Alarm Haters

Yeah, we all kind of hate alarms. It’s easy to see why: they interrupt our enjoyable activities with the knowledge that we still need to do that thing. (Which is likely undesirable because if we enjoyed it we wouldn’t need an alarm to remind us of it.)

But I think alarms have been given a bum deal. They really do serve a purpose, which is ultimately to move us to action so we don’t miss out on opportunities. It behooves us to attend to the alarms.

Author/speaker Alicia Britt Chole says, “Disappointment is an alarm that an expectation has not been met.” Good stuff! So any time we hear that disappointment alarm going off, all we have to do is identify and face our expectations. Easy peasey!

Well not really, because often these expectations are unstated or unclear—or even unconscious. It takes real work and effort to get down to the root of that expectation to determine the true meaning of the violation.

In a few days, Eric and I will officiate a wedding for friends. It seems to me that nothing prepares a bride and groom for marriage so much as helping them identify and face their expectations of themselves, and of each other.

“Seriously, he didn’t take out the trash? What kind of husband is he?”

Wow is that alarm screaming! So instead of pushing snooze, let’s take some time to attend to it. The judgment here is rooted in the expectation from this wife, that a good husband takes out the trash.

Now maybe she expects this because her father did it every day growing up. Maybe she read it in a book. Maybe she just woke up on Tuesday and decided this is how life should work. Regardless, it is this expectation (which he may not even know she has) which escalates the situation from, “Oh man, I guess it’s my turn,” to “Wow, I really thought he loved me.”

This example is overly simplistic, but the principles can be used to examine any instance of violated expectations. Sometimes we need to uncover, verbalize, or clarify our expectation, and sometimes we need to chuck it out the window. But what we cannot do is ignore it, or we will miss out on opportunities.


So leader, what are your expectations of yourself? Do you feel that to be a good communicator you must spend 10 hours a week in study? That to be a good parent you must attend every event your kid participates in? That to be a good leader you must be more educated, more tenacious, a better networker, a flawless administrator…Let me be clear, some of the expectations you identify will be right, and so you keep them. Others need to be refined for clarity. And still others just need to be tossed out the window.

So instead of hating on that alarm the next time it goes off, don’t push snooze. Listen. Attend. Clarify. Heal. And take advantage of some great new opportunities.

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