“When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be”– Mandy Hale
My Experience with Expectations
At a very early age I learned to expect from others. I relied heavily on parents and other relatives for my basic needs to be provided and ultimately my dependence converted into a habitual expectation to receive. As the years progressed, the magnitude of my expectations only grew more and at a rapid rate like a pesky vine of weed on flourishing vegetation. Inversely, as my expectations grew, so did my confidence in people. Ironically, that did not deter my desire to expect from the people around me both near and far. If there was an academy award with the category of “Most expectations had by an individual“, I probably would have taken home the trophy every single time or at the very least, I would have been amongst the category’s top contenders. Consciously and subconsciously, I created a list of all shapes and sizes of expectations to have of the personal and professional relationships I’d developed over time. I dare to say you can agree that having expectations is a very natural human behavior as you may also have expectations of the people in your life and them of you.
At no point did I ever expect to turn the key in my car’s ignition for it not to start, I never expect to turn the tap on and not see clear running water flow from the faucet, I never expect to bite into an apple to get the taste of mango and I never expect that my sent messages would be left on ‘read’ for longer than the time it should take to respond. I had built the foundation of my happiness on expectations even though I knew there was always the potential to be disappointed. I had fallen into the “pit of expectations” very early without understanding how and under what conditions to expect.
In my defense, met expectations were how I measured the quality of the relationships I’ve acquired. If I cannot call on a friend in times of need then what is the purpose of that friend? The problem I discovered with this state of mind was that I found myself being disappointed and very disgruntled almost as numerous as the breaths I took which too often shaped the outcomes of my mood and views on people. I had also never remembered in those moments that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I was particularly triggered by one specific unmet expectation that propelled me into the conversation of expectations.
Views On Expectations
To expand the horizon of my understanding on expectations, I took to the “streets” to gain feedback from a few of my friends in an effort to collect their input on the topic. To maintain their privacy, I have kept their identity hidden. The conversation went as follows:
Me: Do you think we should have expectations of others?
Person 1: “No. Well, very little. I expect people to look out for themselves. I do however have a simple expectation of my girlfriend that she will love and respect me and if she does not anymore that she will tell me. Oh, and I expect that if you make jerk chicken that you bring me some.”
Person 2: “We all have some expectations, and to say otherwise isn’t realistic. I mean, wouldn’t we expect in relationships to be loved and treated with respect? so even though that is the most basic thing, to me, it’s still an expectation. As far as others expectations, I think if certain expectations have been discussed as far as who does what, then its ok, but even so, we need to show grace, because if there’s one things we can expect from other humans, its that they’ll let us down at one point or another. No one is perfect. Too often we place unrealistic expectations on other humans to make us happy, it’s setting them up for failure.”
Person 2’s brother’s father-in-law: “Accept or don’t accept, but don’t expect. You can’t expect people to be like you because they don’t think like you.”
Person 3: “Friends, No. It’s a choice from both parties to be friends. What they choose to do is up to them based on what is best for them first. You may ask or offer if you prefer but it’s up to them and you can decide how to continue the friendship depending on each other’s actions. Family (immediate family – parents, children and partners like a spouse or any committed relationship), yes. Here is why. You should want the best for people in these categories and hence need to have some expectations and need to be willing to help the individual meet them if they can’t do it on their own. As a father and husband, I am expected to ensuring that my family is safe and taken care of. If I become ill, I expect my family to take care of me. The level of expectations depend on the people involved.”
So how should I approach expectations?
After I was done complaining about how disappointed I had felt due to an unmet expectation, I was asked the question; “So what expectations do you have of yourself?” I did not know how to answer this as I had never sat and thought about it until that particular day. The truth is, my narrow focus was always on how others made me feel by not meeting my expectations. It occurred to me in that moment that my perspective was rather distorted. In the many moments of disappointments due to unmet expectations, instead of deleting people’s subscription from my life, it was a time for me to reevaluate not only my own expectations of others but more importantly that of myself. It was a moment to take an inventory of how much I was meeting the expectations I had set for myself and to also give myself the opportunity to reflect and redirect where I was placing my joy. Incase you have not noticed or have somehow forgotten, please let me kindly remind you that human nature is very flawed. This is actually a note to self. In the heat of focusing on the disappointments, I was missing the opportunities to search within .
Lessons From Unmet Expectations
If I were to define the need for my relationships on unmet expectations, I would be doing life alone and in solitude, forever. Regardless of how self-sufficient I set out to be, I understand the value in community. On the flip side, it is not a bad idea either to evaluate my relationships to ensure I am surrounding myself with people who, while not perfect, will add some amount of value to my journey. Here are some choices I’ve made on how to handle and adjust my idea of expectations:
- Set expectations for myself only and hold myself accountable – the only human’s behavior I can control (to an extent) is that of my own. I will forever be unhappy if the roots of my joy is planted in how others should treat me.
- Understand who people are and expect accordingly – simply put, if someone shows me who they are, that is what I will believe and expect of them, unless of course they are pretending. Until other character traits are revealed, I will not expect them to be anything other than what they show me to be.
- Give grace to others – None of us are perfect. I too will not meet the expectations of others so I must choose my battles carefully and in the way I would like to be treated.
- Place all my hope in God and not mankind – There are some needs that human beings will never fulfil. This is where I believe a higher being has to intervene. Psalms 118:8 reminds us that “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.”
I am not an expert on how to perfectly approach expectations. I do believe there are healthy and realistic expectations to have of the people in our lives depending on who they are to us but more important is the expectations we set for ourselves. It is still an area of struggle for me but there is no better time to be curious about a concept than when it has become our reality. If you have dealt with the struggles of unmet expectations and have great insight on the right approaches on the topic, please leave your feedback and comments below. I would love to hear from you. Until we meet again, have a blessed week.
Last updated: November 12, 2021