Three questions for you, what do you expect of yourself, other people around you, and the outcomes in your life? Answering this question thoroughly will reveal that disappointment is at the heart of expectation, but also, expectations and disappointments are at the heart of success. Whether we are aware of it or not, there exists a tension between expectations and disappointments that affect how we interact in the three areas covered in the questions above, ourselves, others, and outcomes (or results). While others preach against expectations and others for it, I believe that the issue is not whether we have expectations or not, but it’s filling the expectation gap that we must address in our lives. As much as we would like to get rid of disappointment as a result of expectation, it’s impossible to live without expectations and the tension they create. So, how do we manage our expectations for a better life? The answer lies in understanding what’s at the substratum of expectations and having the best approach on the three major areas expectations have a great impact on us.
Great athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and transformational leaders, all have one thing in common, they believe in the impossible, their vision is big and clear, and their life experiences always make them better. On the other side, people who give up, who destroy their opportunities, and live a selfish life, have no vision, have negative beliefs, and their life experiences always seem to be wasted. These two groups of people clearly go through life with different sets of expectations; the former have positive expectations while the latter have negative expectations. What’s evident is that their expectations, regardless of being positive or negative, have three pillars, belief systems, vision, and life experiences. These three lays at the core of all our expectations. They shape our expectations as follows: Your belief systems dictate what you view as truth, your vision determines posture and attitude towards the future, and your experiences are a source of knowledge that determines your actions. So, if you are to manage your expectations, you must do it in line with your beliefs, vision, and experiences, for these are what modulate your expectations.
With the understanding of what’s at the center of our expectations, I would like to examine the three areas I have referred to already where expectations have the greatest impact. Let’s get started.
1. Expectations of self
My current work allows me to interact and mentor college students. Whenever senior students learn of my previous work in the life sciences sector, they normally approach me to help guide them in pursuing careers in life sciences. The first thing I normally ask them is this, where do you see yourself in two or three years? And, what are you good at apart from academics? I ask them these questions to assess how they see themselves and how they see their future. How we see ourselves and how we view the future both set and shape our self-expectations.
What we expect of ourselves greatly determines our personal success. If you expect less of yourself, you put less effort to elevate your current you to your future you. But when you expect more of you, you find ways to live up to your expectations. I remember the day I started expecting more of myself. The day was when I realized that I had the potential to be anything I put my mind to. Looking back, I credit much of my academic and personal growth success to expecting more of myself. I can assure you that the moment you raise your self-expectations, you will start experiencing increased success because I have seen that having a positive self-expectation of oneself is the beginning of living an intentional life. When we have expectations, we avoid the trap of living a life of drifting. Drifting through life is the gateway to living a life that’s out of control and is contrary to traveling light in life.
While it’s true that I have experienced a few disappointments with my self-expectations, the times I failed to live up to my expectations, it is also true that I have learned to better set practical and realistic expectations. Just because you failed to meet one or two of yourself-expectation does not call for you to give up on setting expectations that will take you to your destiny in life; that will make you become better every day. The key to being successful at meeting your self-expectations is to set them in alignment with your values, vision, and wisdom you have gleaned from reflecting on your experiences. Also, make sure your expectations are set a little above your abilities to create a growth tension. Not below or at the same level with your abilities since you won’t grow but also not too far above your abilities since you might be overwhelmed. Once you are successful with self-expectation, it becomes easier with how you handle expectations of others.
2. Expectation of others
While setting our expectations on other people can be a huge source of disappointments, I am convinced that it does not always have to be the case. If you examine your life, you realize that there are people who expected something of you, and it is those high expectations that made you succeed. Stephen R. Covey, the author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, is quoted, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” What Covey was insinuating was that our expectations of others can shape who they end up being. If I expect you to be a bad person, I will in the end receive what I believe from you, bad. But when I expect goodness from you, I will receive goodness. The catch here is that it takes time. While, I don’t want to be naïve and ignore the fact that often, people will always do what they want despite our expectations, the question we have to answer is, how can we manage our expectations of others so as to not remain in a state of disappointment?
I believe the answer to the question of avoiding being disappointed by people breaking our expectations is to do three things. One, set a positive, practical, realistic expectation on people despite their history. People are generally good and desire to be good. Not having the least positive expectation of people or worse, expecting negativity from people is a great contributor to bad relationships. Second, having faith in people. If you want people to live to your positive, practical, realistic expectations you must have faith in them. It is only when you have faith in people that they will put effort to live to your expectations. Third, you become a connector to people. Connect people to resources that will help them reach your expectations. Once you learn to manage your expectations of other people in addition to your self-expectations, you increase the odds to live up to life’s expectations of your efforts, outcomes.
3. Expectation of outcomes
A man who expects nothing receives nothing. I disagree with those that believe that the way to free yourself from disappointment is to forget expectations. I believe if you live a life free from expectations, especially expectations of certain outcomes in your life, you end up getting everything else apart from what you really want. Your life becomes a yank-yard.
Regardless of your background or where you want to end up in life, managing your outcome-expectations is tied to one thing, faith in a better future. So, it’s not the size or nature of what outcome you expect out of life that matters, rather, it’s whether whatever outcome you desire will better your future.
In summary, the golden rule to managing any expectation in our lives is to align all your expectations with a vision of your best future: Expect your best version, the best out of people, and the best possible outcomes.
In the next series, we will be looking at how to live a life of significance. But before then, here is a question to ponder upon, are your expectations limiting you or expanding you?