There comes a point in life when the people and things which remain with us are our most treasured. But have you ever considered why you treasure them? Perhaps it is that you simply love them for who and what they are. You have no expectations for them to be anything more, or anything different. Sure, you may want better for them, but there is a layer of unconditionality to your relationship with these people and/or things. On the flip side, can you see that the things that have left your life are things that didn’t live up to what you thought they should be…or could be? They didn’t meet your expectations of what you thought you deserved.
This piece isn’t to say that all expectations are bad. But I’d like to take a look at the darker side of expectations.
List of Demands
Feeling that you deserve better than a certain situation or state of mind is highly encouraged. It sets you up for setting goals and taking action to achieve them. But these could be better described as “aspirations.” Which are “ambitions.” Which is why I’m struggling with the demanding nature of the word “expectations.” Because the very nature of its root word, “expect,” implies that something will happen. Which is probably why I’ve come to view expectations as a list of demands. Demands from life, ourselves, others, our coffee makers, etc. But while our list of demands continues to grow, interestingly, our basic needs don’t really change.
This confusion between “need” and “want” could be how expectations made the switch from the innocuous “aspirations” into a list of demands. Requirements which must be met, whether by others or by ourselves.
Demanding the Impossible
I’ve come to realize, especially as we get older, that once expectations shift from “basic needs” to “wants” they become almost impossible to meet. Because “want” inevitably demands more, more, more. Especially in today’s world.
And so we try and try to meet the expectations (AKA: wants) of others, but no matter how close we get, we fail. And others try and try to meet our expectations, but always seem to fall short. We even try and meet our own expectations and fall short.
And so it seems that we set ourselves and others up for perpetual failure. Just like Sisyphus. Forever reaching for the top, but never actually able to achieve it.
Never Ending Expectations
So why is it that expectations are rarely met? Because once an expectation shifts from an aspiration of a desired state to a demand, it becomes an ever evolving goal which can never be reached. But if we look back objectively, we will see how our expectations from a previous time have been met. But it happened so subtly that we didn’t see the “win.” We may have even forgotten that we set the goal in the first place. Which leaves the achievement of our aspirations overlooked and uncelebrated.
That’s how life seems to work. We “expect” windfall successes in which we can revel. But because life generally doesn’t work that way, we become otherwise focussed in our pursuits. So much so, we don’t realize our expectations are being met. It happens so subtly that our achievement seamlessly becomes the norm. And the expectations morph and evolve without us even noticing. The bar is raised. And we drive on to wanting/demanding something bigger and better.
And What About Relationships?
We often see posts on social media about our expectations breaking our own hearts. And if we give it more thought than the time it takes to drop an emoji, we would see just how accurate those words are. Because we approach our relationships with our list of demands, rather than our aspirations for their complementary nature within our lives.
The expectations we hold for our relationships are those things we tell ourselves we’re not willing to compromise because we hold ourselves in too high regard to “settle for less.” But when someone doesn’t meet our expectations, most of us don’t simply resign. We try to teach them what’s expected of them. We explain, beg, plead, get angry, go to therapy to facilitate understanding of unmet expectations, and on and on. All of this with very little regard for whether or not our expectations are attainable for them. And with even less regard for whether or not we’re meeting their expectations. And with absolutely no regard for how much we “aspired” to achieve this relationship in the first place.
Of course, we all don’t think what we want is “too much to ask.” But have we stopped to consider that what we want may be too much to ask this particular person? And this isn’t to say that anyone is lesser for not being able to meet our expectations. Expectations can be, and often are, unattainable.
But do you want to know what isn’t unattainable? Acceptance.
Duality of Expectations
If you search for an antonym for expectations you’ll find a pretty diverse list of nouns. Everything from astonishment, to dread, to wonder. Which exposes the breadth of duality for expectations. And as with all duality, there must be compromise.
A Compromising Position
Compromise is a word which often makes martyrs of people. We perceive that compromising on something, especially an “expectation,” shows that we were willing to sacrifice something to maintain something else. We use compromise as a bargaining chip. Mentally marking it down to be used in our defense, or as a source of influence at a later time.
But compromise is not a case of giving up anything. It’s a way to enhance the position between two people. Or even between the different parts of our minds. We lose nothing when we compromise. We build a better, more enhanced desired outcome.
Compromise is how we begin to reintroduce an expectation to its former self, aspiration.
Accepting a Compromise
So is it possible that we can facilitate a compromise between expectation and aspiration? If we can, what would that look like?
Well, I believe we can, if we’re diligent with our thoughts. And what lies at the core of all compromise is acceptance. If we can find acceptance amongst our expectations we would be well on our way to releasing ourselves (and others) from our demands. Because accepting someone (or something) as they are releases them from the expectations of how to better serve us. Which gives ourselves the opportunity to serve our own aspirations, rather than expecting someone else to do it for us.
Expectations of Yourself
If we really stop to think about it, our lives are wrought with expectations of ourselves, too. We may call them “goals and aspirations” in an effort to make them seem admirable, but they’re expectations in disguise.
Our conscious mind is always working on laying them out for us. And the chase ensues. Even the very process of thinking has expectations tied to it. We expect our thoughts to solve, we expect our thoughts to create, and on and on. We may even tell ourselves that we are setting ourselves up for success by creating “standards.” When we’re actually creating the unattainable to keep us wanting more.
Acceptance Begets Appreciation
What we don’t realize is achieving and obtaining “more” is inevitable. If we look at our lives, most of us already have more. More than we had before. Even when I had less, it was still more than a time before. But I was chasing “more” without realizing that I had actually achieved certain goals and aspirations. Striving to meet my ever morphing expectations had caused me to lose perspective. It wasn’t until I began to search for acceptance within myself that I was able to appreciate how far I had actually come.
Expectation of Control
Control is at the core of expectations. While we know that we can’t control others – well, we try, but eventually we learn that it’s not only futile, it’s an infringement on another’s free will. But we very much do control ourselves. Whether we realize it or not. We even create patterns and routines to help us maintain control and give ourselves a sense of security. And control is the biggest issue when it comes to living our best lives.
When we try to control our lives by setting expectations, we wrestle and battle everyday. Same goes for setting expectations within our relationships. But when we accept things as they are. When we let go of control and shift our perspectives back to aspirations, rather than our demands, we can begin to experience a state of appreciation for what we have accomplished. Appreciation for what we have rather than what we want. We can even find appreciation for all that brought us to this very moment.
Forget About Living Up To Expectations
Other people’s expectations of us only matter if we expect their good opinion to give us something we’re not giving ourselves. In other words, we’ll never reach “the end.” You know, the resulting place where others will bless you with some new admiration and release you back to a better version of yourself. It’s impossible. Because other people’s approval will never mean that you feel that you’re worthy. And some of the more wicked people can sense this. And they use the influence of their “good opinion” as a way to keep people working hard for them.
But the truth is, we all do it. Some just more explicitly than others.
Pass or Fail – Meeting Expectations
The term “meeting expectations” is literally a pass or fail grading system. Schools use it to “rate” their students and businesses use it to “rate” their employees. There is no real appreciation to be found by “meeting expectations.” It’s literally saying that performance is fine, but not outstanding. Why? Because there’s always some way to find fault. There’s always some way to find room for improvement. Simply “meeting expectations,” by nature, was created to keep you striving.
And striving to live up to other people’s expectations is simply balm for feelings of guilt and/or inadequacies.
A New Foundation
So don’t “lower your expectations.” And don’t “let go of expectations” by simply giving up on someone. And also don’t feel sorry for yourself for having to “let go” of your expectations. Simply change your idea of expectations.
Take the steps, no matter how small at first, to exchange your list of demands for a list of aspirations. You’ll soon begin to see how such a simple change of perspective can create a fresh, new routine with a more stable foundation. A foundation of appreciation.