Keep your expectations low.
That’s the “advice” a friend of mine and fellow golfer once received from a golf pro he had hired for lessons. That line has been the source of much teasing amongst us fellow golfers. “How cruel” and “How low,” we say as we laugh, knowing in our hearts that the advice applies to us hackers as much as it does to our friends.
On the surface, the comment is cutting. I mean, you pay for a guy to help you improve your game, and after watching you take a few swings, he insults you. Oooh, that hurts. Your pocketbook and your ego!
Viewed from a different perspective, the advice is precious. I recall reading that comedian Don Rickles, the king of insult comedy, learned to enjoy golf when he realized he was lousy at it and likely would always be lousy. And so, he began to enjoy the game for what it was. A game played with friends.
As a “high handicap golfer” (the correct term these days is “recreational golfer”), I take solace in Mr. Rickles. Whenever I struggle on the course, most of the time, I remind myself that golf is fun. It’s a game I do enjoy, despite my high scores. It is a game that keeps you humble. So whenever I hear the pros talk about being good one day and not the next, I shake my head. My golf prowess waxes and wanes from shot to shot.
Golf teaches humility. As my friend Stew says, “what the golf gods giveth, the golf gods taketh.” (Pretty sure that passage is in the King James Bible somewhere.) We usually invoke this “scripture” when one of us scores a double bogey after a previous birdie. Humility is essential to golf, and I dare say, life itself.
A more positive view
So, ‘keep your expectations low” is less a warning than a gift of enlightenment. When you keep your expectations low, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish. The sentiment is not about trying harder; it focuses on what you can do rather than what you cannot do.
This advice is not permission to slack off; instead, it’s a suggestion to throttle down your ambition. Ambition is necessary to achievement; without the will and the drive to succeed, you are adrift. Conversely, when personal industry is coupled with purpose, great things can occur.
Relentless pursuit of what is not attainable is fruitless. Perfection in golf is impossible; only a relative handful, no more than a few hundred worldwide, have the opportunity to compete for serious money and recognition. The rest of us are pikers. That may doom us to obscurity golf-wise, but not in our own lives.
Being realistic about what you can is a demonstration of self-awareness. My colleague, Tasha Eurich, Ph.D. author of Insight, proves that self-awareness is often elusive in her research. Only a fraction of us—under 20%—are genuinely self-aware. So when we hear “keep your expectations low,” and accept it. We are acknowledging our limitations.
Live within your aims
Such a perception is no excuse for not pursuing our goals with full vigor and total commitment. Instead, it is merely an acknowledgment that we can only achieve so much, and we accept it. Acceptance, in psychological terms, is the first step toward realizing limitations. And in a world where we are bombarded by messages that urge us to aim high, higher and highest, this self-acknowledgment is a refreshing antidote.
So yes, keep your expectations low and your pursuit of satisfaction high.
First posted on Forbes.com 7/02/2021