Expectations vs. Reality

Richard Levin

As the youngest child in my family, I had a lot to live up to growing up. Both of my sisters went to top-ten universities and both were very successful students. I grew up feeling like I would either have to match the standard my sisters set, or I would be a failure. It did not take long to notice that I was not going to go down the same path that they did. The whole academic perfection thing was not really my style. I am not sure whether I did not believe I could live up to those standards or if I just was not motivated to. Either way it was clear that I was not going to be a “straight A” student. My parents never told me what their expectations were of me, but I could tell that they wanted me to succeed at a high level. The problem was not their expectations, but me doubting myself into thinking I could never reach them. Once I realized that, I regretted the decisions that I made in high school because I could have been successful like my two sisters.

Expectations are not there because our parents believe we can reach them, they are there so we believe we can reach and surpass them.

Expectations can either be good or bad depending on how you interpret them. Parents push us to be our best, which is natural, and some parents push harder than others, which is also fine. It is natural for us to feel pressure from those expectations, but sometimes we as kids take them to seriously. I took my parents expectations as either be exactly like my sisters or get kicked to the curb (not literally of course). The problem is that kids take their parent’s expectations as a requirement, and what they should be doing is making expectations of their own. A student should set high goals for themselves because then you have yourself to count on. People should not have to count on other people to reach their expectations because the expectations you set for yourself are the only one’s that matter.

I went to the same school for ten years and throughout those years I consistently heard the classic words that everyone has heard at one point or another. “You’re not living up to your full potential” or “you’re a prime example of an underachiever.” All of those words were true. I hardly put in any effort and I eventually realized that if I had put in effort, I could have really succeeded. I think I was afraid that if I actually put in effort and failed I wouldn’t be an underachiever; I would just be a failure. Instead, I wanted to prove that I could still succeed without trying. I wanted to try and achieve my parents’ expectations without trying as hard as my sisters did. The problem with expectations is not how high our parents set them, but how we kids perceive them. When expectations are put in front of us, we either give up right then and there because we don’t believe we can reach them, or we get so stressed about thinking what it would be like if we did not reach them. We think that if we cannot reach them that our lives are somehow over. If we get a bad grade, we won’t get into a good school, and then we wont get a good job and the downward, perpetual spiral continues. In reality our parents’ expectations are there so we can push ourselves to be our best.

How we perceive expectations is what makes us feel pressured into believing there is no middle ground between success and failure. We are pressured everyday into thinking that if we are not perfect then we wont succeed. College acceptance rates are getting so low that high school students believe even if they get a “B” that their lives are over. Some college acceptance rates have dropped almost 30% in one year and top colleges are as low as five percent. Kids believe that they need to start a non-profit organization to even have a chance to get into an Ivy League school. Society pressures us into thinking that if we are not perfect then we cannot succeed. We load our schedules with sports, music, academics, and tutoring to the point where we can’t handle anything more, and eventually at some point, it will all fall apart. Students get so stressed, so that when we do fail, it is much worse then it would have been if they had taken a more relaxed schedule. Another problem with expectations is when students do not feel that they are going to reach them; they do irrational things so they can. Whether they feel the need to cheat or go without sleep for a week so they can understand something, it takes a mental and physical toll. Students are willing to risk it all to succeed in maybe just one subject when they cheat. If kids think failing is so bad then why don’t they understand what will happen to them if they are caught? It is because they think their parents will care more if they fail, or cheating has been something they have been doing their whole academic career and they do not know what it is like to truly succeed.

Most likely the latter.

Failure has never been an option or an experience for them that they will do anything to get that most coveted “A.” It is not until we fail that we see that a more balanced schedule equals less stress, and less stress leads to success. Students need to value their success higher because what some kids do is get the “A,” but then move onto the next subject. Stress keeps us from enjoying our success because we will always be worrying about the next thing we will have to perfect.

Students value the grade more than the material they are learning.

Stress is what breaks us and ultimately fails us, but until we fail we cannot push ourselves to our full potential. Stress in students whether they are in high school or college continues to increase. Constant stress can cause all different types of health problems including in the respiratory system, which is known to cause panic attacks. These panic attacks are the cause of a student’s breaking point. What we perceive as pressure is actually pushing us to the point where it affects us physically. Chronic stress is found in 55% of high school students and 80% of college students, and there is an issue with those numbers. 80% of college students are stressed and that number is increasing because when the 20% that are not stressed look at those numbers, they stress about not being stressed. It’s like a ridiculous and unavoidable catch-22. People literally stress about everything and it all starts with the expectations and pressure that we perceive in high school. All the things we stress about in high school, whether it is sports, grades, or prom; that stress carries over to college. In college, all of the things we stressed about are enhanced because more is at stake. Everyone who suffers from stress will at one point or another be at their breaking point, and how that person reacts defines whether they can truly succeed or not.

When I was in high school, I wish I had stressed more about things than I did. I say that because I wish I had failed the right way instead of the wrong way. I was so preoccupied on trying to succeed the wrong way; it caused me to fail the wrong way. If I had tried to succeed the right way, when I did fail I could have seen how to change things instead of making the same mistake over and over again. My lack of effort in trying to succeed prevented me from seeing the benefits of failure. I perceived my parents’ expectations as a threat while I should have perceived them as a goal or a booster to help me succeed. I wish I had set my own expectations high enough so in the case that I did fail I could see what I had been doing wrong.

Failure is good. Failure is what allows us to relieve all the stress that we have put on ourselves. Stress affects us mentally and can cause many different illnesses like depression and anxiety. The stress that we undergo while worrying about school and sports can severely affect our health. That is why it is so important to fail. Failing not only opens our eyes, but also is better for our health. Once we fail we see that our lives are not over and our parents don’t actually hate us. Everyone understands that people fail at some point or another, but how we react to failure is what could make us successful. Some students are so afraid of failure that it prevents them from trying certain things. The thought of failure shouldn’t keep us from exploring; it should push us to work harder. The other problem is that if we do try something, the thought of failure is so overwhelming that it keeps us from succeeding. We need to accept some failure as a good thing, because if we do not, then we might not be able to see the whole picture.

Now when I say failure is a good thing and once students understand that their lives are not over, our first instinct should not be to lose motivation. Sometimes when kids fail and realize it isn’t as bad as they perceived, then they to decide to stop trying. Failure should be seen as something to make you work harder to succeed, but not something to hold you back. You should learn that stress is what is keeping you from succeeding and our parents’ expectations are not as complex as we make them out to be. What you think is pressure from the people around you is in reality just yourself. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I realized that I could have been just as successful as my sisters if I just put in the effort. If I was not scared of failing then I could have been successful. We are surrounded with the ideas about how important perfection is, but in most cases you need to fail before you perfect. These ideas persuade us into not trying new things because we think we might not be good enough. I psyched myself into believing that since I would not be as strong academically as the rest of my family I could not succeed in it all together.

You shouldn’t avoid trying something because you think you won’t be good enough, but rather you should try something because you think you can accomplish it. If you fail along the way, then take it as a sign to work harder, and once you have succeeded then you have proven it to yourself and that is all that matters.


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