Questioning Expectations: The Powerful Benefits of Realizing You are Enough

One of the most striking aspects of teaching is that while you appear to be ‘master of your own domain’, there is often a prevalent feeling that you are being held to an elusive external standard of ‘excellence’ that is both difficult to fully articulate and also impossible to actually attain.

The Challenge of Self-Acceptance

Most people are familiar in some way with the challenge of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin: to feel worthy, self-assured and valuable/valued. Many of us are heavily influenced by the messaging around us and struggle to live up to perceived expectations around body image, career success, family roles, etc. While most of us would agree that these external ideals are both fruitless and unreasonable, we nevertheless get caught up in the pursuit of them.

It seems a parallel situation arises in teaching, as unachievable expectations abound in many areas of the profession: classroom management, student motivation, balancing multiple roles, effectively delivering a crowded curriculum, to name a few. While we strive to improve in these areas, there is often very little patience or acceptance for ourselves when we ‘fall short’.

A Transformational Shift in Perspective

In the midst of all of this, there is one simple truth that, once truly seen, can be more liberating than any other for teachers: we truly cannot ‘do it all’.

When we set ourselves up against an ideal that is unachievable we only have varying degrees of failure to look forward to. Once we come to accept the fact that we are chasing an impossible outcome we begin to see that what we define as ‘success’ is actually up to us.

The Power of Perspective

When we come to terms with the fact that we have limited resources, we can start to show ourselves more compassion while simultaneously being empowered to choose where we spend our precious time and energy.

Put another way, this transformative realization helps us see that:
1. When I focus on these external expectations, I am never enough.
2. When I focus on being as fully engaged as I can be within healthy expectations, I am freed up to be more joyful and present with my students without heavy judgment.

Redefining ‘Success’

Another important piece in getting to ‘enough’ is shifting our understanding of ‘success’. Our idea of what constitutes success is determined by what we measure and the benchmarks we use to measure it. We only have to look as far as standardized tests to see how impactful this principle is.

Here is a new proposal for how to determine at the end of the day whether we’ve been successful or not:

  1.  I am doing my best.
  2. I am committed to reflecting and growing as an individual and as an educator.

If you are doing these 2 things, then you are being successful within your current context. In a different context, the external reality may look quite different, but if you are doing these 2 things, then you are achieving as much as can be expected of anyone.

This is (or should be) self-evident, but we must be constantly vigilant to avoid losing sight of this reality. In the face of the needs and challenges we face every day as teachers, it is totally understandable that we want to avoid looking at the fact that we have to choose our battles. But if we don’t, we risk losing ourselves in the process.

You are enough.

Food for Thought

We are often very good at embracing reasonable expectations of others, but have a much harder time allowing ourselves to accept this of ourselves. What if we started to look at ourselves with the same expectations we would expect of our colleagues? Is there something we can do collectively to give each other permission to feel ‘good enough’?

About the Author

Christopher Lawley

Christopher empowers teachers to live healthier, more balanced and fulfilling lives. His teaching experience includes Grades 2 to 6 in Toronto's inner-city and Grades 7 to 12 at a private school in Tokyo, Japan. He loves yoga, meditation, movies, comic books and spending time with friends. He can be reached at chris@staffroomwellness.com.

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