MBS: The Sixteen Candles Guide to Managing Expectations

3 minute read

Every single year, since I turned fifteen and received my very own shiny VHS copy, I have watched Sixteen Candles on my birthday. It’s my little, personal way of celebrating with one of my favorite films since childhood. Next week, when I turn thirty, I will continue this ritual and likely meditate throughout on mistakes and triumphs I’ve lived through thus far. I frequently set myself up with impossibly high expectations, therefore typically feeling like outcomes aren’t as good as they necessarily are. It’s no wonder, as this is the basic plot of Sixteen Candles, whose main character I have self-identified with for most of my life.

So what happens when, like Molly Ringwald’s Sam (or like me), outcomes don’t meet your expectations? How do you not feel unearned disappointment when your work project doesn’t come out as planned? Remember, that’s not to say it turned out poorly – this is more about the person feeling this way than it is the actual project. I want to find out for myself, so I’ll drag you along with me and Samantha Baker in the search.

Movie B-School: The Sixteen Candles Guide to Managing Expectations I North by Northwest Boise

The classic John Hughes movie starts out with Sam looking into the mirror, with some disdainful self-talk, “Chronologically, you’re 16 today. Physically, you’re still 15. (Sigh) Hopeless.” She picks up the phone and tells her friend, “I look the same as I did all summer…utterly forgettable.” She has started her birthday with completely unreal expectations of waking with an “improved mental state that would show on my face,” definitely setting herself up for disappointment.

Sam goes on to trust Farmer Ted with her underwear (which backfires when he sells entry to a secret geek gathering to look at her undies, and spills whose they are). Upon finding out that her crush, the hunkyhunky Jake Ryan, had been asking about her, she immediately fires off several scenarios for talking to him. Ultimately, she doesn’t end up talking to him at all, setting the pitiful stage for the last quarter of the movie. You spend most of the movie feeling bad for Sam, when if she had had realistic expectations, she could have been living her life, rowing merrily along, like a dog. The problem, is that she is “human” and I am human, and we humans tend to oversell ourselves on things we think we want.

Movie B-School: The Sixteen Candles Guide to Managing Expectations I North by Northwest Boise

Those who master managing expectations, Inc. says, “know how to communicate, organize, and direct conversations around getting things done.” The article throws out three tips to help:

  1. Make no assumptions, be sure to get context. Openly discuss what’s being expected of you.
  2. Over-communicate. Be pro-active and stick to status checkpoints, where honesty is of utmost importance. As the article points out, honesty about a delay is far better than missing deadlines.
  3. Pushing back is okay. If you find your expectations to still be uncomfortably unrealistic, push back a little to find that sweet spot.

Sam could have used Inc.’s advice by discussing her birthday with her family beforehand, or being open about her humiliation. She could’ve over-communicated how uncomfortable she would be if Farmer Ted let anyone know about her underwear. Had she not been only sixteen, Sam may have been able to push back on her own expectations of what happens when a boy likes you.

Movie B-School: The Sixteen Candles Guide to Managing Expectations I North by Northwest Boise

I guess one of the best things I’ve learned in my twenties is that I can’t predict how my thirties will turn out. Instead of setting too-high expectations, I need to let life happen instead of micromanaging it – wisdom from the Hughes universe via Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

I’ve also learned that no amount of aging has dampened the heart-fluttering that happens when I watch the final scene of this movie. Swoooon.


(Images via, via, via, via)


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About the Author

Stephanie Norell is the Marketing Director for North by Northwest’s Boise office. She loves horror movies and Pinterest, adores the classic film Xanadu, and “enjoys” disseminating her thoughts for trolls to discuss online.


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