“Life is largely a matter of expectation,” said the Roman poet Horace. Simple enough, assuming one’s own expectations are all there is to it.

Recently, I spoke about expectations to the West Suburban Hospital Internal Medicine Residency Program. We compared and contrasted expectations that young physicians have for their careers with the demands and expectations set upon them by the medical field. We also spoke candidly about what a community expects from its doctors – the role of physicians in today’s society, the stereotypes and the subtle or not-so-subtle assumptions about a doctor’s life.

Sometimes there is alignment between these three sets of expectations – professionalism, expertise, long hours, patient care. Sometimes there isn’t – research, wealth, administrative responsibilities, community contributions, leadership, public speaking, accessibility and availability. When expectations are at odds, striking a balance is tricky. For example, a young physician will struggle to establish him / herself while raising a family despite long hours, relentless emails with links to the most recent medical literature, speaking engagements and a mountain of student loans – even while the community assumes that s/he is philanthropically wealthy, on the golf course, and available for volunteer service and free medical advice.

So it is with small business. An entrepreneur often goes into business with a set of expectations that is not aligned with marketplace realities or demands from the community. Put simply, entrepreneurs hope to offer a skill, a service, a product or a trade that they believe they has value to others – enough value that people will pay an amount sufficient for the entrepreneur to cover costs and make a living.

They don’t always expect the day to day realities. Employees, rent, taxes, zoning, marketing, Yelp reviews, unreliable vendors and pesky customers. At the same time, the community will expect a unique, curated, price-worthy, memorable, consistently great experience. Run by an affable community leader, active in local affairs and generous with what the community assumes to be ample profits. Different expectations – and not easily reconciled.

Meeting expectations is one thing. Managing the disparate expectations of oneself, one’s profession and one’s community is another thing altogether. In my view, a much harder thing.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...