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The Curse of Low Expectations.

Unless you live alone in a cave, the quality of your life depends in large part on your relationship skills – your relationship with yourself, with your partner, with your peers, with your family, with bosses, with the world at large. Living confidently requires having healthy relationship skills in all those areas, so that you can be true to yourself and share yourself in any setting, no matter who is present.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome is something I call The Curse of Low Expectations. And it would fall under the category of Relationship with Myself.

Now, this is something that probably impacts women and some minorities a little extra. And my experience in this topic is definitely gender related. But anyone can experience this curse. Sometimes it even comes from those who love us the most, whether it’s because they don’t know how to dream or because the doubt they feel about themselves splatters onto us.

It doesn’t matter why. It matters only whether or not you allow their low expectations to become your own. Before I had a better relationship with myself, I spent a lot of time doing just that.

Playing keys, circa 2005

Years ago, I was a founding member of a New England wedding band. I had been invited to join the newly forming project as their keyboardist when I was still in another band, so I initially turned the offer down. Several weeks later, it was clear the current band was falling apart, so I upgraded my answer to “Yes.”

At the first rehearsal, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. It was a ten-piece band, and most of us didn’t know each other, so there was enthusiasm and newness all around.

As I set up my keyboard, a member of the horn section came bounding up to me with a grin on his face. He told me he was so glad that I decided to be a part of the project. I smiled wholeheartedly and nodded in agreement.

Then he continued with something along the lines of, “because we were talking, and we realized that now we have three distinct female body types in the band.”

As I stood there nodding and thinking, “Crap! I’m already smiling,” my heart sank. The tone was set at thirty seconds in. It appeared that my musical contribution was not nearly as important to at least some of my male bandmates as was the body type I provided. It felt so incredibly shitty.

Now, this is by far not an unusual attitude for male bandmates to have toward their female counterparts. That’s why I did what all us females do after taking a gut punch. I tried to pretend it didn’t happen.

But the attitude remained throughout my time with the band. It mostly showed itself in how we dressed.

Since the project was inspired by the Commitments, our two lead singers were female. It’s common in upscale bands for lead singers to dress somewhat flashy, while the other bandmembers wear black. We chose this approach, as well.

I considered myself one of the “other bandmembers” but I was apparently alone with that thought. To my male bandmates, I was a female. I was there to provide the third body type. They wanted me to dress accordingly. 

I never really did, mostly because I’m not a cocktail dress kind of person. But I tried to wear shirts that matched the singers. I usually hated them. The shirts, not the singers. But I felt obligated to reach some level of their expectations.

Shirts aren’t what’s important here. It was the idea that I wasn’t there for my musical contribution that somehow stunted me. I already had my own doubts, and what I perceived as their doubt amplified them. Instead of taking on an attitude of “I can do this, and I’ll get better and better!” I began to feel that there was some low ceiling of possibility. And that the top of my head was already touching it. It stopped me from trying to grow as much as I could, and from feeling like a peer among my bandmates.

The problem here was not the old fashioned yet still-current attitude of my male bandmates. It was how I responded to it. That’s on me. I’ve often wondered what may have been different for me if that horn player had said, “I’m so glad you decided to do this. You’re going to make a great musical addition!” But again, it was on me to lift myself up.

And I learned to. I did that by learning who I am and how I need things to be. And by becoming unafraid of setting that person free. And by trusting in both my current abilities and the future ones I’m capable of obtaining. In a nutshell, I improved my relationship with myself.

A few years ago, I was in a different band with a similar situation. But I was older and wiser now. Most of my self-doubt (because we all have SOME) had been replaced with confidence, and with the understanding that wherever we are in our journeys, we are all just artists-in-progress. Because of that, when the old male drummer expressed doubt in me, it didn’t trigger anything. And when it was clear that there would never be a coming-together between us as peers, I left the band. It was on me to be who I am and do what I need.

And it’s on you. Do you let the low expectations of others become your curse? If so, what will you do about it? I’d love to hear…

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  1. I am sorry you had to deal with such insensitive people. Unfortunately, some people use intimidation to feel better themselves. That’s cruel and often thoughless. About 3 weeks ago when you posted the “Who are you” short film I thought it would be covering the topic of identity and value. I was thinking about this then.
    As a newcomer or maybe a visitor in the world of musicians I discovered self-worth, relationships, especially vulnerable in the situation, when there are no clear criteria (and will never be) of what is good and beautiful. Some will say is the technical perfection and/or top production but it might be… heartless and horrible as well. Some youngsters invited me to listen to Billie Eilish, whom they absolutely love. Once I went through a couple of her videos (prefectly produced), was shocked and disgusted upon the level of (self)cruelty and morbidity she presented. I even commented under one film: “I wouldn’t anyone I love to see this horrible video, shame on you BE”. Surely, none of the thousands fans shared my opinion. And, of course, the youngsters did see it and even explained to me, that I “haven’t seen a horrible video yet”.
    It must be especially difficult to bear unjustified criticism for a musician, like you, who engages emotions, talents, body, everything to perform. it is probably like being a knight fighting in the field with his head cut off. (sorry for this BE-style comparison!)
    I remember years ago I was a young mathematician starting my PhD investigation in abstract algebra. During an international conference I was giving a short talk reporting my question to answer. There were about 80 people in the audience, together with a famous mathematician, special conference guest from US. He was listening to me carefully, squinting his eyes. But he did not pose any question or comment after the talk. Later that day he saw me and approached me in a big empty room when there was nobody else but us. He looked into my eyes and said “I am not quite sure, but I think your investigation problem has already been solved”. And gave reasons. He was right. And I suspect he might even know it.
    What a class of man. I was lucky to have met such people. (later i did my PhD in another field)
    One of the best cheering words I ever got before a talk was: “go, speak and let the world be more beautiful after you’ve finished”.
    I believe you have positive impact on whatever you do. So go, sing, teach, whatever, and let the world be more beautiful after you’ve finished.
    And let your pockets be full of money 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this! The world felt more beautiful after I read it!