Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Great Expectations - Part 2

Read part one onf the post here

A very popular story taught in moral science classes speaks of a king who ruled over a prosperous land, was very wealthy and rich, and loved a lot by his subjects. However, the king could not sleep at night due to some anxiety or depression. Lot of physicians examined the king and tried to suggest a remedy for this unique problem but none of them seemed to work. Finally a learned priest examined the king and told his ministers that all the depression and anxiety would be cured, if the king slept for one night wearing the shirt of a happy man!

The ministers thought it was such an easy thing to find a truly happy man, as the country was vast and fertile and everyone in the kingdom were rich and prosperous. However, when they went in search of a truly happy man, they realized that everyone in the country had one or the other reason to be worried. The minister said that he fought with his son, the dukes said they were troubled by the turmoil in the neighboring states, the farmers were worried about making more money for the future, and so on and so forth. The search party was about to give up their quest for a truly happy person, when they found on the streets, a beggar happily singing and whistling.

Upon speaking to this ragged poor man, they found out that this man was truly happy. He had no money, no home and lived on the streets. But he seemed happy and content with what he had and expected no more. They took him to the king, only to realize that this beggar had no shirt!


A bunch of MBAs including me reported for work in a new company after college and we were immediately put through a rigorous training session, which involved us picking up technical skills like programming, data crunching, the ubiquitous office, statistics and analytics – all in a span of three to four weeks. And at the end of the month, there were back to back tests which grilled on all these topics.

On one fine day, there were two tests scheduled – one in the morning on data models and SQL, and the afternoon exam was on MS-Excel. Although I was very confident on programming and statistics, the data pull or SQL was something which I was being introduced for the first time. And all the questions asked very tricky. After spending sometime in the industry, I now know that all these questions were direct rip-offs from the now so familiar But that time, all the questions seemed very difficult and I fared really miserably. During the lunch break, I was feeling so down and depressed, I did not want to eat nor wanted to study for the next exam. I just went to a meeting room and sat there thinking. A tear or two escaped from my eye. And usually sadness leads to more sadness. I remembered about the tough part I was going through even on the personal front and life seemed so depressing at that point. I had fared so bad in spite of being very passionate – be it the profession or the personal relationship!

It is at that moment a realization hit me. It just struck me from nowhere but the thought was very powerful – “In life there are no successes or failures. It is just that you/someone expected too much or too little from yourself!". That was enough to immediately calm me down and stop feeling depressed! I smiled at the simplicity of the thought. But it made perfect sense. We categorize ourselves as successful/failures only because of the expectations we set for ourselves. And if we do set unrealistic expectations, we are doomed to fail and feel sad more often than not. Quite simple, yet so powerful!


Consider this: By the time you turn 18 and are having a perfectly happy life in school/PU college, expectations are built up on getting into a very nice professional course. Suppose you do choose engineering (because, well, do you need a reason?) and get into an engineering college, expectations are built up aroung bagging the most coveted job offer from the campus. And lets say you managed to do that and landed in (where else?) the IT biggies, you feel successful and remain happy until you see your buddies planning to quit for better opportunities/higher studies. Again, expectations start building up and you feel tell yourself that you’ll be successful only if you got that coveted seat in the top ranked college. And after working hard you do manage to get into a top technology / management college, that’s when the expectations come in fours and sixes! … ‘listen ya! he is doing MS itseems, he should get atleast $120,000 package after college’ or ‘oye, heard she got into that top ranked MII, she will surely get minimum 50LPA package after two years’

Expectations are everywhere. And in today’s fast paced materialistic world, the expectations are never ending but always too high! People want instant results… They want a bike, a car, a house, and a eight digit bank balance by the time they turn 30! Graduates from engineering don’t want to go through the grind of technical jobs. They expect onsite roles in Amreeka within 2 years of joining! Fat people join gymnasium or aerobic and expect to lose more than 10 kg within a month! Even though their parents might have served in the same position for more than a decade, professionals expect promotions every year! Isn’t this too much too soon? And what happens when these expectations don’t get fulfilled? Depression, stress, anxiety, visits to career counsellors, psychiatrists, drugs, anti-depressants and what not! Do we really need to go down that route?

Even relationships are not exempt from this unrealistic expectation menace. Everyone wants that perfect partner who understands them without even having to speak or struggle. They conveniently forget the essential communication aspect which goes into making a relationship work. And adding to all this is the self-glorification tactics due to the advent of social networking sites. Even before you get to know the person, your expectations are set so high that the relationship is on thin ice even before it has begun. How often have you seen marriages/relationships fail these days due to mis-communications/failed expectations. And then there are few of those relationships which you never thought will last but have continued to do well just because the couples involved were willing to talk and set the right expectations.

The next time you feel really depressed or sad for someone/something, just pause for a moment and think – was it because of setting the expectations wrong? Maybe you under-estimated something or did not factor in some important considerations. More often than not, communicating and resetting expectations helps a lot. On that day when I realized this in between the exams, I just said to myself, ‘alright! Maybe I have fared bad in this one skill. That does not mean I have failed. Let me continue to focus on my strengths and achieve some quick wins. I can always come back to the weak areas later’. I went back to the next exam with a totally different approach...and yes, I did really well :)

A lot of people expect things for themselves because of comparisons they make with their peers. If you did really well in your job and did not get that onsite offer which your friend got six months ago, just sit back and think for some time. The situation was different, the evaluation criteria were different, and there was an entirely different scenario then. And instead of fretting about it and sulking, just speak to the leads involved and set the expectations very clearly so that next time you are clear on what you wanted. Success might not come exactly when you want it, but do realize efforts do pay off sooner or later. And yes, don’t just feel sad because you don’t have things in your life. Life does test you a little bit before things start going the way you want them. As the street urchin in the above story proved to us, if all that you expect is happiness, you can be happy even without a shirt. Right?

PS: Title credit - Charles Dickens famous novel. Used it as it made sense. Copyrights belong to their respective owners :)


shreyas said...

good read

Anonymous said...

Well said...! :)
Would like to add a quote to this....

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus." - Stephen Hawking