Reality and Expectations

I hit a PR at the gym today. I broke a mental barrier and hit my heaviest deadlift yet. 💪

It was tough. But I got there. And I’ve been reflecting on how it took patience and having realistic expectations.

A couple of years ago I’d have been happy to lift anything even close to my new PR. I tried of course. Too much too quick. I put my back out as I think all new gym goers do.

Going too heavy too quickly is never going to end well. But while I wanted to keep up with the gym veterans I hadn’t really done that kinda thing before. So I quickly found I was out of my depth and hiding my agony.

I’m not telling you about my PR or my gym-based adventures to brag. I mean shit! There are plenty of people who lift far more substantial weight than me. And besides, that's not the point of this post.

> Like. Bruh. Do you even lift?

The point is that hitting a PR after a couple years of daily gym sessions has taught me a lot about how to approach my day-to-day. Or more specifically, how better managing time and setting realistic expectations can serve up a better outcome than going full-on from the start.

And the end result is usually better too! 😅

The Struggle Is Real

I fixate, truth be told.

It’s a curse.

It’s not a "perfection" thing either. It’s more an “I have to get this finished because I’ve started” kinda thing. And the fact I’m up at 9:30pm working through this draft because “I wanna get it done today” is a testament to that.

Side note: I did not "get it done today"...and that's ok 🙈

Setting realistic expectations of my own time is a struggle. While I think of myself as being patient with others, I don’t allow myself that same patience. I want to finish what I’ve started almost as soon as I’ve started it.

And if I don’t finish within whatever time I allow myself something breaks inside me.

I hate missing deadlines. Even self-imposed ones. I get low. Angry. Frustrated that I wasn’t able to keep to my own timetable. This is particularly true of my current role where there’s so much to do.

I wanna do everything. All of it. Right away. And instead of thinking individual tasks in terms of how long they’ll take, I see a challenge. “These things need to be done this week and I don’t care if they should each take a week on their own”.

The reality is, by having unrealistic expectations I’m setting myself up to fail. And just like pulling a muscle in my back, the pain can have a knock-on effect.

Expectations In Hindsight

My most recent self-expectation failure was while working on our first Education team whitepaper—What is knowledge base software and why should you care?

I haven’t written a whitepaper for a long time before last Wednesday. The last one was probably a co-authored/ghostwritten whitepaper back at the start of my full-time freelance days. So a good four years ago, maybe more.

I’d never really done much of the research required in those days either. It was a simple “here’s what we want you to write, go away and write it” kinda gig.

Since I was just providing some copy, it wasn’t on me to set expectations either. If people give the research, I could knock up a few thousand words pretty quickly within a couple of days.

So of course, in my infinite wisdom I made the incorrect assumption that it’d take me a couple days to complete this time around too. 🤦‍♂️

I hadn’t really thought about the task at hand. I hadn't broken it down into its component parts. Ideation; Data researching; Keyword researching; Outlining; Drafting; Editing; Redrafting; Fact-checking; Layout and publishing.

In hindsight, a couple days was a severe underestimation. But even on Thursday— less than a day deep into data research—I was adamant I could finish the draft by the end of the week.

Oh what a fool I was.

And when the inevitable happened at 9:30pm on Friday night—the inevitable being me hitting a mental wall and not having a draft at the end of it—the disappointment hit me hard.

Where have I gone wrong?
Why isn’t the draft done?
Matt, clearly you suck!

Ah imposter syndrome. Besties forever! 🙄

Everyone Has a Bad Week

I’ve no doubt one of the biggest influencers of my imposter syndrome is my social media feed.

It seems there’s no end of people doing amazing things left, right, and centre. Living glamorous lifestyles, working jobs where they don’t actually seem to do anything beyond posting to Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Landing book deals, speaking gigs, shipping daily vlogs about how amazing their lives are.

I’m baffled how people have time to build their “personal brand” in such a powerful way while still doing a good enough job to justify their ridiculously inflated salaries. 🤯

All across social media people ship tons and tons of content both in their jobs and to their personal brand without breaking a sweat. Like it’s nothing. Week after week after week. Hundreds of videos, blog posts, talks.

It’s not bitterness or jealousy it might be a little bit bitterness and jealousy. But seeing people shipping so much does have a significant knock-on effect to my confidence and self-belief. Mostly because you don’t see people having a bad week.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did come across one video on LinkedIn a couple days ago which shared a pretty raw potentially staged discussion from someone having a bad week.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising I feel inadequate. Like I should be doing a better job.Should I be building my own personal brand too? Where the hell would I find the time?!  The reality is that even if people don’t wanna admit it, bad weeks happen to everyone. And that’s ok! 😊

Letting Myself Off The Hook

Rant over, despite knowing bad weeks happen I still find things linger. Disappointment tends to hang around far longer than I’d want it to.

I beat myself up about things and this was no different. I spent the best part of my weekend with a niggling voice in the back of my head telling me I’d failed. That last week was a write-off. Despite it actually being a pretty decent week 🤷‍♂️

In fact, if I thought about it objectively last week was one of the best weeks I’ve had in a long time. Certainly over the past few months.

Yet, one poorly set expectation that led to a missed deadline and I was questioning my entire ability to do a good job. Of course, I’m writing this now in a more positive and reflective mood.

I’d like to write something poetic and brilliant about how my epiphany came to me. As if I reached the top of the last rep of my heaviest deadlift and everything dropped into place.

Ah! It’s not that I’m a failure, it’s that I need to get better at setting and managing my own expectations. And be more flexible when it comes to a bad week. “SIX!” I shout as the barbell crashes to the rubber-lined floor.

It’s all in reflection though. Taking the time to actually think about what happened last week and how I could’ve improved. And I’ve realised my output couldn’t have improved. Not while keeping my standards. If quantity were to increase, quality would no doubt have suffered.

Instead, I should’ve taken a look at how long the average whitepaper takes professional writers—which ranges from 20 hours to 6 weeks 😬 And I Should’ve set more realistic expectations with that in mind.

I need to work on being less fixated and more accepting of day-to-day fluctuations in my output.

Having taken the time to think and understand what I did “wrong” I should remember we all have bad days and bad weeks. Just as we have good days and good weeks.

More than anything, I need to stop beating myself up and be more willing to give myself a break. 😊