New to the series? Check out the first post: Identity, here
It’s 2010. The leaves and the leaf peepers had come and gone long ago, but the first flakes of snow had yet to fall on Maine soil. I stood on the sidelines of my fourth high school football game, with Wayne Gretzky’s legacy painted on my back and a quiet expression of excited nervousness hidden under a Riddell helmet. It was the fourth quarter and we must have absolutely dominated the first three, because the defensive coordinator decided it was safe enough to put a complete rookie in at defensive end – yours truly. Without time to process the choking fear of playing in my first real game, I hustled out to the line of scrimmage and got into position. With only ill-remembered practice experience to rely on, I focused on the only thing I did remember – what my stepfather had told me before my first practice – “On the first play of the game, you hit the guy across from you with every ounce of power in your body and you set the tone for the entire game.” The offense settled in on the other side of the line and I dug my toes in and got ready to hurl everything I had at him. The ball was snapped and I launched all 200 lbs of my nerdy 17-year old build at a complete stranger with every intention of communicating the appropriate level of terror he should feel towards this third-string defensive end. Unfortunately, he pulled a chop block and dove at my knees, sending each one of my 200 lbs straight into the dirt, from where I watched the running back sprint past without so much as a glance my way. Despite my failure, the lesson stuck- expectations are an essential defining characteristic of every relationship – whether on the gridiron, in the classroom, or at home.
In the classroom, teachers and professors have their own version of the first hit of the game – the first day of class. They’ll ditch their usual tweed blazer for a suit and their warm disposition for one of pure academic intensity. They’ll walk into class perfectly on time, syllabus in hand, and give a rundown of the idealistic expectations they’ve created for the course. Upon completion of the first class, they’ll listen closely for the phrase that confirms their success: “Man, this is going to be tough.” Why all the effort for one simple phrase? That first day of class is what defines each student’s attitude, and thus their expectations of their own work ethic and what it’s going to take to be successful. By acting like a hard-ass on the first day, or even the first week, teachers get students to adopt the attitude that they’ll have to work hard to be successful, and that attitude will carry them through the semester.
In our friendships and romantic relationships, too, expectations have to be both created and communicated. They may not be done with black suits and syllabi, but they’re even more important. Take gifts, for example. For your first Christmas together with your S/O, you decide to go all out and buy them a brand new pair of $500 skis (hint, hint Morgan). Undoubtedly they’ll be absolutely thrilled, but you’ve created the expectation for them and your future self that your gift purchases will be excessively extravagant – which may not be so fun when December rolls back around and you’re still broke from last year’s Christmas. Consider the tough stuff too – how often will we talk or get together, how much ‘me’ time do you need, what’s considered cheating, who pays for what, is it okay to kiss each other like high school students thinking they’ll never meet again before every class you don’t have together? It’s easy to simply assume that you and your partner understand what the other wants, but these are issues that need to be discussed and explicitly agreed upon for a successful relationship.
We know how much our friends can impact who we are, but expectations are one element of friendships that deserves closer exploration. Occasionally I’ll be late on a blog post or I’ll procrastinate on a school assignment and my friends will bug me about it to remind me that the way I’m acting doesn’t represent who I am. It’s easy to lose sight of who we are and adapt our own expectations to cater to our laziness, but the expectations of our friends and families exist to keep us in check, to encourage us to live up to our own. Expecting the most from your peers ensures that they’ll work to be the best versions of themselves. No one I know would be who they are today without the teammate who tackled their lost running back, or the graduating senior who showed nine naive freshmen that they could make a real difference at their university. Become the reason for other people to actualize their ideal selves.
Also, watch out for chop blocks. They’re fucking obnoxious.