Originally printed in The Daily Targum, October 14, 1993
'What are you reading?'
'How is it?'
'It's not all I hoped for.'
--from Hot Shots, Part Deux
It's a popular subject. From Adam and Eve's disappointing transgression to the Stones' 'You Can't Always Get What You Want,' the concept of 'expectations' has a huge place in our society. Everyone has expectations--your professors expect you to study hard, your parents expect you to marry within your religion, your boss expects you to show up to work on time (the nerve!).
Unfortunately, sometimes these expectations are simply not lived up to. (I bet a friend I could end a sentence with two prepositions. I'm trying to live up to expectations.)
For example, I went to the Simon and Garfunkel concert last week. Paul Simon, as usual, lived up to expectations--he was phenomenal, musically brilliant, and witty to boot. On the other hand Art 'Really I'm Talented. No, Really!' Garfunkel sounded like my grandfather after my grandmother kicks him in that very painful area (the groin) when he (my grandfather) complains too much. He strained like an English major doing Calculus homework to hit the high notes, and he sounded like he was going to crack at any second. ('He had a cold. He was sick,' my companion said.) He also wanted to slow every song down to the pace of a Geology lecture, making Scarborough Fair a sorry affair. ('Well, he's old, too,' she offered, quite generously.) He quite simply didn't live up to the expectations that his reputation--not to mention a hefty ticket price--created.
Even for those of us who know damn well we can't sing but refuse to charge people to listen to us anyway, we have our own expectations to fulfill. I can't tell you how many times I have heard teachers say that I'm 'not working up to potential.' I thought it would be written on my tombstone, after I died from a work-stress related heart attack at twenty. I wouldn't be alone, though. Most of you would be with me. (If you have never heard anyone say this to you, you either have such a low potential that it's easy to live up to, or you're such a genius that you please everybody all the time. You're probably neither.)
Then, we have our parents' expectations. Some parents just say, 'It would be really nice to have Jewish grandchildren.' Other parents forbid dating outside their child's race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Even though as college students, and mature individuals (sort of), we can make up our own minds as to whom we want to date or marry, it would really suck to alienate your parents. So, we feel an implicit pressure to live up to the expectation that we'll marry 'the right kind of person.' Whether or not we marry who our parents want, we will feel that kind of pressure from people for the rest of our lives.
Some things do manage to live up to, or exceed, their expectations. I went to the Conan O'Brien show last Friday, and despite his being much maligned by virtually everybody on earth, I thought he was great. His quick wit and creativity makes him one of the funniest people to hit television since Letterman started getting so whiny about everything. A lot of people think that he can't possibly replace Letterman, but he is resisting the pressure of negative expectations.
Of course, we have expectations for others, too. We expect that our parents will give us money, that the new Pearl Jam album won't suck, and that our professors will actually teach something (the nerve!). Of course, things won't always turn out the way we expect. (In fact, they rarely do. Ask ex-President George 'Invade Iraq for a 90% Approval Rating' Bush.) It is difficult to estimate the performance of others, especially when you start to consider other circumstances, like our parents still being pissed about the last credit card bill, Pearl Jam's urge to make more money than good music usually makes, or our professors' acid flashbacks to 1967. (Mine always seem to have a lot of those.)
If you feel pressure from others, think about the expectations you place on others. Do you expect that your dates be models? Do you expect that your friends will hang out when you want them to? Are you going to be like the boss who places such high expectations on his or her employees that he or she is never satisfied?
If you find yourself disappointed often, there is only one solution: lower your expectations. If eveybody has really low expectations, then we'll never be disappointed, we'll always be satisfied, and we'll always get what we want. Lower your sights. Date the shlump next to you. (I know him. He'll be happy. Trust me.) Make friends with losers who'll adore you. Don't buy any music unless it's 'Johnny Aloha's Greatest Hula Hits of the 1940's.' Don't ever expect anything from a man with a name like 'Garfunkel.' And most important of all, expect very little of value from this column.
Jason Gottlieb is a Rutgers College senior who is very, very disappointed