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.
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…