My wife recently asked me if having Liam was easier or harder than I expected it to be. My response, “It’s been really hard, but that’s what I had imagined it would be. So I guess the experience lived up to what I thought was coming.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, fatherhood has been a truly transformative experience with many positives. And also a whole heap of challenges. But because I had been warned by friends, family, and shell-shocked new parents, I was prepared.
(Prepared doesn’t mean ready. Because you definitely can’t be ready. But at least I wasn’t surprised when I felt like I was way over my head).
Setting Ourselves Up for Disappointment
Too often, though, we create the wrong expectations for ourselves as we imagine the future. Especially when we think about development and growth.
There are many voices that say optimism and enthusiasm are key (i.e. positive thinking). So we are positive and excited in our new endeavors, and we tell ourselves that the process will be easy and painless.
And then we get blindsided and upset when it doesn’t go smoothly.
We blame ourselves, our environment, or other people. We think that it should have gone smoothly and that because it doesn’t, that it’s not meant to be.
And since it’s jarring and frustrating, we give up. Often at a time when just a little more attention and effort would have allowed us to move past those obstacles.
Why Being a Realist Can Help
Does that mean I’m arguing for a bleak outlook?
Not at all. Being overly negative has a whole host of issues as well. I’m suggesting that an accurate outlook equips you with tools that enable you to persevere through challenges in a way positivity doesn’t always allow for.
Because when those challenges pop up, you expect them. And they will pop up. However, you don’t get caught up bemoaning them because you knew they’d show up. Then you can focus on finding ways around, over, or through them.
When you expect challenges, they are a pain when they show up. But not a surprise.
And when they aren’t a surprise, they aren’t an emergency. And when they aren’t an emergency, they are simply there to manage and move past.
You go, “Oh, there’s the obstacle that I thought would show up. Right on time. It doesn’t have to stop me. I just need to find a way to continue through it.”
Welcome the Obstacles as Part of the Process
This becomes especially relevant when you are trying to build something – whether that’s a new habit, a new project, or a new company.
When you aren’t overly-positive or overly-negative, you can properly label the bumps in the road. It allows you to move past challenges with a bit of grace.
For example, because I knew I would be overly-tired, stressed, and sometimes (OK, often) covered in baby spit-up, I wasn’t worried when that happened. It didn’t make being a new father easier, but it kept unnecessary stresses from building up.
Then I could focus on what I could do. Which usually involved finding a clean burp rag.
And I think that’s a good metaphor. No matter what you are working on, sometimes that best way to deal with the challenges is to find a burp rag, clean it up, and keep going.