Thursday, May 24, 2007

Expectations, Great and Otherwise

I figured out long ago, (or thought I had figured out) that having high expectations was a surefire way to be disappointed. Having low expectations on the other hand, was a pretty good way to be pleasantly surprised. Here I am, living in Thanjavur, working on my research, and I've been at this for three months now. I thought I had the expectations under control, but let me say at the outset that I had it all wrong.

I was optimistic about the wrong things, and pessimistic about the wrong things. And I did an incredible job of disappointing myself on both counts.

I should say too, that I am typically a glass half-full kind of person, so when I create pessimistic expectations it's usually something I do consciously to avoid disappointment later on. But here's the catch: If I get too pessimistic about things, I get so depressed as a result of those low expectations that I begin the process of a self-fulfilling prophecy. This definitely happened in the process of my research. I decided, at the outset, that the project was probably going to turn out horribly, and that the results would be worthless. I thought by telling myself this that I would end up later happily surprised if I got any interesting or valuable results. Instead, I got so caught up in the idea that it was all going to be awful, I could barely motivate myself to get out of bed in the morning to do the research. And I was so distracted by my own negative vibes, I wasn't even paying attention to the work I was doing.

Strangely, I did allow some optimism into my world. I thought I could allow myself to be optimistic about simple things, like how quickly I could get things done, about how far along I would be by now. These expectations were also a horrible idea. Now of course, with the classic disappointment of expectations too high, I am frustrated with how slow things have been going, and how little progress I've made in three months.

Only now, after some serious re-evaluation of the situation at hand, and of my own mental state and expectations do I realize I had it all wrong.

I should have been pessimistic about the simple things. Expected it to take forever to get up and running, expected that in 3 months I would make ridiculously little progress. I realize too, I needed to be optimistic about the big picture. I need to have some faith in the project in the long term. I need to believe (even if I am disappointed later) that it is going to produce interesting, valuable, and meaningful results.

In the end, I may be disappointed by having expectations set too high for the project as a whole. But I should be prepared to accept that THEN and not NOW. I walked into this project with a sense of defeat already hanging over my head, and that was not the way to begin.

Now, I know better. In 3 months I have made as much progress as I could have under the circumstances, with all the limitations involved. And in another 3 months it will be the same. And now, for no good reason, except that I NEED to, I believe that this project will work. That something will come of it. I don't know what, and it probably won't be what I expected when I started. But, I have faith.