Great Expectations

“If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed” Sylvia Path

 

“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Alexander Pope

 

“I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than fatally disappointed.” Julia Glass

 

“I’m not angry… I’m just disappointed.” Mum

 

Okay, ignore the last one. It’s interesting that all those quotes (and many similar ones referencing disappointment) were sourced by searching for the word ‘expectations’. We immediately create a link between what we think and/or hope will happen and how disappointed we might feel after. No wonder! It is absolutely ourselves that create that reaction. For example, if a professional boxer is in the ring during a fight and gets punched they should probably realise that was always a possibility and not allow it to upset them. However, should they get punched whilst walking around the supermarket then they have every right to get angry. Similarly, if you’re stupid enough to punch a professional boxer in Tesco…

Part of my issue is this thread of avoiding any high expectations to avoid the lows of disappointment. I think that’s called Epicurean or something like that. It’s okay to have expectations but we need to manage them appropriately. Epicurus lived his life believing that one should limit his or her desires. This was based on the belief that living with the finer things in life means the absence will create upset or hurt. With his whole philosophy based on the absence of pain and suffering, he lived a very basic life. There is a lot that can be said for that and I would certainly argue against materialism but why can’t we afford ourselves some positive, reasonable expectations?

If you saw your friend working in a clothes shop and thought ‘brilliant, I may be able to get a discount’, that’s certainly not unreasonable. However, if you thought ‘brilliant, free clothes’ then you’re setting yourself up for fall. It’s not the positive expectation that has let you down, it’s overdoing the expectation.

I believe that it is the management (or lack of) of these expectations that can lead to a lot of our stress. If someone cuts you up in traffic, a lot of people would get angry; lights flashed and horns tooted. We start to get territorial with the belief that not only do we own our car but the 4 feet of space all around it as well. In truth, based on laws, rules, and codes the other driver is most definitely in the wrong. They should not have done what they did. However, anyone who has been driving for any length of time will have realised that it happens. And THIS is where we need to manage our expectations.

If we can manage these thoughts based on past experiences as well as our own values we can start to become more resilient. What else do we do to ultimately and inevitably disappoint ourselves? Sick of not getting a new job? Even though you’ve not sent out any applications. Not getting fitter? Even though you don’t go to the gym. If you set your own expectations purely on thoughts and wishes, then they will become disappointments. Action is required.

Take control. Give yourself a chance to meet your own expectations. And never, ever make your mum angry or disappointed. Trust me.

 

 

 

Anti-Fragility

My favourite villain is probably The Joker from Batman. Specifically, Heath Ledger’s famous performance in The Dark Knight. There is just something captivating about his obsession with chaos, disorder, and anarchy.

That positive impression of disorder is very much limited to the movie. Outside of that, most of us will agree that we prefer a more straightforward, ‘normal’ life.

This is mainly because when some sort of shock happens to an object or a person there are various paths it can take. If someone manages to come through an impactful event as strong as they were before, this is called resilient. And it is praised.

But we can also grow weaker due to a shock and this is what we would label fragility. However, there was (until recently) no terminology for something that benefits from shocks; to thrive from volatility.

Whilst there is a lot to be taken from resilience, there is no doubt that growing stronger is better than staying the same. So, we needed a word for it.

Various things happened on November 27th 2012. Micky Baker, the American guitarist, passed away. I turned 24 (and definitely felt fragile the next day). And Nassim Nicholas Taleb released a book titled ‘Antifragile: Things that gain from Disorder.’

 

“…a property of systems that increase in capability, resilience of robustness as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks of failures.”

 

The official definition above represents Taleb’s background in the financial trading industry. A lot of his previous work tore up many of the automatically accepted beliefs of the world of money and stocks. He was the Little Red Riding Hood to the big, bad wolves of Wall Street.

This work was a continuation of his previous books, but this time with an excellent crossover with life outside of the financial world. It represented a philosophy we could apply to everyday life. Although he does not see himself as a philosopher or as a poet he describes economics as a tragedy.

There are many examples of anti-fragility throughout history. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Thomas Edison claimed he didn’t invent the light bulb straight away. Instead he found ‘10’000 ways that don’t work.’ After 30 rejections, Stephen King threw the manuscript of his first novel in the bin. It was his wife’s retrieval that gave us Carrie.

If you want more feel free to search for stories about Elvis Presley, Vincent van Gogh, Oprah Wimphrey, Fred Astaire, Albert Einstein… The list goes on.

It’s an old cliché to talk about bouncing back from failure and demonstrating resilience. However, staying the same isn’t enough for a lot of us who really want to achieve something in life. Even after a big event in life, we want to move forward.

Bad exam results, not getting into university, failing to get a promotion, or ending a relationship can all seem upsetting at the time. With enough determination and the proper attitude, we can genuinely turn these things on their head. It’s a step beyond resilience. Resilience 2.0 if you like.

As manager of the English football club Crystal Palace, Iain Dowie was once ridiculed for using the word ‘bouncebackability’ to praise his players’ staging a dramatic comeback. There was a campaign launched to get the word added to the dictionary resulting in a lot of laughs from football fans. Little did Dowie realise that the concept he was eluding to was one of great significance.

Life can be difficult, throwing up various obstacles along the way. There’s no reason we can’t run faster after jumping a hurdle.

And yes, yes, I’m well aware Little Red Riding Hood didn’t actually beat the wolf. It was the woodsman. However, having read the story for the first time since childhood recently, it’s really quite gruesome. Fortunately for me, despite the impact of the story, I was able to get over it and come out stronger afterwards.

 

Stuart Fenwick (@StuFenwick7)

Motivational Speaker at Tree of Knowledge (@tree_of)