“How long have you been practicing?” she asked me.
“Almost 5 years,” I said, thinking nothing of it.
“Wow, I would have never expected it to be that long,” she quickly replied.
I went from relaxed to uneasy instantaneously. Wow, five years is a long time. Is she asking because I seem like a novice? Am I still a novice? I guess I’m not as far as I should be or as far as I thought I would be. She’s right, I should have accomplished more than this by now. What have I been doing for five years?
I thought all of these things in the slight pause before she followed it up with, “You look like you’re 21.”
This patient encounter happened a while ago, but the uncertainty it caused stuck around for a while. In fact, I’m not sure it ever left. I think its been there all along. Since PT school, I’ve wondered if I am enough and if I’m doing enough. The doubts and fears haven’t disappeared completely even as I’ve gotten more confidence, more experience, and more wins.
I’m not upset that I don’t have my ideal career yet. I fully believe I’m on my way. And it’s not the gap between where I am and where I want to be that upsets me. It’s the gap between where I am and where I think I should be. It’s like I’m in some race and if I don’t hit certain markers within a certain time then I’ve lost.
This experience- feeling like you’re not enough or haven’t done enough- is so common that we call it the Expectation Gap.
Basically, you reach the Plan Paradox and you decide it's time to create a new plan. You figure out what you want and you start working towards it. You have an idea of how things should be, but then you realize that isn’t exactly how they are. There is this separation between what you experience and what you thought you would be doing.
You start to think things like...
“I thought I’d be seeing athletes, but my schedule only has one or two.”
“I thought I’d have autonomy.”
“I thought I’d get all my patients better.”
“I thought I’d make more money than this.”
“I’m learning, but I should know more by now.”
Whatever it is, we have this idea of what we should experience. It’s this gap that causes the most frustration. It is not your current circumstance, but what you think your current circumstance should be.
So, what do we do about it?
1) Look at it for what it is. The Expectation Gap is nothing more than the let down you feel when what you look forward to doesn’t live up to everything that you imagined. But, just because you thought things would be different doesn’t mean that they can’t be better. You actually need to look back and see how much you have accomplished. When you do this it is amazing how much better you are from 1 year ago and 5 years ago—- write it down
2) As you think about your ideal career, recognize that it is just that - an ideal, something to shoot for. It should give you motivation and excitement to achieve your goals, not something to use as a measuring stick for how you are doing.
3) It is a mindset shift. Now, I am not here to offer positive psychology or convince you to like your job. The important thing is to resist the urge to look at how far you need to go and instead celebrate how far you have come. Your ideal progresses as you do and if we don’t take the time to look at how far we’ve come we fail to recognize the progress we have made.
The best thing that you can do is reflect and compare to where you used to be. We recommend using the Career Growth Index if you do not already have a system. This will give you an appreciation for where you are and can be retaken as you move forward. But whatever you do, celebrate the progress and appreciate everything you’ve accomplished.
With all that, sometimes you still feel stuck. In our next post, we will give you specific strategies to get unstuck.