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Carefully-Managed Expectations<br> By Marc Porter Zasada <p> SOMEWHERE ELSE THAN HERE, I suppose happiness may arise from a job well done, a loaf of warm bread with butter, or a long, sweet, Sunday afternoon. <p> But here in the metropolis, at home as well as office, the happiness of the Urban Man usually arises from carefully-managed expectations. <p> Did your department hit its numbers? Did the movie pull...enough? Did you avoid those "easily-avoided taxes?" Was the room really "ocean front"? Did your kitchen remodel look anything like the computer simulation? And have your kids turned out as smart as everyone expected they would when they said those very clever things, five years ago? <p> It's as if our happiness were a risky public stock with quarterly expectations. It's not what you accomplished, it's what everyone expected you to accomplish.<p> ***<p> Just now it's 7:30 on a winter night at the office, and the Urban Man has been trying to set the right expectations. This conference room has no windows, and it's lit only by those tiny hanging bulbs normally found in dark restaurants. My boss stands at the nearly-invisible whiteboard, and the controller plays a dangerous tune on her glowing laptop. It's a real public company, I'm here to declare my targets for the coming year. <p> I know that if I set expectations too low I'll be ignored - in fact, I'll be marked a failure before the race even begins. Set expectations too high, and I'm sure to fail later on. Like so much of life here, it's a game that requires...cautious optimism. <p> At last I rise, I take the dry-erase marker, and I scrawl an energetic series of possibilites across the whiteboard: projects anticipated or merely imagined. I say, "I expect a considerable upside by Q3." <p> Of course, I say that every year. I know no one's willing to wait for Q4. <p> In spite of the late hour, the controller smiles: "You know you have to give me a number." So I offer her a cautiously optimistic number followed by a long tail of "ifs" hanging in the evening gloom. You know: "...if we get some new hires, if no one beats us to the punch..." <p> I know that "ifs" don't mean much in this town, and my boss waves them aside like a cloud of gnats. But I can see I've given him a number just high enough.<p> ***<p> This office tower was built right next to the 405, and I always find it a little unsettling to walk to the parking garage at night, just a few feet from the roaring traffic and the flare of taillights beneath a ragged line of eucalyptus. <p> As I get in my car, I think about analyst expectations for my domestic life. That kitchen remodel. That vacation with the oceanfront room. That private college for the kids: All equally high risk efforts at happiness. <p> And as I join the other cars on the freeway, I find that the Urban Man has to tell himself tales to keep his spirits up. Briefly, I imagine that other place - that "somewhere else" where people may have fewer expectations. That place where they tie their joy to brown bread and long Sunday afternoons. Instead of taillights, I suppose they watch flares of sunlight beneath ragged evening clouds. <p> And I think: Surely, those people sit around in their rocking chairs envying me and my chance of a considerable upside in Q3. And surely, the expectations of the Urban Man, strung like colored lights along the exits of the 405, can be sweet as well as dangerous. <p> They just need careful management. <p> Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada <br>
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