Work Without Expectations

Expectations will be the death of you. It’s like trying to predict the future or control the weather. No matter how hard you try those will always be impossible tasks. Trying to control the uncontrollable only leads to frustration and failure. Being a slave to expectations is a sure fire way to set yourself up for disappointment.

So forget expectations; just do the work.

Last summer I directed a short film that I had also written. We are now almost finished with the post-production phase and the film is nearly ready to be shown to an audience. (I thought the film would have been finished a couple of months ago but there I go with my expectations.) It has been an exhilarating, frustrating, anxiety-producing, joyful process. I have lost a few nights sleep over it but much of that has been due to excitement about seeing the finished product.

When I am feeling stressed and pissed off about the process taking so long I try to remember that I didn’t need to do a film. It has cost me plenty of money and a lot of time. I do work a full-time job and trying to handle both has been stressful. However, the stress of doing something creative is far better than the stress of doing nothing at all.

I have attempted to make a few short films in the past. One sort of got completed. The other one was shot but never edited to any degree of completion. I dropped the ball and failed, no two ways about it. I had all kinds of expectations of how the movie should look, how the dialogue should sound etc. When things did not go the way I expected them to I became paralyzed and could not move the project forward. I lacked the ability to adapt my expectations to reality and deal with the inevitable obstacles and curve balls that are natural to the shooting of any movie. I became trapped by my expectations.

This time, I just wanted to get a movie made. I just wanted some sort of product completed, good or bad, that I could show to people. Obviously, I needed some kind of vision to get the project moving. I had certain characters in mind when I wrote the script: how they looked, how they moved, how they delivered the dialogue. However, I needed to adjust my vision based on the people who came in to audition. One of the lead characters ended up being significantly different than I had initially pictured and he was perfect, one of the strongest characters in the film. If I had remained hemmed in by my expectations of the person playing that role the project would have suffered.

When we got on location there were numerous adjustments that had to be made to the way I had orginally conceived certain scenes and shots. That is the nature of the beast. The cinematographer and I walked through the locations multiple times, discussed the scenes and made shot lists and rehearsed and did all the preparation we could and there were still significant changes we that took place on the actual day of shooting. There was one particular scene that was scheduled to be shot in an office area but, at the last minute, the cinematographer suggested that we shoot it in the bathroom, which made a lot more sense and it worked really well. It had not been my expectation to shoot there but so what? I had to learn to chuck my expectations.

There was one scene in the movie that I considered essential. The main character, a black man, is pulled over by the police on his way home from work. The point was that he is a young, educated professional and yet is still profiled as a criminal. In what is mostly a comedy, I felt that this scene was crucial in adding some depth and gravity, making a social statement. In the final edit, it just didn't work. The producer felt it didn’t work; the cinematographer felt it didn’t work and, it kills me, but they are right. I am disappointed that I couldn’t pull it off but there is no point in hurting the film to try and fulfill my expectations.

I really love the movie. I’m proud of it. I want people to like it. I want it to be accepted into several prestigious festivals and win awards. I would love some studio exec to see it and offer me a development deal for a feature film or a pilot or some kind of project. I would love for this to be a life changer for me, an opportunity to work on creative projects full time. But how can I really expect those things to happen? They are out of my control.

Expectations are counterproductive. They have no basis in reality. Whatever I may be expecting does not even exist. I can expect anything I want but that doesn't mean it will come to fruition. And if it doesn’t, does that mean I should just give up? If I do, then I am denying myself the wonder of seeing results that I never could have expected.

So forget your expectations and do the work.

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!