The Problem With Having Expectations


As I write this, I hear my mother’s voice in my head repeating, “Ava, don’t ever expect anything from anyone unless you want to get let down.” As a young adult, I thought this was crazy. I held expectations of my parents, my close friends, my first boyfriend. Why else would I let them so close to my heart?

As someone that doesn’t look to the number of my friends as a marker for how happy I am, rather the quality of the few people that surround me, expectations of these people came naturally. You earned a place in my life and therefore these simple expectations should be a no-brainer. In reality, I was the one without a brain.

Perhaps, I just had high hopes.

Now, in my twenties with a hefty bag of unmet expectations from my past, I’ve come to the conclusion that my mom was absolutely right. I’ll give you an example.

My step dad and mother separated when I was sixteen years old and left my mother, seven-year-old autistic sister, and myself out to dry. We had nothing to our names besides a beat-up Volvo and a couple pairs of designer jeans he bought us when “we were a happy family.” Homeless, insolvent, and ashamed, we looked to our family friends who took us in. How could he do that to us? He had been a father figure since the age of four, the head coach of my softball team, and a hero in the community. No one would ever imagine him to do such a thing.

I’ve since forgiven him for the burden he put on my mom over the years. To quote Jonathan Lockwood Huie, “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.” The weight of anger, hatred, confusion, and sadness was too cumbersome for me to hold onto any longer, but the lesson I learned from the entire experience solidified my mother’s words. Don’t expect anything from anyone.

Where Things Go Wrong

The trouble with expectations is that they are always this dreamed vision of the future that neither I, nor you, can control. The only thing you can control is what you choose to do in the present moment. When we set expectations of people or situations, we are gambling with our emotions, and when the result is not what we thought it to be our reaction amplifies.

Let’s look at it this way:

If your expectation is met, you walk away content.

This is how it was supposed to happen, anyway.

However, if your expectation is not met, the world is suddenly unharmonious.

How could they do this to me? It wasn’t supposed to play out like this, it’s not apart of the plan!

We all lose our shit when expectations are not met. We lose trust in people and situations because of this fabricated vision of reality that we’ve created in our own heads. Your boyfriend didn’t live up to the Hercules-like figure you created in your mind or your boss didn’t give you a raise at your annual review. Those bastards! But, did they actually deserve your internal labeling and hate-rant? Maybe, but probably not.

The truth is, people can be real dicks and you may find that out months from when you first met, leaving you feeling angry for wasting time and effort. You didn’t see this coming and your whole plan has gone off the deep end. What can you do to relieve this pain?

Make The Internal Switch

Instead of allowing sadness to cascade over you due to someone else’s shortcomings, focus on how you can become more of a bad ass. When you start focusing inward you are instantly able to make big changes in your life and the universe opens doors for you. You are in control and you are the driving force behind your happiness. You don’t need to rely on someone else to create a life for you because you’re busy creating it yourself.

When we drop our expectations, we allow for situations to flow organically as they are supposed to. There is no forced direction for an outcome and no room for disappointment. We release this pressure that is put on ourselves and on others to be “perfect” and learn to accept people and situations for what they are.

Dropping expectations does not mean you should allow people to treat you badly or accept behavior that doesn’t fit with your values. Instead, you are making a choice of acceptance or removal. You have the choice to create your environment. That within itself is powerful.

For the record, you do deserve Hercules and a big fat raise.