In the seventh grade I had left behind my nightmare of an elementary school, and two weeks before the start of the year, transferred to the local public middle and high school. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and more importantly, no idea who I was. I was simply a girl taking a leap of faith, hoping for a new start and a better life.
All things considered, I was adjusting well, and soon enough, I had the opportunity to audition for the middle school musical Willy Wonka, Jr. I’d never really done anything like that before, but it was definitely something I wanted to give a try. After I had gotten cast in the part of Mrs. Gloop and we had already begun the rehearsal process, I found out from one of the talented, eighth grade cast members that she “knew I was getting a callback as soon as she could hear my audition through the door.” I’d made a great first impression, and throughout the production, people kept whispering “Who is that girl, and where did she come from?”
Not that long ago, I heard some of those same whispers on my college campus when I auditioned for our upcoming production of Sunday in the Park with George. This audition was done in small groups instead of alone in front of the directors’ panel, and after we all exited the audition room, several of the seasoned upperclassmen (theatre majors who I’d already seen in productions around campus) introduced themselves and wanted to tell me what an amazing voice I have. Admittedly, it was the first audition in a long time that I walked out of feeling like I completely nailed (I’ve never been one to be confident post-audition no matter how well I actually sang), and I certainly hadn’t sung like that in a long time.
What do these two instances have in common, you may ask? Expectations. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.
Through these two experiences I have come to realize that expectations are one of my worst enemies. They may even be one of my fatal flaws. The reason I succeeded, and not only succeeded but surpassed my normal performance capabilities, in these situations is because I walked into the room with the attitude that I have nothing to lose. These people don’t know me; they don’t have any expectations. Because when we attribute expectations to others, we put the pressure of meeting those (sometimes wholly imagined and unreasonable) expectations on ourselves, and I will be the first to admit that I’m much harder on myself than any other person would be.
The thing about expectations is that we get so wrapped up in “meeting them” that we just end up holding ourselves back. And it stems from this fear of failure that’s thoroughly embedded in our society where we’re told that we’re not allowed to make mistakes and that mistakes are bad. We’ve told ourselves that when we don’t meet an expectation, we’re failures. Failures, however, just like expectations can be beautiful opportunities to learn, grow, and do better. We need to stop seeing expectations as something to be feared and greet them, instead, as a worthy opponent, a challenge to rise up to, where sometimes we will win and sometimes we will lose. “Meeting” the expectation becomes irrelevant when you give your best, which is all anyone should ever ask of you. Besides, who is to say whose expectations are correct?
I shine in situations when I know that the people judging me don’t have any expectations because I know I have the opportunity to make a great first impression. The trick is reminding myself that even in situations where they’ve formed opinions of me, I can only offer them my best, and that has to be good enough. And if it’s not, that’s their problem and not mine.