Meriam-Webster defines expectation in many ways:
- To consider probable or certain
- To consider reasonable, due, or necessary
- To consider bound in duty or obligation
- To anticipate or look forward to the coming or occurrence of
This made me explore how does this translate into ways that I think:
- This is how I think things will turn out
- This is how I want things to turn out
- This is how things will probably turn out
In both definition and thought, expectation feels like it creates empowerment within us that many times leads to disappointment. By definition, types of expectation are clearly defined. I myself have used them to defend why I expected what I did. Different nuances of why I expected something to happen using the different definitions above.
Expectations, while giving us hope, falsely empowers us into believing that we know what will happen and that the person we will interact with will logically do what we think they should do. Or that a situation will “play out” the way we envisioned it.
The minute that our expectations are not met, we get frustrated and lose interest. Or we don’t trust the work of others in completing a task or goal. Friendships become damaged when expectations of how the other person should behave are never seen or felt. There is an emotional push back that happens quickly when our expectations are not met.
Our rational and logical thinking (“this is how things will turn out”) never prepares us for disappointment when reality deviates from what we believe should happen. Deep inside us, our emotions always over-power our rational side (“this is how I want things to turn out”). Getting what we want makes us happy and satisfied. It is at the core of being optimistic.
Pessimists gravitate towards “this is how things will probably turn out”. It weakens them into believing that that they are powerless in creating impact in either a relationship or situation. It too causes them to predict the future. Even if it might be wrong as well.
The corrosive nature of expectations occurs because it is used implicitly as a measuring stick that quickly disengages an individual from a connection to life itself (meant to be lived through relationships) when not met. Life never measures up to anything rigid because it is inherently so fluid and dynamic.
It’s our quick feeling of disappointment or frustration that makes expectations so corrosive. On our behavior or attitude. We either withdraw or act differently immediately. Never giving ourselves a chance to nurture stronger bonds, better outcomes, or deeper relationships in spite of everyone’s human imperfections.
How can we avoid the corrosive impact of expectations? By either being present or embracing clarity by making expectations explicit. When you are present in a relationship, a conversation, or in a situation you participate in them without expectation of the outcome. There is no measuring stick when present. You absorb and participate openly together with some vulnerability in that you don’t know where things will go. Presence builds deep friendships. Presence demands an absence of expectation for it to be effective.
In more formal situations (i.e. work or any organized team), making expectations explicit at the start for everyone to understand clearly gives everyone the same measuring stick. There is no longer confusion while indirectly gaining alignment. This also gives individuals a chance to say no if there expectations in participating clearly will not be met. Job descriptions and work standards are examples of embracing clarity to guard against work relationships and outcomes degrading over time.
Once you understand the corrosive impact of expectations on our own behavior, the challenge becomes whether we will choose to be present (leaving all of your expectations behind) or seek clarity (making our expectations as well as those of others explicit before proceeding further). The choices will be different depending on the context we find ourselves in.
Presenting us with a new awareness and a specific challenge to help make all of our relationships, both personal and professional, stronger and more effective as we continue to seek greater meaning during our own journey through life.