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  1. Blog
  2. The Pipeline
  3. June 12, 2023

The Power of Lowering Expectations

Plus, celebrating working dads

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Photo by InHerSight

One of my favorite stories to tell about my dog, Olive, is from when she was a 3-month-old back in 2020. Amid a rough personal period (and, frankly, a pandemic), I enrolled us in outdoor puppy classes to help her socialize and learn basic commands. Most days, my goofy, high-energy pup did great—a star pupil, just like her mom. But one particular Thursday, when both of us were dragging and, most likely, feeding off each other’s energy, she missed every single command. She sat. She laid down. Her body looked… well, Google “very sad puppy” and you’ll understand.

Our instructor was a kind woman who had eight or nine dogs of her own. As she made her rounds to each owner-puppy pair, the perfectionist in me began to panic. I didn’t want her to think we hadn’t practiced, but Olive wouldn’t budge. I could feel anxiety building as our moment to prove ourselves neared.

That moment never came. When the instructor stopped in front of us, I began explaining what was happening. She listened attentively, then looked down at tiny, tiny Olive slumped in the grass. “Hmm,” she said, as she reached down to stroke Olive’s head. “If puppy cannot perform today, then we’ll simply lower expectations.” She invited us to play, cuddle, and (for Olive) eat cheese for the rest of class.

I think about this story a lot when I’m working, especially when I’m stressed and I’m tempted to begin all of my email responses with “apologies for the delay,” because something about the simplicity of the instructor’s statement altered my brain chemistry. Before then, I believed that standards for things like work ethic, engagement, and focus were relatively fixed. If I could deliver a 10/10, I should always deliver a 10/10.

The instructor’s ease at accepting not just less, but nothing, was refreshing—and unexpectedly poignant for an introductory puppy class. In her mind, walking away from work entirely was an option, a welcome one, if it meant prioritizing happiness and eventually returning more refreshed and with a better attitude. There was no point in sticking it out, and being miserable all along, just to say we were clocked in the entire time.

I’ve written about rest in The Pipeline before, and we have lots of resources outlining the dangers of burnout and hustle culture on the InHerSight platform. We even have an article on why you should play hooky, which includes ideas on ways to spend the day. The importance of taking care of ourselves in a high-productivity work culture is a favorite subject of mine.

Still, I thought this story would serve as a good rumination. It’s not that I think you should achieve less or be less reliable. I’m the person who just praised her puppy for being a star pupil, after all.

But there’s something to be said for knowing when to say when, to signing off because it’s the best option, to knowing you can try again tomorrow and that, if you do, you’ll most likely do a better job than you would while distracted or unhappy or whatever big feeling you’re experiencing.

With summer mere days away, I hope you’ll be lured outdoors more often. I hope you’ll go on longer walks and cut out early to take your kids to the pool. I hope you’ll sip a margarita on a patio at 4 p.m. rather than 5 p.m.

I hope you’ll practice knowing when to lower expectations and, Olive would add, when to eat cheese.

Managing Editor, InHerSight

Working Dads Talk Work-Life Balance

John Allen, director of sales at RS Americas, on incorporating work-life balance into his marriage and role as a father. Read more quotes from working dads here.

TJ Forbes, senior solutions engineer at Procore Technologies, on the company benefits that help him balance work and fatherhood. Find other supportive companies according to dads in our network here

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