Life as an Extreme Sport

the problem with expectations

This was written I don’t know when – been hanging out in the drafts area of the site. Probably some late night, fraught with insomnia and over-analysis. Yes, Michael, much like tonight, shutupthankyou. Anyhow, after a re-read, I still find I agree with what I wrote, so up it goes…

The problem with setting expectations is that eventually, your competence becomes your enemy: the assumption becomes you don’t need what you once did. This was a huge problem for me my last year or so at UW, and made me really question a lot of things, about myself and how I interact with the world, and about the people I work with. It also made me wonder if perhaps this factored in to why I only stayed at software companies for 2-3 years, at most – and normally had risen to the senior spot possible in that (relatively short) time.

Of course, when I was in the software industry, it was almost a bragging point. The less time you saw your manager, at least in any official capacity, the better you were at your job. The people who were constantly in their boss’s office? They were the ones who were incompetent, the ones who were making trouble, who couldn’t pull their weight. During the Microsoft era, my team and I had a competition going (at least prior to our reorg) – just how long could we go without seeing our manager, W~, without a beer in his hand?

But somewhere along the way, I started thinking about gender dynamics. The only time that sort of competition didn’t exist was when I had a female manager. She was still very hands off; I think I once went almost three weeks without actually talking work with her. It wasn’t that we never saw one another – we did, frequently, whether we were pitching expensive prototype powerbooks down the hall at one another, or playing volleyball over lunch, or sharing beer and BBQ. It’s just that there was no need to talk work – I had my project solidly outlined, knew what I was doing and what I was expected to do, and would meet up with her when it was done. Losing her is a large reason why I left Apple in the first place – the manager who replaced her was a micromanager of the worst variety.

Where do gendered dynamics come into it? I’ve often wondered if Carol was consciously aware of how women are raised, and worked hard to avoid using that against her almost completely female crew. A lot of scholarship suggests that there are certain ways of behaviour that women learn at a young age, and we’re almost primed to react to – such as being thanked for being conscientious, and not contributing to a problem. Or for being thoughtful, or kind. And the scholarship seems to suggest that getting feedback like this plays into certain gendered behaviour, of being submissive and quiet and not raising a fuss. Of being a “good” woman. After all, how often does a man get thanked for going out of his way to not be a problem?

One comment

  1. i donot get this point ,what does it mean ,The problem with setting expectations is that eventually, your competence becomes your enemy: the assumption becomes you don’t need what you once did.

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