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A refusal to bow to expectations

Adam Cahill | Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It is early – around six o’clock in the morning. It is still dark but that cannot stop you. It is cold as well but there is no use in trying to use that as an excuse to go home to bed. The weights that pull on your eyelids grow heavier every minute and you think of the warm sheets you left behind. The cold November wind cuts through you like a warm knife through butter and your head, covered by a hood and toboggan, droops to keep your face from the brutal wind. Your muscles ache and your head is spinning but you cannot complain.

Every morning you do this, the same question is asked – why are you doing this to yourself? You ask yourself this same question through the sweat and tears of every frustration and disappointment, every bad mark and loss. What on earth can drive you to the point of insanity for little more than a pat on the back or a hug, a trophy or pride? Yes it is gratifying at the time, but the achievement only lasts so long and will be replaced by the next lofty goal. It has always been like this and it always will be like this. There is nothing that can stop it.

Childhood seems like a big blur now, especially at this hour in the morning – none of your thoughts are comprehensive or plausible. However someone long ago said that you had potential and it would be worth the million minutes of training to get you to achieve it. They even convinced your parents to look for personal trainers, tutors and specialists to develop your talent at an age before you could mature. So here you are, hundreds of thousands of hours of practice time later, living that myth.

There is no need to try and explain what you are doing; the outcome needs to be the same no matter what the activity. Points, time, answers – it does not matter. Whether it is the three all-nighters in a row that you have pulled for a test or the endless hours of physical training needed to succeed in a sport, the result needs to be the same – you need to succeed. It does not matter if you are sick or if you have not slept in a week. None of it matters – you cannot fail.

You cannot fail because you have the potential to be somebody. Potential is just a made up word; a sportswriter’s word to describe the invisible, to make an athlete or student feel better for having expectations put on them.

All this interest and hype and anticipation gets you nowhere.

It is true that some dwell in the spotlight and do very well living up to the expectations that were placed upon them at a very young age. They may even say that they do better under the pressure of the media spotlight. The expectations placed on them can drive people to practice harder and longer. But more often than not, the media spotlight quells the most important things needed for a blue chip prospect – love of the game and relaxation. Statistics and feats only blind someone into believing they deserve their prophecy without actually earning it.

Or worse yet, the expectations weigh you down with the ferocity of an eighteen wheeler, choking off the blood that tells your brain to relax and have fun. They consume your thoughts with guilt and shame when you have a bad day. And most of the time – if not always – they hinder your performance, causing you to tense up and freeze because of the mental weight placed upon you.

Expectations are baggage – especially lofty ones – they are just something to overcome. It is okay to want something and strive to get it, but the difference between expectations and goals is infinite. To believe and to expect are two very different things and the results from each is substantially the result of having one or the other.

So judge us not too harshly, you next Michael Jordan or you next Bill Gates. When we tab you the next coming of billionaire superstar or greatest sports team, just remember that it is supposed to be a compliment. Be sure to do one thing when that happens though – do not expect a word of it. Believe it and strive for it, but do not expect it. The worst thing you can do is anticipate what someone else says about you, especially if they do not know you.

Adam Cahill is a senior history and American Studies major. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at acahill@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.