“I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees.” -Mat Kearney
Every disappointment in my adult life can amount to a set of expectations. I take a situation, and try to predict the future. We all do it, but I admit that I tend to get more tunnel-visioned than most people. I latch on to my idea of the future with an iron grip, so when my idea of the future doesn’t come true, I feel that devastation with a particular and acute intensity.
Thus, I wrestle with the concept. Are expectations wrong to have in the first place? Am I supposed to go throughout life settling for whatever happens to come my way? No, I believe in taking charge of life. Just as you can’t be successful without time and hard work, you can’t have healthy relationships or goals without setting tangible expectations for yourself or someone else.
So, what’s the difference between setting expectations and living with expectation? Setting hard and fast expectations implies an absolute need for certainty, which isn’t always a bad thing. However, certainty isn’t something we are ever promised in life. How do you deal when things don’t go according to plan?
To answer those questions, I believe we need to ask a broader one: where do your expectations come from? The below roots differentiate healthy expectations with unhealthy ones.
Experience – Our knowledge and past tends to naturally direct how we act and react in the future. We think, “oh I’ve been here before, so (insert result) is going to happen when I do this or he/she does that.” Or, “this is how one person handled this situation, so this is how all people will.” We tend to expect the worst, especially if our experiences have led us to do so. The older we get, optimism and positivity become more like disciplines than feelings. Trust becomes almost impossible because we’ve been let down so many times. However, the sooner we accept that people and life are disappointing and love them/it anyway, the more calculated risks we can take and handle, and the closer we are to living life on purpose.
Perfectionism – Perfectionism is derived from the need to control and keep up what we think others’ want to see on the outside. We like to think we can control most aspects of life, outperform the person next door, and make it look easy. This is largely because our culture is completely image-driven, not so much heart-driven, in both secular and religious worlds. Why else would aspects of our modern world such as millennials, celebrities, corporate office life, trendy diets and workouts, and Christian culture be so easy to make fun of? What would happen if social media were used as a tool instead of created into a lifestyle? What if we were more interested in serving those around us without qualification and cultivating real, honest discussion with blatantly imperfect people, much like Jesus did pretty often, instead of providing a list of rules to follow and vague solutions to vague struggles?
The need for others’ to be impressed with us and approve us is so relatable, it’s hilarious. Perfectionism not only squashes our chances for real community with the people around us, but it also creates unrealistic expectations. Truly, the only thing you have control over are your actions and your reactions – that’s it. Everything else isn’t up to you, so the performance really isn’t necessary.
However, living with expectation isn’t grounded in the above items. Living with expectation is learning from the past, but not living by it. Living with expectation is striving for excellence, not perfection. Living with expectation is setting boundaries, but tearing down walls. Living with expectation allows space for life to be less linear and more of an adventure. And who doesn’t want adventure?