23 July 2015

The Tyranny of Low Expectations

A few years ago I went to look at purchasing a used vehicle. The salesman quoted me $14,000, and I responded that I'd be more interested in paying around $12,000. At that point, I locked myself into a battle that I couldn't win and he couldn't lose-he could "fight" me over the $2000 to make me feel like I got a good deal, but in hindsight I realize that anything over about $8000 was going to bring them money, and I was responsible for paying more than I needed to. I set my expectations too low. Thankfully, I didn't end up purchasing the vehicle.

As Sailors, do we make expectations for ourselves that are too small? Do we let others put us into a box that is too small for us?

A typical E4, when asked what they want to get out of their enlistment, will say something like "make E5 and ESWS". Those are safe answers, with little chance to fail as long as a minimum of effort is put forward.

Leaders, would you accept that answer?

When I arrived at my first ship, I told my LPO that I wanted to make First Class by six years in, and while I don't remember his answer, my shipmates laughed. They had made themselves the expectation that Second Class was so hard to get they'd never make First. But while I didn't make it by six years, I did make it under eight-much faster than what seemed possible at the time.

Our culture talks a lot about living your dreams, but the day to day grind of military life can make that difficult to do. Whatever your experience, either as an E2 or an O6, there are opportunities to surpass the expectations of our peers and give our nation more value as a service member. This doesn't happen by waiting for success to arrive, but rather by charging ahead and taking control of your career, and setting your own expectations.

Here's an example you can work through: write down the goals you had when you first reported to your current command. What did you want to do? Have you done it yet? Have they been displaced or discarded? If the former, have you made new goals that surpass what you originally thought could be possible? If the latter, have you reevaluated the goals to determine if they are achievable?

When my ship's Command Master Chief challenged a number of my peers to attain their Junior Officer of the Deck qualification, I didn't wait for his invitation-I charged ahead and earned it, helped my shipmates study for it, and together with another shipmate, was the first to earn it through the new qualification process. Learning new things and qualifications happen to be strengths of mine, and I leveraged those strengths to exceed my command's expectations of me.

By taking charge of my career, I put the goalposts where I want them to be-in a place where I can make the most of my strengths to make me a more useful Sailor to my command.

I certainly have weaknesses-too many to fit into a quick blog post-but am confident that by taking control of my expectations I am giving a net positive to the Navy. Nobody expected me to earn my JOOD qualification, but by doing so, the watchbill coordinator has that much more flexibility in writing a watchbill. Our ship's readiness is increased, and we are more capable of accomplishing the mission. That, ultimately, is what we are here to do.

Oh, and my first ship? Her motto remains with me today: "Fortune favors the bold".

Be bold, shipmates.


ET1(SW) Jeff Anderson currently serves on board the USS Independence. His articles have been featured on CIMSEC, the US Naval Institute Blog, Defense Entrepreneurs Forum Blog, and more. Follow Jeff on Twitter @NavyInnovator .

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