Unrealistic Expectations

Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year.  Some people lift cars, too.  Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagra Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe.  Some people feel no pain in childbirth…There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (emphasis added)

I took piano lessons for about a decade, but I’m not naturally talented at it.  While I can play passably, you’ll never see me sitting behind a concert grand in Carnegie Hall.

The vast majority of children who take piano lessons will not become concert pianists.  Very few T-Ball players make it to the Major League.  And yet the skills and discipline learned make these activities worth pursuing.  I derive a lot of happiness from plunking around on the piano and playing catch with my kids even though I’m only average (OK, below average in baseball, I throw like a girl).

And yet, in other areas of life, I get so transfixed by the people who seem to be perfect that I let it paralyze me and keep me from action if my best isn’t going to be THE best. I get sidetracked by all those people lifting the proverbial car and fail to see that while we all have our strengths nobody, nobody, does it all.  And even if I’m not extremely gifted at something, I can still bring happiness and blessing to myself, my family and others with my efforts.

“There is no call to take human extremes as norms.” It’s good to look to talented people for inspiration and challenge, but if I set the prodigies up as the norm, I’ll just get down on myself for not measuring up.

  • So I’m not Martha Stewart – I can still show hospitality.
  • So I’m not Julia Child – I can still make healthy and reasonably tasty meals for my family.
  • So I’m not SuperMom – I can pray and be diligent in parenting.

And no, I probably won’t finish my novel in a year, bench press my minivan, or fly a plane through the Arc de Triomphe, but that’s OK.  I’ll finish the book eventually, keep toned with the 30 Day Shred, and settle for walking through the Arc de Triomphe.

Do you ever find yourself setting unrealistic expectations?  How do you overcome that?

9 thoughts on “Unrealistic Expectations

  1. I love your philosophy on this. This verse helps me to keep things in perspective:
    And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. Colossians 3:23

  2. This is definitely something with which I can identify. When I find myself fretting that something I’m (or someone else!) is doing that isn’t perfect, I try to remember to ask myself “but is it GOOD ENOUGH”? Mostly, the answer is “yes”, and I try to be content with that. Fairly often, people like you and me will find that our “good enough” is WAY better than most people’s – we just can’t see it ourselves :-).

    1. That’s a good idea. Sometimes I need to work harder at something to increase a skill or meet a goal, but more often I need to dial back and see if I can meet my goal by accepting my best rather than putting a ton more effort into it for little extra return.

  3. This is something I really, really struggle with, probably multiple times a day. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is a mom doing better at something than I. It doesn’t help that I run with a talented crowd too; the things my mom peers and friends can and do accomplish is mind-blowing (not to mention their freakishly smart, beautiful, charming, and gregarious children!!!). I’m pretty average at a lot and it does bug me that there is not one thing that I am “good” at. (I say that completely realistically, not for pity.) Will be checking back to see what others say and how they deal with it – most of the time, I tend to figure if my kids are fed healthily and dressed in something, we’re doing pretty ok. The Lord is still the Lord of us untalented, average, somewhat moderately achieving moms too, which HAS to be good enough. 😉

    1. I think you’re probably overlooking the thing you’re good at – sometimes I get so caught up in all the things I’m NOT good at that I don’t appreciate the things I do a pretty well. Your best is exactly enough and perfect for your family and situation. I have a really hard time remembering that God has not called me to be everyone else I know, just myself, even if my gifts and strengths and weaknesses are very different from theirs.

  4. I struggle with perfectionism too and have prayed many times over the years that I wouldn’t let it be a snare to me. I have come a long way with it, but every once in a while it will creep back in and make me question myself. I have to remind myself like you said, I am not Martha Stewart, Julia Child or Supermom but I can still do my best and it be good enough!This was a great post!

    1. A snare – exactly! That’s a good description of it. It’s good to desire to do my best, but it’s counterproductive to let perfectionism get in the way of doing what I need to do, or in the way of blessing someone else with my imperfect efforts.

  5. I’ve been dropping quite a few balls recently (screwing up meals, not doing housework, and forgetting about committments – this last one is something that I feel I NEVER do so I think that one hit me hard). I’m trying to look at it as God’s way of leading me to depend more fully on Him. Newsflash – I can’t do it all! But leaning on God always will make sure the important stuff gets done right.

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