Unreasonable Expectations

Something made me think again of a thought I hadn’t had for rather a long time. It was a thought particular to a time and place – the brief period leading up to when I started school at the good school I got into via an entrance exam and crossed fingers and prayers from grandparents and plenty of luck. There was so much stuff to get and preparation to do: so many text books to buy and uniforms to be fitted for and a formidable information pack covering many aspects of school life too, if I remember rightly. And it was natural to wonder how all of this would fit together. What sort of classes we would be using these text books in and what sort of teachers we would have and what “we” wold even mean, as I had no idea what my classmates would be like, not knowing anyone else in the school (except my cousin, who was to be in the year below). These imaginative conditions meant that there was a kind of fictional school created in my head, created from this evidence, the raw materials of my new school life to come. Some of the suppositions were correct and others were probably wrong and none of it really matters now, as it was an awfully long time ago.

But I remembered something about cricket the other day. I had never played cricket in a team but felt some sort of affinity for the game and I used to amuse myself by creating athletic pursuits in the backyard on my own, as there was no-one else to share these contests with, and the basic point of kicking the footy or bowling the ball or playing the late cut was to practice skills. The thought kept occurring to me as I hit a ball up against a wall, honing technique, concentrating on stance and balance and general correctness, was that I was practicing for the practice. In other words preparing for the training sessions we would be having at my new school – in effect training for training.

I had no way of knowing anything about organised cricket, played in a team, there was nothing to compare my progress or ability with, no other boys, and apart from a fair amount of backyard cricket at my friend’s house, there was no basis to make any kind of judgement at all. Not really. And yet I made a transition, in my own mind, from inexperienced – a novice really – to improving relative newcomer, to player with quite a bit of technique and a goodly dollop of flair which I would soon be impressing my new school mates with. Did I really think they would say, “Who is that prodigiously talented stranger? His late cut is so perfectly executed …” Maybe I did think that.

Of course I wasn’t very good. There were lessons I taught myself which some of my fellow players over the years have never learned, but the point is that my patchy and quite fragile level of ability didn’t survive contact with actual humans bowling actual cricket balls at you and trying to get you out.

This has been a problem, at other times and in other contexts, over the years. Getting ahead of myself. A big head. Assuming, with nowhere near enough evidence or foundation upon which to base such an assumption, that I would have to be very good indeed at something, and you know, maybe not quite world class, but better than just about every single person I would ever be in a position to compare myself with.

It doesn’t need saying that these assumptions, and there have been many of them, have almost always been wrong.

Maybe it’s a natural thing to do. Maybe no-one else does this. Maybe it’s not easy to know about other people. It’s certainly strange that a person who is retiring and shy and who isn’t exactly overflowing with self-esteem could make these outrageous logical leaps, which lead to conclusions only truly possible if one’s thinking is fortified by a strong mix of bravado and confidence. How is this possible?

It is possible – cognitive dissonance, I believe it’s called – to hold competing ideas in one’s head at the same time, and perhaps this is part of that. Another idea which could be useful is that we have here a clash between the internal and private sense of self, which may not be at all weak, and the public image or projection of that self, which is quiet and needs nurturing and care.

It’s also true that I did well academically in pretty much all disciplines, from the off, and that lasted right through. I had no real expectations about that, but knew that the competition would be stronger than it had been at my old school. My success surprised me, but it could be that, the lack of expectation, the knowledge that you just work hard and see what happens and effort will be rewarded was what worked in that instance. The lack of needing to build an imaginary world with me at the centre of it meant no unlikely scenarios of carrying off all the academic prizes on speech day. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a speech day.

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Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

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