especially evident in this presidential election year. I say, give the viewer a little more credit than that! Make the message more meaningful, not less. More personal, not less. More challenging, not less.

No expectations, no disappointments? Don’t you believe it. Raise the expectations of yourself first, and prepare to discover the height and width and depth of who you are, and what you can accomplish, right there, where you are today.

It certainly isn’t easy to find a balance between expecting too much and not enough. You’ll make mistakes. But eventually you will find yourself looking forward to getting up the next day and trying again. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Strive for excellence, absolutely! But don’t expect perfection. Do expect more, and better, of yourself and others, and see what happens next.

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