Embracing Expectations

April 16, 2016
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Good evening, all! 

Tonight I’m going to talk about something I’ve wanted to write about for a while–expectations. I’ve avoided writing about this subject for some time, because it’s a rather complex subject. Specifically, it is especially difficult to present the idea that personal expectations may be healthy. That said, when you peel back the layers, it comes down to this–there is a relatedness between expectations and standards

Thinking about the ways we use the word expectation, can help us determine if our expectations are healthy. Furthermore, understanding the interrlatedness between expectations and standards may help us establish or reinforce personal boundaries. Creating boundaries based on our standards, may dramatically improve our personal well-being and our interpersonal relationships. This is the foundation for my argument, that expectations aren’t always negative. 

Let’s talk about how we can shift our lens on expectations.

To begin, I believe we often misuse the word expectation, and doing so may keep us stuck in unhealthy patterns and relationships. Take for example the saying, “No expectation, no disappointment.” Granted, in the most simplistic of terms, I understand the message. That said, I see this saying being used frequently, and in situations where it leaves a lot of room for argument–let’s take a closer look.

First, this quote somewhat suggests we should dishonor ourselves (as if we shouldn’t have feelings about what someone did or didn’t do).

Second, this quote seems to imply that we shouldn’t have any standards, which are different than expectations. Interestingly, when we unwittingly misuse the word expectations, we may be compromising our standards.

Dismissing our feelings or compromising our standards, contributes to our unhappiness (extremely abridged version of how we reduce our overall well-being).

Believing that expectations are negative, can be rather disempowering–we fail to stand up for what we want and settle for less than. This may reinforce negative patterns in our lives, where we allow ourselves to be mistreated or stay in relationships where we are taken advantage of. 

We buy into the idea that all expectations are negative, because of the way we frame such. But let’s take a closer look at a play on the word:


1.) The waitress who served the man his food, has an expectation that he will pay the bill before leaving.

2.) The waitress who served the man his food, has an expectation that he will appreciate the service he was provided, and therefore be friendly, courteous, and responsive when she speaks to him. 

In this example, we can clearly see one thing separates the use of the word expectation–a standard.

Obviously, the standard when we go out to dinner is that we have to pay our bill.

There is nothing wrong with having an expectation, if there is a related standard (something discussed, promised, or agreed upon).

The key difference, is the context of  the word expectation.

Using the same example, there is no standard that we must be engaging or amiable when dining out. Would it be nice if people were friendly to one another? Sure. But just because someone is isn’t responding the way we want them to (expectation) doesn’t mean they should.

These examples highlight how expectations can lead to disappointments.

But here is where the issue becomes sticky; too often we accept being mistreated, by believing we have too many expectations.

And I’m here to call bullshit!


1.) After giving Evan a goodnight kiss, Sara told him she would call him when she got home. Sara never called. Evan was disappointed.

2.) After giving Evan a goodnight kiss, Sara got in her car and drove away. Evan hoped she’d call and she never did. Evan was disappointed.

Seen in example number two, hoping someone will behave/think/act the way we want them to, is having expectations (which lead to disappointments).

But having an expectation that someone will do what they promise, is appropriate.

And again, here is where standards come in. 

In the first sentence, Evan isn’t disappointed because of faulty expectations (seen in sentence two where he was “hoping” she’d call). Instead, Evan was disappointed because he expected Sara would keep her word and call.

There is no reason why Evan should have to take that on the chin.

Neither should you.

Too often, our well meaning family and friends aren’t considering the context when they loosely say things like, “Don’t have any expectations and you won’t be disappointed.” I think people say things like this, because they don’t know what else to say when they see someone they care for hurting. Maybe we’ve done the same to others, as well.

As such, we should refrain from telling others they shouldn’t have expectations (in this context).

We must think about context, when we talk about expectations. 

It’s all about context!

So when is it okay to have expectations?

What do we do when we feel we’ve been let down, or mistreated? 

Well, dismissing our feelings, or excusing hurtful behavior, isn’t a healthy approach. 

Instead, using the Evan example I suggest the following:

We can not expect people to behave the way we want them to. As such, in example number two, Evan needs to take responsibility for the fact, that he was “hoping” Sara would call.

However, in example one, it’s appropriate for Evan to advocate for himself and establish relative boundaries. 

In other words, Evan should talk to Sara and tell her why he was disappointed, explaining that he places value on keeping ones word. Evan has set a standard. Evan establishes boundaries. Evan takes responsibility for his feelings. 

If Evan fails to tell Sara how he feels, or continues to “hope” she will behave a certain way, this would exemplify unhealthy expectations. 

The same applies to all of our relationships.

We need to better understand and reframe expectations–embrace expectations.

We all should have standards!

And of course, where there is a standard, there will be a related expectation (pay your bill after dining out, keep your word if you promised to do so, etc). 

So try to think long and hard, before you dismiss your feelings. Think long and hard, before you take the blame for someone treating you poorly.

Have you set standards?

In what context are you using the word expectation? 

Have you had conversations?

This is something that needs neon sign kind of highlighting–

We must have conversations, to eliminate unhealthy expectations!

For example, I see friends hurt by one another all the time. One friend feels she does all the reaching out. One friend feels she’s the giver in the friendship. One friend feels the other never has time for her.

Yet how often do we tell our friends what we are looking for?

If we aren’t having the conversation, it’s an expectation!

When we tell our loved ones what we need, and how we are feeling, they have a chance/choice to respond. Perhaps they will explain they are not looking for the same thing. Maybe they will say they are no longer interested in having such friendship/relationship. Perhaps they will listen and things will shift. Or, maybe nothing will change, even though the conversation was tabled–this is when we have a responsibility to say the relationship isn’t working.

If we have conversations, set boundaries, and have strong/healthy standards, we won’t fall into the expectation trap.

Expectations are not always negative.

Expectations and standards are interrelated.  

If in the future someone tells you not to have expectations, they may be right. But I  implore you to look at those kinds of statements, critically. Just because someone tells you your feelings are related to expectations, doesn’t mean they are. 

Look closely and decide for yourself what is going on.  

Be proud of your standards, morals, and values.  

Set your boundaries and get comfortable owning/enforcing them.

When we advocate for ourselves, we improve our overall well-being. 

With peace, light, and love