Oct 05

Unreasonable Expectations

Unreasonable ExpectationsPushing more assignment into a limited time frame then it is possible to achieve put us under enormous pressure. Whenever someone demands us to accomplish his or her Unreasonable Expectations he/she does not consider neither our rights, interest and/or feelings – nor the reality.

 If no one else does, you need to protect yourself from its devastating consequences.


When I was about 16, I was living in a conservatory in a small town in Hungary. During this time, it first hit me: My teachers expected me to spend about 35-38 hours a week in school, practice the flute about 3 hours a day, mandatory piano an hour a day, solfeggio for half an hour, music theory for another half, accord recognition and practice, and complete my homework in the regular high school curriculum. On top of all this, I was commuting about 2.5 hours per day.

As I compiled the hours, I concluded that I didn’t do anything but constant work without any breaks. I had 2-3 hours of sleep only to begin the same routine at 6:45 when I boarded the student bus.

It did not take long to realize this is unreasonable, even surreal. I was not able to do too much to resist it; at least I knew it is not my fault if I cannot fulfill these expectations.

I did everything I could, and comforted myself with the Beatles song: “It’s been a hard day’s night, I’ve been working like a dog…”

I managed to survive the music school. Surprise, surprise! However, with all of this training, I have not become a musician, but switched to psychology. There were “Hard day’s nights” again when I undertook evening courses while working in daily jobs and conducting scientific experiments in pursuit of my Master’s Thesis.


At least I chose that path rather than it being imposed upon me. Even to this day, I, have scary dreams that I forgot to go to clean the post office during the night or at dawn which was my breadwinner job for 2 years.

At Ph D. school it hit again. I was expected to be organizing the research, conducting interviews and route description with blind people, recording, and statistically analyzing the data. In addition to this, I was expected to have at least 2 publications in prestigious magazines, show up at the necessary lectures, teach, and have 2 intermediate language exams within 3 years. Furthermore, during the week I was suppose to read about 500 pages from the new Ethology book plus be informed about the newest articles in the connecting scientific field.


At this time I was even madder than in high school because I expected a more rational approach from scientific researchers. I went around and asked skillful colleagues how many pages are they able to read in English. (Remember: English was the second or rather third-fourth language for all of us, reading it did not go as quick as in one’s mother tongue.) Of course the result was similar to high school. If I don’t sleep and don’t live and don’t do anything else, I might accomplish the assignments only slightly after the deadline.

Time after time I got into similar situations and the effect is the same on me. I’m confident it is probably the same for everybody else: STRESS. STRESS and even more STRESS.

My husband came home one day and informed me that he got an assignment from his boss. However, the deadline for the design was the previous day. Knowing the circumstances, I had no doubt it is a form of manipulation: “Be anxious because of the late work in compensation and put extra hours to the accomplishment without thinking any compensation.”

On two separate occasions, my children came home from school with lots of homework. To add insult to injury, they were unrealistically expected to show up 2-3 hours later in concert well fed, well rested and adorned in concert attire.

Did they give it on purpose to stress us out or manipulate children for better achievement? I don’t think so. My guess is they did not even think about that other teachers give the same amount of task to the same children. Or do I suppose they didn’t care how the families were solving those time management problems?

Whenever we buy in to take responsibility for accomplishing something that is not attainable under the given time frame, we put enormous stress on ourselves.

How can you maintain any element of sanity if our boss, teachers or supervisor pour enormous amounts of assignments onto you?

My approach is that that we should apply a little rational effort into analyzing the task. How much time will the subtasks take? How long will you spend in traffic? How much time do you allocate for breaks or eating or any other part of the process? Add everything together and multiply it maybe 2 or 3 times.

There are always unexpected obstacles in the process. On top of this you are green therefore slower at the beginning. Additionally, you are tired therefore slower to complete the task at hand. It should also be noted that we have individual differences in our speed and rhythm of work.

Once we had to calculate an entry exam evaluation time. We sorted out how much time it will take to opening the boxes, sorting out the questionnaires, counting the right answers, entering one questionnaire’s data in the computer, multiplied with the questionnaire’s numbers, applying the statistics and writing the evaluation…


If you found that the expectations exceeds the calculated time for the assignment, you can assume that you will not be ready on time.

How do you handle the situation depends on you and the particular problem.

I usually argue in the rational way going through point by point why the expectation seems to be unreasonable to me: which part takes how long and how many part tasks add up the assignment. I try to find a workable compromise where we can lower the expectation or extend the time frame, maybe share the workload.

If I am unsuccessful in my efforts, I try not to take the responsibility to accomplish something which does not seem possible. I do my best, and get to the point where it is possible. It does not always come easy, but I do my best not to stress about it.

If I could not convince my superior about my opinion, I figure out how to leave the situation sooner rather than later. This is not my best interest to live in an environment that constantly pressures me. Of course I consider every circumstance before I decide. However, if I don’t stand up for my interest, no one will.

I did my best convincing teachers not to put unreasonable pressure towards our children with unrealistic amount of homework in vain on the contrary of the proof of countless studies. By very few replying to my request, it only proves that they don’t care.

The best I can do is to equip them with stable self-confidence, knowing when it is normal, when it is challenging and when it is too much. Of course homework is not supported in my home after 8pm. 12 hours of work time has to be enough for everything important, especially in those early years.

On the side note: in hunter gatherer societies it is about 3-4 days a week that they need to actively work: hunt or gather. During that time they are able to provide for the family. So why are our 6-14 years old children need to work more than 6 hours a day?

What is really annoying for me is that Unrealistic Expectations DO NOT SERVE and do NOT EVEN CONSIDER the receiving party’s needs and interests! People who demand too much from you DO NOT CARE about what you want to do or how you feel about it. It does not concern them what you would lose if you comply.
If you see it through these lenses, you realize that no matter how they pressure you, your worth does not depend on whether or not you fulfill unrealistic expectations!

If they don’t care about you, you do not have to care about them! It’s so simple when it is all said and done.


PS: Since I finished this article I went a Middle School and a High School Curriculum Night. In both places they prepared us that our children will have home work assignments that add up about 3-6 hour of work in average, maybe more in case of tests. (Which is happening way too often and way to pressurizing way.)

In middle school they even have homework assignment from Physical Education, in addition they have to “make up” for PE classes when they are missing class because of illness or other reason.

Splendid. Not enough that the child is weakened by the illness and have to catch up with other classes, they have to do double physical activity the days after missed school.

How reasonable is this?

Why do we do it with our children?

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net