Today I'm going to write about expectations and the subtle ( or sometimes not-so-subtle ) ways they can undermine your happiness: your peace of mind, your relationships, and even your job.
It is, of course, natural to have expectations and, in fact, they're essential to operating effectively in the world. Whether expecting that the money we deposit in our checking account will be available to us, or that spaghetti will be cooked if we throw a box into boiling water for 10 minutes.......we couldn't really exist without expectations. But those aren't the kinds of expectations I'm talking about. I'm talking about the expectations we form about how other people - particularly partners and relatives - should respond to our actions.
Eli Khamarov, who has been said to "embody the eloquence of H.L. Mencken ... the humor of Mark Twain ...and the insight of Juvenal" has said that "The best things in life are unexpected - because there were no expectations.". Relatedly, some of the WORST things in life are due to expectations that were set but not met.
More on those kinds of moments in a bit. But first, let's look at some mini-expectations. Here's a perfect example. I am at O'Hare airport. My flight begins boarding and, being a Gold frequent flier I expect to be among the first to be called, which is normally how things work. Not today. Fleeting annoyance. As I walk down the jetway to the plane I see that there are about 20 people in front of me not moving. it's 102 degrees outside ( I just checked the weather on my phone ) and probably 120 in the jetway. Stand there for five minutes. My thoughts immediately go to "How dumb. Why did they call us just so we have to stand here in the sweltering heat - it was nice and cool in the terminal". Then I reminded myself that getting upset was only harming me and would have absolutely no impact on fixing the situation, so I "cooled off".
I hear from clients lots of examples of unmet expectations, particularly in couples counseling. Whether a husband fails to remember an anniversary or a girlfriend shows up late for a dinner date or your daughter forgets to pck up her room or your brother doesn't exhibit the interest you think he should in your latest endeavor (it sure would be nice if my bro were more excited about my singing gigs!), it's easy to let disappointment set in. Repeated disappointment can lead to resentment, and that's a sure-fire ticket to relationship unhappiness.
Does that mean you should let people "get away" with thoughtless or what feels like abusive behavior? Absolutely not. Let the other person know that you felt let down or hurt, but only after you've done your best to process the feelings*. Expecting people's actions to change without letting them know the change you'd appreciate is a prime example of passive/aggressive behavior and a recipe for disappointment. Too often clients tell me that the other person should know that what they're doing is upsetting, but whether due to ignorance or forgetfulness the other person usually doesn't. In any case, is the other person's behavior TRULY upsetting your life (e.g. promising to pay a bill but failing to do so might be annoying, or might involve your having to pay a late fee, but is that a good enough reason to have your peace ruined for a half hour?)?
I've written so far about expetations vis-a-vis others, but the expectations we place on ourselves can be equally problematic. "I need to lose 50 pounds," "I should be more outgoing," "I should have more friends". Yes, some of this thinking can be motivational, but too often it's simply depressing.
The same dynamic can be operating around career issues. A good number of clients that I see for career counseling / career coaching are unhappy because they feel they should be further ahead in their careers, or be making more money, as evidenced by the faster progress of their peers. Again, a certain (i.e. small) amount of thinking along those lines can be motivational, but most of it just fosters feelings of inferiority and failure. You need to ask what's right for YOU. Not everyone who goes into education wants to run a school district; some truly love teaching. Not everyone who goes into IT wants to run the department; some love programming. As one advances in one's career there is a general progression away from doing things and seeing tangible results, and towards supervision and longer-term planning. If you're a hands-on kind of person, not advancing may be absolutely right for you if you like what you're doing.
*That's why you should NEVER send an e-mail written in anger without waiting a day to review its content in a calmer frame of mind.