Expectations: Adjusting and Owning Yours

So much of what we do in our life is driven by expectations...


I remember when one of my Master teachers said that happiness is about 'having adjusted expectations', and how much sense that actual seemed to make. Indeed, expectations - the belief or desire that something will happen - are what inform us to set certain goals and act in a specific way. If our expectations are too high and unrealistic, we are more likely to feel frustrated and unhappy; if they are too low, we won't feel challenged enough and we are likely to feel bored and stuck in the same place. So, there is no doubt that setting the right expectations can be crucial in life; they need to 'be adjusted' to your current circumstances, your personality, your skills and resources... It is equally important to re-adjust them, hence, as your life changes, as you learn new things, meet new people, and reach previous goals.


Expectations are meant to be flexible but also realistic. At a certain point, when I was a child, I wanted to be a police detective and I could already imagine how exciting that life would be (no need to mention there was a TV programme on a similar topic at the time, right?); yet, as I grew up I realised I actually did not desire to be a police woman at all and chose a different path: I adjusted my expectation about what type of work would make me feel more fulfilled and acted accordingly (by choosing a different education path, for example). I was flexible! Being realistic also means that expectations need to be based on accurate information and data, including your previous experiences and feelings For example, I expect a sunny day to make me happier because I know, for me, that has been generally true in the past.


However, one of the most important questions I have heard is not so much about WHAT expectation we have, but WHOSE expectations we carry. Think about it for a bit and ask yourself right now: whose expectations are you truly carrying?!


This cartoon from Armandinho, by Alexandre Beck (unofficial translation into English by me), just 'hits the nerve' when it comes to this topic and it really got me reflecting about expectations. Our child rearing and educational systems often leave us with a sense that we need to carry lots of other people's expectations: our parents' (or primary caregivers), our teachers', our friends', our community leaders', and many others... Indeed, during this early period of our life, we have barely any awareness and little control of what messages we get and how to react to them. We rarely have the chance to be in Armandinho's place, questioning these expectations.


Once you become an adult and claim the power to choose and decide by yourself what really matters to you, it can be hard to identify which of your expectations are actually your own or which ones simply belong to somebody else and, while you keep on carrying them, you have never really endorsed them. Just spend a few minutes listing your greatest expectations right now (what do you expect from the world, from others and from yourself), and then ask: why is this expectation important to me? If it takes you too long to find an answer, it might well be that you are carrying an expectation that you never 'owned'. You might also have just thought: "Because I am supposed to", "That's what people like me do", "That's what a good husband/daughter/father/employee does..."


There is nothing wrong in taking on other people's ideas and suggestions and incorporating them into your expectations, belief system and goals. However, when you 'uncritically inherit the burden' of certain things you should be doing (or not doing), you are giving away your right to determine what makes sense for you; you are sleepwalking through life or blindly following someone else's recipe. Are you even hoping to have the same results other people got with that 'recipe'? Is that the cake you want to eat? Are you allowing your life to be guided by values which you don't even believe in; does your cake include ingredients you don't like? You do have the power to choose, even if letting go of some engrained beliefs can take a while.


Often, we stick to our 'inherited expectations' because we are afraid of disappointing someone we care for, fearful that we are not good enough or worthy of love, believing we can't do it, it's not meant to be or I'm too old to change... [In coaching, we frequently talk about limiting beliefs, fears and mindset]. Owning your expectations, ultimately, is about both claiming the ownership of what you wish for, what you want in life, but also letting go of the possibility to blame others for our failures. The good news?: this also means the successes will be yours to celebrate! :) 


If you take the time (and dare) to figure out which 'cake recipe makes sense to you' (what is 'success' to you), you will also be learning how to live in alignment with your values and beliefs and thus learning how to respect and love yourself. This is essential to eventually live a happier and more fulfilled life!


So, let us know: whose expectations were you carrying but, more importantly, which ones do you choose to endorse and make your own, and which ones did you adjust? Bake your own cake! ;)


PS - I am not even going to discuss about the expectations we have about other people ;) in this article. Are you projecting your own desires onto others (probably without even telling them about it, just hoping they will 'read your mind') and then getting frustrated that your expectations about them are not becoming true, that they are not behaving the way you hoped for?! Are you Armandinho's mother? ;) A topic for another article...


[First published: 16 March 2021.]

Write a comment

Comments: 0

Natália Leal  |  Coach & Trainer

Empowering You to Successfully Navigate Your Life & Career Transitions


Company no./KvK: 72490772

VAT/BTW-id: NL002528132B78


Certified Professional Life Coach