My friend, Sylvia, is the most svelte sixty-year old I’ve seen outside of magazine covers. No underarm flaps like I’ve had since half her age; Sylvia’s arms are defined like a mythical statue.

And she’s earned every chiseled muscle.

Sylvia is committed to 8,000 steps/day and a serious workout four days/week.

On Friday nights, you’ll find Sylvia at her father-in-law’s. No matter how tempting the invitation, she’s booked for that evening.

Sylvia is an Upholder: she honors her own expectations and others’ expectations of her.

Another friend, Jen, is a talented playwright, tenured college professor, and mom of two young kids. No matter how busy, if she tells herself that she’s going to write at 6am or 6pm, she’ll sit down at her desk and focus during that time. She’s equally attentive to external obligations, which has helped her succeed in academic settings her whole life.

This is the third-part of a mini-series, looking at Gretchen Rubin’s framwork, the “Four Tendencies.”

>> Obligers respond better to external expectations than to their own expectations for themselves (and so benefit from creating accountability).

>> Questioners respond more to inner expectations than to outer ones (unless they understand “why”).

>> Upholders are equally reliable to themselves and others.

Imagine a compass: Upholder is north; Obliger is east; Rebel is south; Questioner is west.

Within each Tendency, someone can lean one direction or the other…

An Upholder can lean towards being an Obliger or a Questioner.

While Gretchen Rubin leans towards Questioner, most of the Upholders I know lean towards the Obliger side.

Maybe that’s the difference…

—> While Rubin says, “Because Upholders easily meet both outer and inner expectations, they rarely suffer from resentment or burnout, and they don’t depend on others to motivate or supervise them. While their discipline may make them appear rigid to others, Upholders themselves feel free, effective, and independent.”

👆 I know one Upholder who feels that.

—> Most of the Upholders I know feel the weight of so many expectations (inner and outer). It can be hard to be present and enjoy the moment… because there’s always so much they have to do.

Each of the Tendencies has its challenges; it can help to know that it’s part of the gig. (You’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you.)

It can also be hard for Upholders to:

  • delegate,
  • “go with the flow” when plans change, and
  • distinguish between inner/outer expectations (what I want vs. what others want from me).

Upholders may feel like they have to follow the rules, even if the rules don’t make sense.

And the rest of us can be frustrating to Upholders… 😬

As Rubin writes: “Upholders sometimes become impatient – or even disdainful – when people reject expectations (Rebels), can’t impose expectations on themselves (Obligers), or question expectations (Questioners).”

If you work with an Upholder, lucky you – and don’t take them for granted. A lot of managers think more about their team members who aren’t performing… No one’s a rock or island.

If you are an Upholder, like it or not, no one can do everything for everyone all the time.

If you start to feel bogged down, how can you:

1) untangle inner/outer expectations so you can figure out what’s most important to you now?

2) cut yourself some slack? You’re doing the best you can.

Clearer boundaries and self-compassion can help Upholders show up for all of it in the long-run. (If those are hard for you, you know where to find me.)

Are you an Upholder? Or do you know one? Please comment below and let me know what strikes you…

Sheila Devi is an Executive Life Coach.

She focuses on deadline-driven, high-pressure careers (like law and accounting).

Individuals: Sheila helps private clients get perspective on professional/personal challenges so they have more time to focus on their best work and other priorities, such as family and health.

Firms/Corporations: Sheila teaches EQ (in a way your team has never heard) to help them navigate working with stressed clients/colleagues, avoid burnout, and rediscover satisfaction and engagement.

Interested in one-on-one coaching or having Sheila connect with you company? –> Simply email

By reading these emails you agree to be bound by Two Step Forward, Inc’s Terms and Conditions, Disclaimers, and Privacy Policy.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *