Managing Expectations

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Since starting my new job, I’ve been struggling with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, and fear of failure. What I do everyday has weight. It impacts the lives of thousands if not millions of people, and I feel the gravity of that situation almost every day. At the same time, I often find myself at a loss for words in the face of the selflessness of the individuals I interact with the secure the resources that population requires. Combined, these two factors have made me more driven to succeed at this than I have been with anything in many years.

Sadly, that means that those feeling of anxiety, inadequacy, and fear of failure are something that is all too real. I know that I will develop a better understanding of my role as time progresses, and that, almost without trying, I will become better skilled at the minutia and the greater requirements of my work. That doesn’t mean that I am not currently setting unrealistic goals and expectations for myself. I want to go out each day and bring back big wins, find new groups and individuals who will buy in to our mission, and help better secure the life saving resource we manage together. I want to be better at this than I have ever been at anything, but I am not prepared for the failures that I know will be required to each that pinnacle.

For so much of my life, everyone around me has encouraged me to push myself to my limits, knowing full well that I could rise to those occasions. This new venture is a different beast. I am doing something that I am deeply passionate about, but that has many aspects that are almost completely foreign to me. I am still working towards a comfortable level of knowledge about our organizational mission and practices, and, until I get there, I will not be able to be as confident when I speak to new groups of people about those topics. I am also still attempting to find my footing within the boundaries of my territory, which contains the real ‘meat and potatoes’ of our service area. I know that the potential is there for it to be great, but I don’t feel confident in my own ability to realize that greatness.

The biggest issue, however, is that I am doing a spectacularly poor job heeding the advice of those who have been doing this much longer than I have (or possibly ever will.) When I started, I was told that it would take around six (6) months before I could be expected to be proficient in all areas of my work. That doesn’t sit well with my history of assimilating knowledge and mastering new concepts. I have always been pretty good and getting pretty good at things. This new venture, however, is proving to be a tougher nut to crack. That is made worse by the fact that all I want in the world is to be great at doing it. I have worked towards this position, towards the doors and paths it will open, for so long. Failing at it would be unimaginably difficult, so I set my own expectations unbelievably, unreasonably high. I am now making myself chase a level of expertise that is, for all real purposes, unobtainable at my experience level. It is really hurting me.

What I don’t know is how to fix it. I can’t simply lower those expectations, mostly because setting them wasn’t a conscious choice.   I can’t undo something that I have no actual recollection of doing in the first place. I know that I am being intentionally challenged by those around me for the good of the mission, and for the good of my own growth, but each time I fail to meet a goal, I take it as a personal failure. I don’t handle things like this well by nature, and letting down people who put their belief and trust in me is uniquely difficult.

Managing all of these expectations is, at this juncture, the most important personal challenge I can undertake. I have to find the point at which goals are realistic and obtainable, and come to understand that not reaching some of them isn’t going to cause me to reach none of them. Now, how do I accomplish that?

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