It’s the Summer of 1981. I am 10 years old and daydreaming in maths class when the screech of the intercom heralds an announcement by the disembodied voice of the gym teacher. “Would the following children please report for swimming team practice tomorrow after school…” Somewhere in the list is my surname. Even though I am the only person with my very unusual surname in the school, I think they must have made a mistake. Maybe they meant my brother (who is no longer at this school)? Or another child? It can’t possibly be me; I never get selected for anything sporty!

It feels too good to be true.

So, I ignore it. I don’t investigate, I don’t mention it to my parents, I just flat out forget that I heard my name being called and no one speaks of it again. (The EQ of most school coaches and teachers was not optimal at my school in the 80’s).

Would I have made it onto an Olympic swimming team if I had believed that call? Almost certainly not. But I know that I would have felt a strong sense of achievement and pride – and learned to believe in myself and my abilities. Instead, my 10-year old self was already putting a lid on my success by limiting my expectations of what I deserved to be and do.

I know that I am not the only person with a story – heck, multiple stories! – like this.

We all have unconscious ideas of what we deserve and what we can expect for and of ourselves. Often, these ideas bear very little resemblance to reality and serve only to limit us – our success, our happiness and our achievements. I call these Limiting Expectations because these very unambitious and diffident expectations that we aren’t even aware that we have are very limiting.

We don’t believe we are good enough to make the swimming team, so we ignore the call when it comes.

We can’t imagine excelling academically so we don’t allow ourselves to study hard and see what we are capable of.

We feel so invisible or relationship-unable that we ignore the good ones (the ones that are reliable and kind and don’t play games) in favour of the narcissists, the bullies and the victims.

We do the things that we are told to do, rather than the ones we yearn to do.

We are so unsure of ourselves that we hide in the shadows and don’t draw attention to our latent competence or brilliance.

We are so scared of failure that we don’t try to succeed…

Or we limit ourselves by expecting too much from ourselves:

We do well at work, and it is so wonderful to feel as though we are getting something right that we push ourselves too far too fast and give ourselves burnout – thus limiting our career progression and long-term success.

We don’t like to show ‘weakness’ so we don’t ask for help.

We don’t like to disappoint so we don’t say no.

We try to be all things to all people and end up overlooking ourselves…

There are so many ways that we limit ourselves.

Each of us has our own set of Limiting Expectations and Behaviours that get in the way of our happiness and success. And as with most things, as soon as we are conscious of them, we can face them and change them into expectations and beliefs that liberate us and allow us to soar.

My new Smash Your Own Glass Ceiling online coaching programme is designed to help you do just that. (You can read more about it and sign up for it here.)

In the meantime, you can start shining a light on your own expectations by doing what I did at the start of this blog: remembering a time when you got in your own way.

  • What was the occasion?
  • How did you overlook yourself?
  • Why did you overlook yourself?
  • What was the consequence of you overlooking yourself – then and now?
  • If you could go back to that time, is there anything you would do differently?

Doing this exercise will be very enlightening and you will soon start to make sense of your own Limiting Expectations.

I hope you will think about joining me in Smashing them. It’s never too late to exceed your expectations.