What are Your Expectations?

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I don’t think my friend Berk really cared too much about what other people had to say about the ceremonial campfires he built at our Scout camp (and they were some impressive campfires). What he cared about was what he thought of them.

I can recall some occasions where (at least to my eye and gauging the reaction of the crowd) the campfires performed perfectly. They lit easily and flooded the ceremonial fire circle with light, dying down at the appropriate time in the program like they were on a timer. But to Berk’s eye there was some slight imperfection, something he could improve. Was he immune to what people said? I don’t think so, I don’t think any of us are. But his own standard was the important benchmark, not his expectations of how others would react to his work.

Our expectations for acceptance of and engagement in our work as Scouting volunteers can have unintended results. We get disappointed and discouraged when people’s reactions don’t meet our expectations. We may get subtly (or not-so-subtly) aggressive or resentful. This colors the work we do with our Scouts or fellow leaders.

‘Don’t cast your pearls before swine’, don’t put things you value in front of people who reject the notion it has value. That’s just a little peevish, isn’t it? It’ smacks of taking your ball and bat and going home. What if we didn’t attach a personal value to the acceptance of our work, but only to the work itself? How would that change our approach?

If we didn’t allow our personal expectations get in the way of the program, what would happen?

I am not suggesting you lower your expectations, just don’t have any. Sounds impossible and probably a little heretical, but give it some thought.

Keep working hard, just don’t tie your work to an expectation. How about just working hard and accepting whatever we get in return?

As a veteran of a dozen or so years of staffing summer camp I know some groups really make something of the experience, and some seem to be pulling in the opposite direction no matter what you do.

That’s just plain frustrating.

Once you run into that sort of frustration there are two basic reactions.

Some change how they do things to produce the result they expect. Chasing this result almost invariably leads to oversimplification and shortcuts but it  gets results, it fulfills expectations, even if those expectations are hollow. (This sort of thing causes about 90% of the stress, arguments, political wrangling, and personality conflicts in Scouting.)

Some work harder because working hard is, in itself, a good thing to do. They adhere to an internal standard of value that energizes the work and becomeall that much more valuable to others. The right kind of energetic, hard work with good intentions creates participation and engagement. Engagement usually fulfills the expectations of the people you are serving creating a positive feedback loop that energizes everyone.

Scoutmasters experience this. We work hard with the expectation of some reaction or result, and mistakenly think the higher our expectations are the better. If the Scouts don’t react as they expect we get frustrated, resulting in one of the two reactions I just described.

Scouters are going to run into expectation-driven disappointment and frustration, it’s something we should expect. When we meet with these frustrations and disappointments we ought to double down on our efforts. Stop expecting things and start doing things.

Be brave, be resolute. Examine your expectations and understand the value of the work itself. If your work doesn’t advance the aims of Scouting stop doing it that way (nothing personal, sometimes we miss the point) and double down on work that advances the aim of Scouting.

I can guarantee that your energy level will rise, and you will begin to experience better results.