Success in life often depends on setting our own expectations

Q: I am feeling somewhat embarrassed for our daughter.

She was for many years the star of our small community. She was top of her class for graduation, a winner at our track and field meets and clearly a favourite among her teachers. She played piano for our Sunday school and was a gem around the house.

Naturally she went to university once she left high school — that is what all of us expected her to do. But once she got there things changed.

Her marks have plummeted — in fact she failed a couple of her classes. Her bright and beaming smile has faded and she seems to be struggling with her new friends and classmates.

The whole thing is not working out and I know, because she seldom comes home except for the Christmas or spring break vacations, that she is self-conscious about her struggles on campus.

I do not know what to do about it. What can we do to help her make her way through this difficult moment in her life and get back on that wonderful track she was carving out before she left home for life on campus and in the city?

A: I cannot speak directly to or about your daughter. Obviously, I do not know her and anything that I might presume would be just that, a presumption.

However, let me share a scenario that I have found in other students who have left their small communities only to struggle once they got on campus and found themselves overwhelmed with everything the university had to offer.

The problem for many students had to do with expectations. When they were living and growing up in their small prairie towns everyone around them was setting expectations for them. They studied hard and worked hard because their teachers and their parents expected nothing less from them. They played the piano for Sunday school, or sometimes for kindergarten assemblies, because that is what everyone expected them to do. They ran hard and competed in track and field and smiled generously to their local senior citizens and who would expect anything less from them.

In fact, by everyone’s accounts they were great. But for some kids they were so busy meeting everyone else’s expectations that they forgot to set their own standards.

They did not know what they expected from themselves and that age-old question, what are you going to do when you grow up, was ever illusive to them.

That was OK when they were still in high school but university was and is more demanding than was their secondary school venture and if a student was not clear why he or she was registering for classes on campus, he or she might fail.

We can do what we can to meet other people’s expectations but somewhere along the way, each of us has to develop some sense of who we are and what we can expect from ourselves. We might then be successful.

It is possible that when your daughter was working so hard to be the star of your community, to meet all of those expectations from her teachers and family and even neighbours, that she did not spend enough time on herself, figuring out who she was and what she might like to pursue once she finished high school.

If that is true for your daughter, she might want to spend a little more time learning who and what she is before she continues with her university classes.

She might even take a couple of years off from her studies, pick up some odd jobs here and there, perhaps travel a bit, and do whatever she can, not just to learn about the world but to better appreciate where she might fit in.

At this point in time, it matters not what her former high school teachers think of her, or what the rumours about her say.

It matters mostly what she thinks of herself and what she can do to keep her self-image loaded with praise and self-respect.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact:

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