After every tennis match I lost in high school, my father would console me by saying, “You just weren't good enough.” Those words stung each time I heard them. But they were true.
Over time, my dad stopped coming to my matches because I told him the pressure of his gaze wasn't helpful. With no expectations from my father, I began to play better. In my senior year, I made All-District after going 11-1.
As a father today, I'm not sure whether delivering harsh love without providing any advice on how to get better is the way to go. As a high school tennis coach for three years, my tendency was to always be encouraging and use losses as lessons for ways to get better.
On the one hand, having high expectations for my children might help them get the most out of themselves. On the other hand, having high expectations combined with criticism could break my children's spirits.
Giving Up On Expecting My Kids To Be Excellent Students
Here's a passage from an article called, What Happens After The End Of Affirmative Action?, that actually gave me tremendous RELIEF, not disappointment or frustration.
Calvin Yang, 21, is a Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) member and party to the lawsuit against Harvard.
Yang’s résumé was something else: he was a varsity swimmer and varsity rugby player, and he’d been in debate club and No. 1 at his school’s International Baccalaureate program. He’d even launched his own initiative—the Canadian Youth Alliance for Climate Action—which organized the biggest climate protest in North American history. Over 300,000 people showed up, including Greta Thunberg.
In 2021, he made Canada’s Top 30 Under 30. He speaks six languages (including Icelandic and Chinese). Oh, and he scored a 1550 out of 1600 on his SAT.
But when he applied to Harvard, he was rejected. Same with Yale.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of prejudice and stereotypes against the Asian American community,” Yang said in an interview.
Eventually, Yang wound up at Berkeley, where he’s now a rising junior. But he is still angry. “I’m fighting on behalf of Asian-Americans, and, I guess, Asian communities all around the world,” he said.
Don't Need To Try So Hard Anymore
Calvin's achievements are so high there's no way my kids will ever get there. And even on the off chance they become part of the top one percent in everything they do, they are still likely to be rejected by the top 20 private universities.
Therefore, my immediate thought was, why bother trying so hard?
Instead of stressing about grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities, it would be much better for my kids to enjoy their youth as much as possible. You hear about teenagers committing suicide due to all the pressure to be great students. Screw that!
My kids should focus on activities they love doing instead of activities for resume-building purposes. They should not sweat classes that disinterest them. What's the point in getting an “A” in organic chemistry if they have no interest in becoming doctors?
Accepting as fact my kids will be shut out from the top private universities because they use more subjective admissions criteria brings me a tremendous amount of peace. And I hope as my kids grow older, they will find peace in this fact as well.
For I also have confidence there will always be public colleges like UC Berkeley that will be using more objective admissions criteria if my kids do well academically.
Over time, more public colleges will climb the rankings because they serve a wider demographic of students. Further, there's a deemphasis on legacy admission and it's harder to buy your way in as well as we learned from Operation Varsity Blues.
Other Ways Low Expectations Have Helped
When nobody believes in you or expects you to be anything, that's when magic can happen! Here are some ways low expectations have helped me live a better life.
1) Boosted health and happiness
While many of my peers in banking wanted to accumulate generational wealth, I was OK with leaving work with much less. Yes, I'm probably poorer than many of my peers who are still working in banking at age 46. However, leaving at age 34 improved my happiness and my health.
I was suffering from all sorts of physical ailments the year I left banking. Within a year, all my ailments and my white hairs went away. Now that I'm older, I'm highly appreciative that reducing work stress for over 11 years may have extended my life expectancy.
The quest for more money can be never-ending. How many folks do you know sacrifice their time and health for more money? And then when they finally achieve their target net worth, they end up wanting more!
2) Became more satisfied with earning less
In my podcast episode on how much MDs make at Goldman Sachs, my guest assumed I was making less today than what I did when I worked at Credit Suisse. I accepted her assumption but also mentioned that I was still happy with my earnings due to having low expectations.
When I left work in 2012, I just wanted to make $1,000 a month online to supplement our food and housing costs in fake retirement. But I made more, so I'm happy. To me, everything above $12,000 a year feels like winning the lottery because I would be writing even if I earned nothing. I've been recording podcasts for over five years with no sponsors because it's been a lot of fun.
Conversely, if I had expected to make $1 million in profits a year online, I'd be miserable. I would probably have to hired a lot of freelance writers and pumped out a lot of bland articles for search engine ranking purposes. If I had, today my joy for writing would be gone.
3) Boosted family satisfaction because I didn't expect to have any children
I didn't think I wanted children until age 34. But when we finally started seriously trying, our biology didn't cooperate for three years. Hence, eventually having one child through natural conception felt like a miracle. Then having a second one through natural concept two-and-a-half years later felt like another miracle.
As a stay-at-home father, I've listened to crying and whining multiple times a day for over 2,370 days in a row. Being a stay-at-home parent to babies and toddlers is way harder than working in banking.
However, I haven't gotten a divorce, checked out, or gone back to work yet because I'm simply grateful to have them. My kids give me tremendous purpose to keep writing and recording on Financial Samurai, for which I'm thankful.
4) Unlocked an unknown creative side thanks to low expectations
With no expectations from anybody about Financial Samurai, I was able to write about anything I found interesting. I wasn't afraid of offending anyone with my opinion because I was beholden to no one.
As a result, Financial Samurai has one of the most original portfolios of personal finance content on the web. This originality has helped keep the site afloat since 2009, while many other sites have come and died since.
With no expectations of me, I was able to write a lullaby called Cutie Baby, write an ebook on the foreign concept of negotiating a severance, and publish a bestselling traditional personal finance book like no other. If you were to ask me in college whether I'd do such things, I'd say probably not.
These creative endeavors have unlocked a new part of me that has made life more fulfilling. We all have creativity as children. However, due to the need to get jobs to make money, we often lock our creativity away and forget about it.
Having Low Expectations Is A Wonderful Gift
In the past, I've expounded on the importance of being in the top one percent in something for a better life. The mastery of something will provide you great satisfaction. However, the constant pressure to be the best in something is also tiresome.
By having low expectations, you're less fearful of trying. With less fear of ridicule, you might end up doing something way beyond your expectations.
Instead of getting life insurance as my top financial move to reduce stress and anxiety, maybe having low expectations should be the number one instead. I'm truly amazed at how much better I feel after finding out the achievements of the rejected Harvard and UNC applicants.
Of course, I'm still going to encourage my kids to do their best in school. But no longer do I expect them to get into a better college than I did. Instead, I hope they have a rewarding childhood and grow up to be good people!
Reader Questions And Suggestions
Have you experienced the joy of low expectations? How has having low expectations for you and your children helped you? Would you be angry if you or your kid didn't get into a top university despite having top academics and extracurricular activities? The Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action on June 29, 2023.
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