I attended our kids Winter Show yesterday. We arrived early and hungry so munched our way through an old pick a mix of sweets I found in the bottom of my bag. When the show began, Isi came on with her class and sat smiling and confident in position - we weren’t worried that she’d struggle, she loves the arts and feels right at home on the stage. But my palms got sweaty as I saw Julius walk on. Would he know what he was doing there? He hadn’t mentioned the show thelast weeks, although Isi had come home virtually every night singing songs and acting out the dance moves. Only this morning he looked at me blankly when I told him I’d see him later at the theatre - I wasn’t 100% sure he knew that he was going to be in a show let alone what he was suppose to do when the curtain parted.
The opening cords signalled the start of the fist act. I resisted the temptation to look away. I smiled broadly and hoped for the best. His arms went up in the air barely a heartbeat after his classmates, he opened his mouth and he sang! He didn’t seem to know all the words, but he knew moves, he was in the right place at the right time and he seemed to enjoy himself.
This was progress. This was success. This was his success.
The show went on and the acts got more complicated and involved as they moved through the classes.
Finally my dear friend’s daughter Hana came on with her class. They are 14 to my kids 7 and 8 so by all intents and purposes these are the grown ups of the school. Hana looked beautiful, confident and completely relaxed. Her class sang “go the distance” from Hercules, which is one of my favourite songs. And I’ll admit it I teared up. I was on the verge of loosing it truth be told. It wasn’t the song or even the relief that Julius and Isi’s part was over. It was the realisation of how time adjusts expectation. For Julius success was little more than facing in the right direction. For Hana it was getting the words right, looking good, singing in tune, being cool and the list goes on. But what would happen if Julius was judging himself by Hana’s list of expectations? All of a sudden, looking in the right direction would have been worthless. There would have been no way he could have achieved at that level so he’d have felt disheartened at his performance and would have probably hung his head in shame and doubt.
I reflected on how in business we so often look over at someone else’s success and lament that it’s so easy for them, or they're doing so well and why aren’t we able to produce that level of work, speak with that much confidence, rake in that many clients. But are we taking into account where they are in their story? Do we know how many times just showing up and looking in the right direction was top of their priority list?
It’s fine to look forward, to admire those who are “nailing it” (I don’t like that expression, but sometimes it does work), to dream of one day knowing the words and the moves and doing it all resplendent in a red, bodycon dress. But the truth is that even when we get there, there’ll be someone doing all that and tap dancing at the same time.
It’s important that we keep our heads inside our own story. We manage our expectations to the best of our abilities not someone else’s. Otherwise we’ll never know the feeling of success only that of failure by comparison.