On Expectations

I love finishing a good book and reading it again, years later. Not just because it was enjoyable, but also because some of the ideas faded away from my memory. Fiction usually falls under the former, while non-fiction on the latter. Meditations from Marcus Aurelius is a book that I go back often. Certain passages require multiple readings, across multiple years. The questions are set in stone, but the answers are ever changing. I often compared it to religious people: reading their holy book many times. Like a river constantly polishing its streambed rocks. A job, that isn’t one, that never ends. “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man”.

I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck a couple of years ago. A book that got most of its sales due to its title. Its subtitle however, is a much more honest and accurate description of its content: “A counterintuitive way of living a good life”. Out of its 224 pages, only a small precious sliver remains in my mind. It is something that has allowed me to look at situations differently when dealing with humans - both in a personal and professional context.

That is setting expectations. And how these can be unconsciously created by someone without us ever knowing. How these are pushed from one side to another, without the latter never agreeing with it. In my personal life, it happens when neither myself or my partner book our cats vaccines. But for some reason, my partner expects me to do it. Moreover she gets annoyed with the situation. Is this annoyance justified? Did we agree that I should book the vaccines? This is a mundane example where expectations were set, without both parties agreeing. This also happens often in a professional context. For example when a deadline is set without the developers ever knowing. An expectation was unilaterally defined by whoever agreed with the deadline. There are often trickier ways to go about setting expectations behind the scenes. And I have seen this going as close as gaslighting in professional contexts.

I don’t have to say it, but knowing what you have agreed with someone is important. Most of these misalignments are fixed with clear communication. While a few others are due to toxic behaviour - and there’s no quick fix for this. In the cats example, spending 30 seconds settling who will book the vaccines is enough - it’s likely me, since I am the one taking them. In the deadline example, treating people like adults and being transparent helps. Explaining to the team why the deadline exists and why it can’t be moved might get the buy-in from them. Above all, what the book has taught me is to be aware about these situations and how to handle them.