“I find my life is a lot easier the lower I keep my expectations.” — Bill Watterson
It is often said that high expectations beget heartbreak and disappointment. Alexander Pope even said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Sylvia Plath also made a similar statement when she said, “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”
In these statements and more, we are advised to avoid expectations. Only few people—like Sam Walton who noted that high expectations are the key to everything—have talked about expectations as something to be desired.
Many of us have hung these statements like a bell in our hearts to constantly remind us to avoid expectations and shield ourselves from hurt. These statements paint having high expectations as mistakes we shouldn’t make. But should we actually avoid having expectations?
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
— Donald Miller
It is not bad to have high expectations. The issue is what we do within the framework of high expectations. In this article, I will show you how to think of and handle expectations. I have also flavored this article with life quotes, inspirational quotes, and motivational quotes from thought leaders.
“The only real limitation on your abilities is the level of your desires. If you want it badly enough, there are no limits on what you can achieve.” — Brian Tracy
In handling expectations, we must first know where they come from. Expectations stem from a deeper source: desires. Desires are the precursors of expectations. Therefore having the right expectations starts with having the right desires.
“It isn’t expectations that carry us forward, it’s our desire to go on.” — Paulo Coelho
Desires are valid. Your desire to have your own company, have the body of a god, be wealthy, or have global influence is valid. And you cannot wait to see them become reality. However, after a while, you get disappointed; it is taking a long time to see this reality. So you begin to lower your expectations or desires. You begin to—
Desire a promotion and salary raise instead of owning a company.
Desire to have a good shape, instead of a perfect one.
Desire to have just enough to cater for yourself and loved ones.
Desire to motivate only your colleagues instead of attaining global influence.
But what you don’t know is that by lowering your expectations, you sell yourself short.
We often lower our expectations because we do not know that there are two layers to expectations. The first or primary layer is the expectation itself. The secondary layer, which is where the problem lies, is how we want—or expect—this expectation to be met.
I expect to own a company (primary layer) in the next one year (secondary layer).
I expect to work out daily (primary layer) for four hours (secondary layer).
I expect to be wealthy (primary layer) like Zuckerberg (secondary layer).
I expect to be a global influence (primary layer) within six months (secondary layer).
The mistake we often make is that we focus on the secondary layer and define the entirety of our expectations by it. We render our expectations invalid once we do not achieve the secondary part.
“The way you see things depends a great deal on where you look at them from.”
— Norton Juster
So if you do not own a company within a year, you conclude that owning a company is not for you.
If you fail to work out for four hours on the first day, you consider yourself weak and lazy.
If you do not make as much as Zuckerberg, you do not see yourself as financially successful.
If you do not become an influencer globally within six months, you conclude that you can never be.
Is the secondary layer of expectations wrong? Not at all. However, two problems exist in this layer. First, they are often a result of people’s expectations, not yours. Second, when you focus solely on them, you deny yourself three important virtues: growth, patience, and confidence. These virtues hold the key to having positive expectations.
“The failure to cultivate virtue, the failure to examine and analyze what I have learned, the inability to move toward righteousness after being shown the way, the inability to correct my faults-these are the causes of my grief.” — Confucius
Growth is a journey
“And so, does the destination matter? Or is it the path we take? I declare that no accomplishment has substance nearly as great as the road used to achieve it. We are not creatures of destinations. It is the journey that shapes us. Our callused feet, our backs strong from carrying the weight of our travels, our eyes open with the fresh delight of experiences lived.” — Brandon Sanderson
When a child is born, the parents expect the child to grow into a successful and functional member of society. When a farmer plants his seed, he expects the seed to blossom into a bountiful harvest. When an investor puts her money into the stock market, she expects returns. These three individuals took different actions and have different expectations, but they share a common knowledge—they know that they have to wait for growth. The child has to grow. The seed has to grow. The investment has to grow.
To meet your expectations, you would have to journey through growth. It is inevitable. Growth is not a process you can skip. You can avoid it or cut corners, but it will always find you out. So when making expectations, factor in the process of growth. Give yourself time to grow. Take baby steps. They may be slow but they are worth it.
“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.” — Voltaire
Divide your expectations into smaller goals and desires.
Instead of waiting to own a company, use your current workplace as a training ground for self-development. Try leading people and guiding them to execute company goals.
Instead of working out for four hours, start with an hour or two.
Instead of waiting to build an app or make one winning trade to become wealthy, start with making little investments. $500 here, $1000 there.
Instead of waiting for global influence, begin to motivate your colleagues. Use your social media platform to inspire. Someone out of your 3,000 Twitter followers or 2,587 Facebook friends would be interested in what you have to say.
You may ask, “Isn’t this the same as lowering your expectations?” No, it isn’t. You are not letting go of your own expectations; you are only breaking your one, big expectation into smaller expectations, which will add up later. On the other hand, when you lower your expectations, you are changing your desires. You no longer aspire to the greatness you desired. And you become unhappy.
Little wonder Sebastian Horsley said that unhappiness lies in that gap between our talents and our expectations. But this only holds true when we refuse to allow ourselves grow. When we submit ourselves to growth, we get doses of happiness and fulfillment.
Patience is strength
“Patience is not passive, on the contrary it is concentrated strength.” — Bruce Lee
Imagine the parent giving birth to a child only to ask the doctor to flood the child’s system with growth enhancers so the child can grow into an adult quickly. Imagine the farmer injecting the seed with drugs to enhance its growth before time. Imagine the investor exiting the market because the market went down by 5 percent when it still has the potential to rise later by 30 percent.
What you have just imagined are classic scenarios of impatience. And the results of these actions are never good. The enhancers may make the child’s body look like an adult’s but the child’s mind would be underdeveloped. The drugs would make the crop look mature but it would lack nutrients and taste. The investor who exited the market early only denied herself the opportunity to gain more. The ultimate result for these three is that their expectations are not met, for at the point of impatience expectation ends.
Focusing squarely on the secondary layer of expectations would likely make you impatient.
You tell yourself that you have just one year to start your company. You put undue pressure on yourself; you feel you have limited time. You overwhelm yourself by doing several things at the same time. You can’t think clearly because you are in a rush, so you make bad decisions.
You want your body to have the perfect structure in no time. You begin to overburden and overstretch your muscles with every fitness routine you know.
You cannot wait for your name to appear on Forbes list of richest individuals. You tell yourself that you need to load yourself with work, with little or no time for rest. Or you tell yourself that subscribing to fraud might be a quicker option.
You want to be an influencer in no time. You cannot wait to grow your followers organically; so you pay to amass followers or you promise them incentives if only they follow you.
You do all these because you want to meet the expectations of others; to be seen as successful. The end result? Your expectations do not come true. And when this happens, you tell yourself that success wasn’t meant for you; that you shouldn’t have had expectations. But that is not true. In Steve Maraboli’s words, you are only confusing poor decision-making with destiny.
Have great expectations but always remind yourself that growth takes time. Be patient. The growth phase is a period of building capacity. It took 6 years to build the Burj Khalifa, 15 years to create the Guggenheim Museum, and 20 years to build the Taj Mahal. Building magnificence takes time but it leaves a perpetual glory at the end.
“Dreams can come true, but there is a secret. They’re realized through the magic of persistence, determination, commitment, passion, practice, focus, and hard work. They happen a step at a time, manifested over years, not weeks.” — Elbert Hubbard
Your expectations are valid. Do not invalidate them with impatience. Don’t let impatience make you feel you are missing out. Don’t let it eat into your confidence.
Confidence brings expectations to reality
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” — William Shakespeare
The parents know that they can groom and guide their child to grow into an independent and successful human being. The farmer knows that tending to the plant will make it produce fruits. The investor, after much fundamental and technical analysis, knows to a high degree of accuracy that the market will move in her favor.
Here, the parents, farmer, and investor have a common characteristic: confidence. They may not see the reality of their expectation at the moment, but they are confident in themselves and their abilities to bring this expectation to reality.
Imagine the parents feeling like they have failed when the child turns one year old, just because they expect an independent and successful adult. Imagine the farmer calling himself a failure because the plant didn’t grow after two days. Imagine the investor feeling like a bad investor because the market went down by 5 percent.
These scenarios sound absurd to you, right? So why do you tag yourself a failure because your expectations do not manifest after a short time? Why do you lose your confidence and courage? Why do you choose to give up because you think you cannot make it? Why do you pass up on your desires and dreams after trying only once?
Be like the parents who are proud to celebrate their child’s one-year birthday because it is a sign that they are doing their best as parents. They know that if they can groom—despite the piercing cries at night and the times they had to dash to the hospital—the child to see their first birthday, they can also groom the child into becoming the adult they desire.
“Life can change in an instant; don’t be so worried about the future that you forget to celebrate what you have right now.” — Jodi Picoult
Be like the farmer who knows that even if he doesn’t see the immediate results of his watering and manuring, he would wake up one morning to see an ear of germination; the certainty of his expectation.
Be like the investor who does not panic in the face of a market correction, who sees it as a learning process, who uses it as an opportunity to tweak her investment strategy, who believes that she would certainly win in the end.
So that you don’t own a company yet doesn’t mean you wouldn’t own one.
That you don’t have the abs and curves today, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have it anymore.
That you are not wealthy now, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be in the future.
That you are not influential globally, doesn’t mean you would never be a person of wide influence.
Having the right expectations begins with choosing to grow, being patient with yourself, and preserving your confidence at all times. With this, life becomes simple and you put yourself on the path to peace and joy.
Like Jonathan Lockwood Huie said: “The essence of life is not in the great victories and grand failures, but in the simple joys.”