Capabilities, Expectations, and Limits

Ecker (1985) described three attributes of employer-employee relations (Figure 1). The first, employee capabilities, is the “sum total of everything the employee brings to the work setting which can be used to perform his or her assigned task”. The second, expectations, is the “employer’s standard of performance for the task”. The third, limits, is established by the employer, “a domain in which employee capabilities can be expressed and employer expectation can be realized”. In Ecker’s view, only capabilities is an established reality, and both expectations and limits relate to how that reality is dealt with by the employer. (I personally think that capabilities is not something fixed, especially from a skills-perspective, but a good boss and job fit, can greatly expand an employee’s capabilities.)

Ideally, all three attributes should have the same magnitude (Figure 1). Maximum performance and employee satisfaction is attained when the employee’s capabilities meet the employer’s expectations, and the limits set by the employer allow the employee’s capabilities to be fully expressed, and the employer’s expectations to be fully met (p. 104).

In a less ideal situation, the employer uses a management strategy – management by control – that does not allow enough space for the employee’s capability to be realized. This happens when the employer sets expectations that are beyond the employee’s capabilities, resulting in “the employee struggling constantly against unreasonable demands, and the boss perpetually frustrated with unmet expectations”. Then, the employer regulates by “setting limits on the employee’s activities within the job”, further hindering the employee from doing the job well.

In management by control, the three boxes do not coincide and may look like Figure 2. The result is that “not only are the employer’s expectations well beyond the employee’s capabilities, but the boss has imposed such tight limits that the employee is not even permitted to work up to the capabilities he has”.Figures

Even though, the goal of this section in the book was really to help employers, and consequently, employees, face less stress in the workplace, the reason I have extracted it and blogged about it here is that I find this model very beautiful, and helpful for thinking about job hunting or job recruitment. Perhaps, we can look at it this way, we want to find a job where our capabilities match up to the employer’s expectations, and at the same time, find a good match, in terms of someone who sets limits that are just right for us, and do not hinder the employee from bringing the best he or she has to the task. For the employer who usually only focuses on the potential employee’s capabilities, a good question to also ask is whether his or her personality, and/or the working environment, poses any constraints that limits the employee from shining and excelling. It is not always the employee’s fault when something goes wrong. A good employer will also examine his or her management strategy.


Ecker, R. (1985) The stress myth: why the pressures of Life don’t have to get you down. Herts: Lion Publishing plc, pp. 103-107


I’ve been doing a bit of tidying up during Christmas day and New Year day. Today, I started to put aside some of my church materials and University notes to be discarded. And it’s at this point in time that I realized, I am not going to be a:

  • Youth Worker or Church Staff
  • Sociologist or Historian
  • Biologist or Ecologist or Evolutionary Biologist or Naturalist
  • Urban Planner or Architect

I had kept the relevant notes from school, because I had harbored hope that if I had the knowledge in these fields, perhaps one day I could switch to one of these careers.

It is with some enlightenment and sigh of relief when I packed away these things, certain that these were not the paths for me.

Back then, I would have never guessed I would walk the path of an educational researcher. I would have never guessed I would be interested in Education.

I also noticed the common thread among those disciplines that caught my interest – what captured me was “structure”. The reason why I liked taxonomy, urban planning, and architecture was because I was fascinated by structure. I like things that had a fixed pattern to them. They were very beautiful to me.

*sigh* This year I’m going to be 30. And I guess, what I have helped myself to do this past 29 years was to eliminate those jobs mentioned above. I can be a hobbyist, to enjoy the fruits of those disciplines, but no, I will not pursue those as my career. Life has led me to be an educator, and though I scratch my head and wonder how can someone like me become an educator, I will embrace this path of life, until I receive further direction from above about where this path leads.

humiliation is temporary

… before spring becomes beautiful, it is plug ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I have walked in the early spring through fields that will suck your boots off, a world so wet and woeful it makes you yearn for the return of ice. But in that muddy mess, the conditions for rebirth are created.

I love the fact that the word humus – the decayed vegetable matter that feeds the roots of plants – comes from the same root that gives rise to the word humility. It is a blessed etymology. It helps me understand that the humiliating events of life, the events that leave “mud on my face” or that “make my name mud,” my create the fertile soil in which something new can grow. (p. 103)

Palmer, Parker J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Vocation as a Gift

I just read this and am so touched by it. In my church, we celebrate individuals who are willing to give up a comfortable life and their careers to do missionary work. Last May, during our church conference, the visiting pastor challenged us, “Those who are willing to give up anything for God, come to the altar right now.” I couldn’t bring myself to go down, even as I watch the throngs of people strolling to the front. At that time, I thought I had finally found my calling in academia, I found a job that I enjoyed. I was willingly a workaholic because I loved my work. To be very honest to myself and God, if at that point God wanted me to give it all up, I would be quite unwilling. So I did not go down to the altar.

That concept of vocation is rooted in a deep distrust of selfhood, in the belief that the sinful self will always be “selfish” unless corrected by external forces of virtue. It is a notion that made me feel inadequate to the task of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I was supposed to be, leaving me exhausted as I labored to close the gap.

Today I understand vocation quite differently – not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. (p. 10)

Regarding finding your true self, about what you were meant to do already written in your nature, as God’s message to guide you, I believe in that. Why is it that I so long to go overseas to live, yet I have friends who have that opportunity but so desire to stay put in Singapore? Is it something within us, guiding us. Why is it that some people try to hard to make it work out where they currently are, they have decided to stay put, and rejected offers from other places, but they continue to be so miserable? Bullied by one boss after another? Is it a sign that it is time to move on?

I gladly accept my vocation as God’s gift to me today. 🙂 And know, I will continue miles onward to find who He truly made me to be.

Palmer, Parker (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

Having compassion for yourself

Compassion is something often extended toward others. Do you know we can also extend compassion toward ourselves?


I went to Popular bookstore, hoping to get the latest What Color is Your Parachute? 2016 However, it was not yet available. But I chanced upon a book titled “Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend”. It was a very moving book.

Take responsibility for your own well-being today. Don’t be dependent on others for your own well-being. Be your own advocate, supporter and loving friend.

One way we make others responsible for our well-being is to ignore our own instincts in a situation and instead defer to another person. We aren’t deferring out of kindness; we do it out of mistrusting the instincts God has given us or out of fear of speaking up. Furthermore, we often end up blaming the other person for not considering us in the decision. In reality, we may not have shared our opinion on the issue or how important it was to us. Advocating for yourself, regardless of the result, is a very compassionate and connecting thing to do for yourself. When you give your well-being over to the opinions and actions of others, it often doesn’t work out for you or the other person. (p. 79-78)

Fredrickson, K. (2015) Give Yourself a Break: Turning Your Inner Critic into a Compassionate Friend. Gran Rapids, Michigan: Revell

Administrative Frustrations

Administrative work creates a lot of stress in me, because there are logical steps for getting things done.

I am more of a spontaneous thinker, a brainstormer. I don’t work step-by-step. So when I do admin work, I find myself keep getting stopped in the process because a previous step was not achieved, I required clarification on another step etc etc. The whole process cannot move forward so long there are gaps in the process.

So yes, I had wanted to clear all my admin work today, on a Saturday, but I realized I cannot. The information I require to clear my work lies in the hands of other people. I can only wait till Monday to continue my work.

So administrative work requires planning and doing things in advance. It requires foresight… and permission from others to proceed forward.

It’s not like my writing work that I am fully in control of the process. I work whenever I want to. I can do whichever steps I prefer to first. I can come back later to steps I missed out on earlier… It’s so much more flexible.

I think I better learn to be more logical in my work so that I can be more efficient in administrative work…

Botanic Gardens

There’s a bittersweet feeling whenever I come to the Gardens. This was pretty much one of my dream jobs or place to work in. In the herbarium, studying specimens. In the garden, walking among plants.

As I sit under my favourite tree where I first found my pet ant-mimicking spider whom Zelanie helped me name, Herman, because we didn’t know whether it was a he or she, I feel happy and contented.

I come here whenever I was in need. When I needed restoration. When I felt great anxiety. I like plants. Unlike people, they have no expectation of you. They do not give you pressure or stress, they just are. I still my heart and enjoy the beauty of this place.

That my career path has been directed away from this place, I just have to trust God with the unknown He’s leading me towards. For whatever reason He has extended a year after a year where I currently am and given me new roles and assignments, I just submit my will to it, praying for new grace and new strength daily to face the work I have to do.

He has restored me and I will be courageous to face more tests, more temptations and more trials. This is His lot for me. And I accept it. And I praise Him.

I trust You, Lord, as I enter into this great Unknown. Lead me. And protect me. And help me love others.


Money is the last thing that will draw me to a job and the last thing that will make me remain in my job.

I belong to that group of people who are willing to pay for our job. I am willing to pay with my youth, my best efforts, my suffering, pain and tears, my passions and joys, my time. Yes, I am willing to pay for my job. I give much more than I earn and in return, I receive much more than I give.

There’s no such thing as “employers”

I just bought Dick Bolle’s What Colour Is Your Parachute? 2015 because it was on discount! 😀 And as usual, I love his books. I love the conversational style of writing and how advanced his advice on job hunting is (he rewrites his book every year since 1970! Imagine how polished his thinking and writing is!). I really recommend this book to those who are interested in this field of career guidance or just simply looking for a job.

Let me quote from page 44:

“Employers” are individuals, as different from one another as night and day. “Employers” span a wide range of attitudes, wildly different ideas about how to hire, a wide range of ways to conduct hiring interviews, and as many different attitudes toward handicaps as you can possibly think of. You cannot possibly predict the attitude of one employer from the attitude of another. All generalizations about “employers” (including those in this book) are just mental conveniences.

[Oooh! I just learned I could do this blockquote thingie.]

As I get to know more friends who hire people, I learned this as well, that each employer is an unique individual. The thing that  caused one not to hire you may be the very same thing that causes another to hire you. Don’t you just love how complex and intricate life and their experiences are? I told you how I was timid in many of my interviews and most employers saw that as a weakness, but I was finally employed by my first boss, who saw through my timidity into who I was. So, there are people out there who value who you are and value the strengths that you have and who may even not see your weaknesses as limitations!

Dear friend, if you are still searching for a job and have received many rejections already. Fear not, your job is on your way. You have yet to meet your lucky star! And do pick up “What Colour Is Your Parachute? 2015” to get tips on how to find a good job!


When I was a little girl, I liked to dream who I would become. I liked nature very much. I once had an ongoing snail mail conversation with a zookeeper about my pet terrapin. I dreamed of being a florist and a grass cutter. I also had at the back of my mind a desire to be a doctor, because I like to “fix” human beings. I like to know what was wrong with the physical body of someone and find cures to it. As I drew older, maybe 12 years old, I also dream of being a journalist, but I gave that up when I enter into secondary school and found out I did not write very well, in fact English was perennially my weakest subject. When I entered into junior college, I noticed at times I can write well but it was usually the content that was good, not the language. I also started to realized I was timid by nature, not the journalist or kaypoh and daring type, so I gave up that desire to be a journalist as well. Oh yes, I wanted to be a police woman as well. I was into crime investigation, until I realized there was a minimal height to meet before you can be a police officer.

I thought about passion again when I got out of university. During my university days, I pursued Life Sciences, thinking that I really have something for “life”. But my times at university were not the best of my life and I had this nagging feeling in my heart that this field was not for me. I dream of being out there with the plants and animals, but when I really get out there the excitement dies out after awhile. As I searched for jobs, I also reached a dead end, because skills-wise, I only had “Life Sciences” skill. I was stuck. Limited by that single set of skills I acquired at university. I tried to get out. I considered doing another degree.

Mr Lee Hsien Loong asked us not to do a degree for fun, but the degree should be related to our work, the degree should help our work and our work should be what we like and are good at. I think he said something like this in his national day rally speech. But… how many of us actually end up in such an ideal situation?

I still don’t know what is my passion. I think his advice would be, stop pursuing further degrees, find your passion first.

What if my passion is in pursuing further degrees?

Recently, this question keeps coming up in my heart… What should I be doing with my life?

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