On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.
I was talking to my son on the phone yesterday. He’s at college in the U.S. – ( we live in the UK) – and he was telling me about a recent mid-term he’d taken in Economics.
“Yeah, I don’t think I did very well on it,” he said. “I’m hoping I got a B.”
Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. When I was in college, getting a “B” in anything felt like a massive failure. But I suppressed that thought and instead asked him how he felt about the experience.
“I was bummed for a few minutes,” he said. “Because I did study for the test. But then I just went back to reading Antigone for my literature class and realized that mattered so much more to me.”
In other words, rather than castigate himself for not performing to his highest standard, he moved on.
Wow. Not for the first time, I realized I was taking life lessons from my 18 year-old.
In that spirit – and because I’m all about adopting a growth mindset – here are five tips for lowering your expectations:
1. Accept that B+ is OK.
Or, if you prefer a baseball analogy: stick to base hits. You don’t need to knock it out of the park every time. I have a good friend who’s a self-employed IT consultant. At one point in her career, she decided to take on more work without increasing her hours so that she could still spend a reasonable amount of time with her kids. “How did you manage that?” I asked. “I don’t deliver A-level work all the time anymore. I finally realized that B+ is OK.” I thought about that comment for years.
2. Realize that No One Cares.
I think that many of us harbor this sense that the world is watching – and judging – every last decision that we make. I myself walk around with a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men who collectively monitor my every move. But the hard truth, folks, is that most people don’t give a sh$# what you do with your life. They’re too wrapped up in their own lives to bother with yours. And once you realize that no one’s watching, you can ease up a bit on yourself.
3. Recognize that Happiness May Be Fleeting.
Another way to say this is that sh#$ happens and you can’t control much of what comes your way. The Danes – who regularly feature among the happiest people in the world – themselves apparently temper their “hygge” with the expression “lige nu” which means something like “for now.” When you embrace happiness as a scarce commodity, it enables you to enjoy what you have right now instead of always reaching for the next frontier.
4. Imagine the Worst Case Scenario.
Sometimes, when I’m really freaking out because I fear that I’ve failed to achieve one of my goals, I imagine the worst possible thing that could befall me in that arena. And when I do that, I usually realize that I haven’t hit rock bottom and consequently appreciate whatever it is I have accomplished, even if it falls below what I wanted. Case in point: I’ve written a book about swimming and adulthood. But, so far, I haven’t managed to sell it. The worst case scenario is that I’ll never sell it. And that would really suck. But then I remind myself that unlike two years ago, I’m no longer talking about writing this book anymore. I’ve actually done it. And I feel a bit better.
5. Move to Denmark.
If all else fails, move to Copenhagen. I hear they have excellent pastries.