Expectations are funny things. The most important ones go largely unspoken, and understanding them is in and of itself another expectation.
The longer they are omitted the bigger they twist and bulge and ultimately slide away from what you were expected to accomplish in the first place. And we’re motivated to keep them unsaid because what’s a better feeling than the relief of mutual understanding?
But what if someone would have settled for less than what you put forth? In order to effectively temper your efforts as much as possible you should always understand the specific ceiling as best you can. There are two ways to go about controlling the level of expectation. They are not created equal.
1. The Dishwasher Principle: You’re familiar: if you don’t want to be asked to do something, do it to the lowest possible definition of completion, (lowering the expectations) and maybe you won’t be asked to do it again, or, at the very least, won’t have had to put in any effort. Let the machine do the work. Even if it leaves some soap stains the job is done.
This is a dumb thing to do. Not only will whoever charged you with the task think less of you in a practical, if not personal sense, but you a) haven’t challenged yourself, and b) will never learn anything by scraping the bottom. The bare minimum is bad. You won’t feel good about it. No one will feel good about it.
In high school, I used to take this route all the time. I did it in class, I did it with my running, and eventually I started employing it with people as well. I passed all my classes, briefly excelled in running, and came away with at least one lifelong friendship. But because I’d never really applied myself to the task, never really breached the secondary and probably more important expectation of engaging and actually learning the material, how to train effectively, or how to maintain and foster relationships, I’ve found myself having to learn all over again in the years since. I left myself with a still-developing base of knowledge and capability, but worse, without inherent higher expectations for myself.
To paraphrase one of my high school English teachers circa the end of my senior year, “I think college will be good for Alex. He won’t have to be Alex Johnson anymore.” I don’t mean to give this person any more credence than is necessary, but in one very important way this was extremely accurate. A new environment would allow me to expand my effort levels and do more than simply go through enough of the motions to arrive at my proverbial destination.
Frankly, along with several other statements along those lines, I always resented my teacher for it, which is too bad.
Maybe I could’ve done something more like this:
2. The Kitchen Sink Principle: If there is a set task, with clearly understood expectations, you should neither try to exceed nor barely achieve them, but instead meet the ceiling that’s been set. Basically, you should strive to do the best you possibly can. If you’re washing dishes by hand, you should leave them thoroughly clean. There’s really no excuse. That being said, it’s unnecessary to do more than that.
Washing the dishes by hand isn’t fun, and can take a while, so you’re not only incentivized to accomplish the task, but also to find ways to improve your process. Having a better method may take a little more effort at first, but ultimately cuts down on the time and energy spent, without taking a hit to your efficacy.
Understanding the expectation sets a ceiling, which allows you to work more efficiently and more freely. Without a ceiling, you’re incentivized to make the least effort possible to complete a task, which just leaves you with soap-stained dishes.