Unrealistic Ambitions

Your ambitions don’t have to match your expectations. What’s realistic is not a limit to what should be attempted. Knowing your ambitions are unrealistic but pursuing them anyway enables growth, learning and can support happiness.

Happiness and Expectations.

Rachel Happe shared this great advice on Twitter:

Happiness is often shaped by the gap between expectations and reality. Too often people lose touch with what’s actually going on and their expectations become unrealistic.

This is never truer then when people are enthusiastically promoting change. Enthusiasm can often drift into an unwillingness to listen to others concerns and a certainty of success that is unfounded. Enthusiasm often creates unrealistic expectations.

Remaining engaged with the community around your work and listening actively to their views is critical to keeping a realistic view of expectations. This engagement is where you will find the real barriers to you success and the opportunities to be leveraged.

Expectations and Ambitions

Unfortunately, many take the view that their ambitions should be what is expected (or less). Unwilling to fail or be disappointed they set their ambitions in the safe and comfortable zone of expectations.

However, expectations are rarely a single certain outcome. They are usually a wide probabilistic range. The safe zone gives up a lot of improbable but still possible territory. This is where ambition and expectations can safely diverge.

I’ve struggled with many people at work and in life generally over the idea you can have extreme ambitions and moderate expectations. There is always someone in the team who will say ‘that’s unlikely. What should we bother?’ This is usually met with ‘If it is likely, why should we bother?’ The zone of discomfort where our ambitions exceed our expectations is where we start to grow and realise our potential.

Many people think ambition must equal expectation but that is a path to either unhappiness or underperformance. Lift you expectations to unrealistic ambitions and you will be disappointed. Sink your ambitions to what is realistic and you won’t grow your potential or create meaningful change. The status quo isn’t what you are seeking to reinforce.

It is important to note I’m not advocating the unrealistic expectations that come to those with privilege. People may be ordained to have high expectations. Effort in the circumstances, fair or unfair, determines who succeeds. Failure is real and likely. As I have suggested before change agents need to be wildly optimistic and have the cold hard clarity of reality before them. Privilege and all the systemic barriers to success are good reasons to separate our ambitions and our expectations. Sustained effort, happiness and growth comes more easily when ambition and expectations are managed separately.

What’s realistic is not a guide to what should be attempted. What’s realistic is telling you what will happen most likely based on averages. Your efforts have a chance to change that. Set yourself some unrealistic ambitions but hold realistic expectations and you will balance happiness and surprising success.

2 thoughts on “Unrealistic Ambitions

  1. Hi Simon –
    I love this perspective – I often say it differently but I think we are thinking about things in the same way, which is this: people are patient and impatient about the wrong things. Typically people get really impatient about the annoyances of daily life and then shrug their shoulders at bigger issues like the toxic ways their workplace operates. I try to shake my head at the daily annoyances (people, including myself, are crazy) but stay impatient about bigger change, knowing it takes small steps every day.

    1. Oh I love that too. I haven’t described it that way but it’s exactly what I feel. Little annoyances sort themselves out. The big ones are where we need to make effort forever until done.

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