Expectations vs. Outcomes

I think I mentioned before that last month I took a week and just sort of sat down and tried to figure out who I am and what I want in life.

What am I good at? What drives me and gives me satisfaction? What do I value?

It was a good exercise, because I think in this world that if you don’t really assess who you are and what you want that it’s too easy to be pushed around by the tides of what people tell you you should want. Or what society tells you is valuable.

And so it’s easy to get sucked into living a life that is successful by external standards and makes you absolutely miserable. For some people the fit is perfect and they never understand that conflict, but for others they can only fit into the common mold by hiding or cutting off half of who they are. And even the ones that can fit are sometimes exhausted by what society demands of them. (I see you married career women with multiple kids under five.)

But that’s actually not what prompted me to write this post today. What I was thinking about is how when I looked at my “failures” in life they were often driven by my expectations of what should happen instead of being objective failures.

I am especially bad about this when it comes to relationships. Essentially, if I’m dating someone and they show me that they don’t want to be with just me, I’m done. I walk away. I can be enjoying the time we spend together, I can feel strong emotions for that person, but my expectation is that if they felt the same way towards me they would just want to be with me.

I theoretically understand that the world is not perfect and that you meet someone and they’re probably dating others or have others in their life where things are complicated, but after a month or so my willingness to allow that disappears.

Which has cost me good connections in the past. Maybe if I’d just held back and been patient and let things develop a little further that person would’ve come around and we would’ve built some sort of amazing life together.

(Or not. I mean if you’re not all in at the start when all the giddy emotions are bouncing around, hard to believe you will be later.)

This applies to self-publishing, too. Because if I set aside others’ performance and judgements and the over-hyped expectations I was sold when I started down this path, I have objectively done more with my writing than most writers will ever do.

I’ve written sixteen novels. That right there is, objectively, huge. And doesn’t include the bulk of my writing which has been in non-fiction. I have also likely helped over 20,000 people learn a computer software that can expand their work prospects or help them better manage their lives.

But I continuously crush those accomplishments with my expectations of what I should have been able to do with my writing.

Even knowing that I don’t follow the steps you need to follow to do as well as I would like to at this (publish consistently, use pre-orders so people can just one click on the next one, write in a series in a popular genre, stick to one pen name, etc.), I still put those expectations on my writing.

I’ve spent a decade writing whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and just throwing it out to the universe. I rarely do big releases with lots of promo or advertising. This blog here is about the extent of my social media and networking. I did post on forums back in the day which did help at times and I am still in one private FB group and one private group elsewhere, but really, for the most part, I have just hung out with myself and done whatever I wanted for a decade with the writing. (Which has included advertising, I’m not saying I did nothing to sell my books.)

And I made over $300K in revenue doing that. Doing it all wrong.

I should be proud of that. But because I expected more, I’m not. Because I expected easy sales and six figures and to replace a job that was part of an entire industry that was built to extract wealth, I feel like I failed.

I have times when I’m tempted to just quit and walk away from all of it. To go back to some simple job that pays really well and just spend my weekends reading good books and watching TV shows or movies and eating good meals.

But that’s because my expectations were off. Not because my outcome was bad.

I’ve seen it said in a number of places by the old, grizzled writers who are still at it thirty, forty, fifty years in. There were authors with more talent than them who fell by the wayside. Those old-timers are still there, making a full-time living at it, because they stuck in there through the rejections and setbacks while those other writers walked away.

(And quite possibly those long-timers now have far more writing skill than the bright shiny stars that didn’t stick with it, because they kept plugging away and improving and learning. Also, just sticking in does not in fact guarantee success.)

Also, that is not to say that everyone can just keep going. Our world requires money, right? More and more with every day that passes. (My first apartment in Denver in 1996 cost me $400 a month and was a nice little one-bedroom with a washer and dryer in the unit. Now? Try $2000 or more for that same type of apartment.)

But back to the point. Expectations can ruin good outcomes.

And I honestly don’t know how to reset those expectations. I don’t know how to be objective about these things. I’ve never been particularly interested in okay or average or good enough. Even if it would make me happier to expect less or accept what I have, which I’m not sure it ever would.

Anyway.

If this all seemed a little too familiar, maybe step back and set aside the expectations and just look at what you’ve accomplished as if you weren’t you. Give yourself a quick moment to celebrate what you have done as opposed to what you haven’t done.

(I know. It’s hard. In my little look at my life that I did the only accomplishment I listed that I was “proud” of was triple-majoring at Stanford even though objectively I have done a lot of other things I should be proud of. But that was the only thing that truly pushed me to my absolute limit–the last two years of getting that degree while also working full-time–so it was the only thing that counted for me and my whacked out brain that expects too much all the time.)

Be kind to yourself. If you can.

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is an author who has been published under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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