What’s the difference between ‘living up to expectations’ and standing in possibility?

Author: Donna-Marie Rowe

If I didn’t know better I would say this tree could not grow and bear fruits from the base like this. But there it is before me. This tree is standing in possibility and oblivious to my expectations. I expected it to shrivel up and die because it appears that a disease has overcome the main tree but see what has happened almost miraculously? Three ‘trees’ sprung from the base to grow and bear fruit. I thought this perfectly depicted the difference between expectation and possibility because no one expected the tree to spring strong enough limbs to bear papaya fit for the table.

I have been pondering this concept of standing in possibility since it was introduced in a Leading Change Workshop hosted by the Caribbean Centre for Development Administration (CARICAD).  We were to reflect on who we were being as we led our change initiatives.  It was also outward looking to assess our impact on the stakeholders who were involved in the change.  We watched a presentation by renowned conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander about ‘Giving an A’ at the start of the semester.  The trick to it however, was that each student was asked to write a letter to the conductor stating why they got the ‘A’.

The practice of expecting something of someone, in respect of behavior and performance, and giving that person an expectation to live up to was consuming me.  I even used this language, somewhat erroneously, while trying to explain the concept of Giving an A and standing in possibility.  It baffled me how both could be different.  Then I observed some relationships in which high expectations were cherished but alas disappointment. 

Reflecting on the relationship between a parent and an adolescent child and expected grades in school, one will see that the driving force is a fear that the child will not live up to expectations or from the child’s point of view, he/she will fail to make the parent proud.  Let’s apply this to a husband and wife relationship.  Both go into the marriage with expectations.   Society may have expected that the husband would be the breadwinner while the wife will do home duties.  What happens when the husband loses his job?   Is there disappointment?  And if the wife isn’t doing well in the housekeeping department, what is happening to his expectations?  Does this create conflict in the relationship and close the door to the possibilities that are yet untapped?  Can we see the possibilities of a husband and wife team working well together in the reversal of traditional roles?

If we go back to the parent and child relationship, the endgame would be the overall success of the child as this relates primarily to being able to fend for themselves financially.  And there are countless parental fears if the child does not ‘live up to expectations.” 

On the other hand, standing in possibility now opens up something new.  As opposed to sitting in the box of expectations, we are now creating new pathways to ‘success.’  This reminds me of one of my mantras: There is no one route to success.  Somehow this strikes me as freeing.  As the bulb lights up in my head, I think of persons who have had limitations placed on their lives because of their less than flattering beginnings.  Not much would be expected of them, while onlookers pitying their circumstances would expect the worse.  So much for expectations.  But thankfully there are endless possibilities if we just open our eyes to see them.

At work, do we have high expectations of our leaders and direct reports?  Do we place them in a box and when they don’t operate within those expectations we give them a failing grade which results in the relationship going south? 

I would like to posit that there is a space where both polarities – expectations and possibilities – could exist in a kind of symphony.  Only let us be mindful of the effect on our relationships because expectations can be either limiting or daunting, the latter frequently resulting in a judgmental response.  Conversely, possibilities are creative, inviting and endless.   It seems best to minimize our expectations, if not suspend them, so that we may fill the space with possibilities.






Published by dmarierowe

A student of leadership, my passion for personal, spiritual and professional growth is a constant companion. The leadership lights I share are from my more than two decades of earnest and deliberate study of leadership principles taken from Biblical scripture, characters and circumstances. Life lessons from my desire to progressively offer transformational leadership are also captured throughout. It is my hope that you will be inspired and helped on your leadership journey by the hot beacons that are lighting your way. Sail on with confidence!

2 thoughts on “What’s the difference between ‘living up to expectations’ and standing in possibility?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: