top of page
  • Writer's pictureSharon

Great Expectations

I watched as the fire licked the paper, its edges slowly curling and turning brown.  When it erupted in flames, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by conflicting emotions.     

I panicked.  I was burning a significant part of my identity.  Several days earlier I had culled my career file, resulting in a stack of papers several inches high.  Each piece of paper represented an event in my career life and here I was tossing them in the fire!  What if I needed the documents for some reason?

I was sad.  This was the evidence of my career.  Proof of the positions I had held throughout my 42-year career.  I had worked over 85k hours, yet my length of service awards, resumes, position descriptions and training certificates held no interest for anyone other than me.  And even my interest had waned over recent years.  But did that warrant them being reduced to ashes?

I was relieved.  I discarded my annual performance objectives. Those performance standards had been the source of my angst throughout my entire career. Management's achievable expectations always morphed into self-imposed unrealistic expectations. I had to achieve excellence at all times and in all tasks.  Mistakes weren't acceptable and when I made even the smallest mistake, it would haunt me for days and scream of my failure.  With the documents now in the discard pile, I no longer had to bear the weight of continuous perfect performance in the workplace.

I was sentimental.  When I was sorting through the paperwork and deciding what to keep, emails and naval commendation letters stirred vivid memories of my role in major events, including a high-visibility Admiral's conference; changes of command; official ceremonies; and annual leadership conferences. I saved the supervisory comment pages from several of my annual performance evaluations; even after all these years, I still find a sense of accomplishment, and affirmation in the handwritten words.

I wadded up a few more sheets and tossed in the fire.  The paper writhed in response to the heat.

"That's what I did my entire career,"  I thought.  "I writhed under the heat of perfection."   

As I stoked the fire, I had an ah-ha moment. I realized my striving didn't begin or end in the workplace. I'd been living with great expectations my entire life.   

A child of a career Marine, I was introduced to good order and discipline at a very young age.   Every toy had its place; if it was out of place, I was punished.  There was no questioning, no excuses or no talking back.  I was expected to do what I was told the minute I was told to do it, and to do it right the first time. I quickly learned good behavior was pleasing and the reward was love. Mistakes or misbehavior was disappointing and I wasn't good enough to be loved.

Those early experiences taught me that my performance = approval of others = worthy of affirmation and love.  The better my performance, the greater my chance of receiving affirmation and love.

So the striving for perfection began. In my home life. In my school life. In my work life. In my friendships. In my relationships. In my relationship with God.

While I watched the fire, I also realized I had gotten my equation wrong.  So very wrong.

The correct equation was God's grace  + God's approval + God's love.  (Ephesians 2:8-9 + Psalm 139: 1-18 and Zephaniah 3:17 + John 3:16 and Romans 8:38-39)

As I threw a stack of paper into the bonfire, I consciously made the decision to surrender my unrealistic self-expectations. I will no longer strive for the approval and affirmation of others.

The flame consumed the paper and the fire burned hot, so hot I had to step back several feet. In a matter of minutes, only ashes remained.

Yet the Lord makes beauty from ashes.

And now I wait — with great expectation — to see what wonderful things the Lord will do in me, for me, and with me.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

~ Ephesians 2:8–9

121 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page