Failure to me is based on expectations. Expectations are everywhere around you, whether you realize it or not. People in your life are constantly developing expectations about you, and of course, you too set expectations for yourself. Expectations are further complicated by the pressures our generation faces today. Having to set expectations for your future, academics, social life, romantic life, and even expectations about taking breaks from your journey to meet those grandiose expectations you set for yourself. We are the casualty of our own complex webs of expectations that we weave around ourselves and portray to others. And frankly, nothing hurts more than when you don’t reach your own expectations, let alone failing to meet the expectations of those around you.
I first started to notice how detrimental lofty expectations people can place on themselves and others was when I started at Western. Phrases like I must go to law school, I need to get into to Med school and I must get this summer internship were pervasive. While I’ve certainly failed in many respects personally, academically, and professionally, the story I still am trying to unpack is the second semester of my 4th year.
At the start of January, it felt as if this semester is what my entire undergrad had been leading up to; immediately I had pre-conceived ideas about how it would go. I needed to finish all my projects I’d started as Social Science President, get into the master's programs the following year, make more memories with my best friends of 4 years, and of course, run in an election. Attainable, right? Wrong. I could barely meet the minimum of my own expectations let alone the expectations others were placed upon me. The month that was dominated by elections was the breaking point for me. Immediately I attempted to reconcile my expectations for what I thought a USC President could be while internalizing the expectations the student community had for me, as an individual. I felt like I was being stretched in 8 different directions. It didn’t feel like me, and why I really wanted to run for this role.
There was one moment during elections where I started to hear some untruthful rumours about me, which I took at face value. This was my breaking point. At that moment, I felt all the expectations myself and others had set come crashing down on me. I felt inadequate. I felt that I had failed. But, from that moment of failure, I started to reassess why I wanted this position, and being at that low point helped me reassess the expectations I had set for myself but failed to meet.
Even in this Job now, every day I walk into an office painted by the successes and frustrations of past presidents and executives. When I first started this role in May, I consistently evaluated what expectations I wanted to set for myself. Did I want to be more of a Matt? Sophie? Eddie? Or Tobi? How was I going to fill the enormous shoes of being “USC President”? But the more time I spend in this job, the more I’ve come to realize, the role and the expectations set for it, was more so defined by me, and my strengths. I didn’t have to worry about being anyone else, because I was elected to be myself. Even when I feel those crushing moments of self-doubt when I’ve failed to meet my own or others expectations, because of that experience during elections, I know how valuable stepping back, and getting perspective is. People continuously evaluate USC executives on their successes and failures, which of course is part of the job. But given everyone’s parallel expectations for what these jobs are, and what we are supposed to achieve, I find comfort in the small successes, those expectations we can meet every day. This gives me the strength if I do face failure, to find how I can grow and learn from it, and managing expectations.
So, I think if I was to pass one message along, it would be expectations are not something to be made into ultimatums. They are dynamic and should grow with the person setting them. You can set them as high or as low as you want. Just know that failure and expectations go hand in hand. And if you think all of what I just said is corny, my apologies. I failed 100 times before I even succeeded once in many different endeavors. And in this job especially, I’ve failed 1000 times before I have succeeded at reaching my own and others expectations. Whether you fail or succeed in meeting expectations, know that both experiences help you grow as a person.