How to Manage Expectations

Have you ever been vastly disappointed because someone in your family or at your workplace did something so inconsiderate you could hardly believe it, all the while being totally oblivious to the effect their actions may have on you? Have you struggled to be the “good girl” (or “good boy” of course) others expect you to be, just to feel miserable every time you failed in your efforts? And have you beaten yourself up for not being the kind of person you want to be? I know I have. 

Our lives tend to be full of expectations, and as the questions above show, there are several aspects to them: There are the expectations we have of others, the expectations others have of us, and the expectations we have of ourselves—and if you are me, you also have plenty of expectations of nature, climate, cities, and whatnot. So let’s get those out of the way first.

Expectations of things you cannot change

Quite honestly, I spent what feels like half of last week staring from my desk out over Puget Sound and sulking because Seattle still hadn’t had a single day in the 80s by late July. What a waste of my time, right? Having expectations of the weather—be it hot summers or white Christmases—is pretty pointless. There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it as far as the actual weather in our actual location is concerned. 

If you are struggling with things you cannot change, you may want to start asking yourself some questions about things you can change, such as: How important is this issue to my well-being? Would I be willing to move for this? How high is this issue on my priority list compared to the benefits I get from my current place? To stick with my summer weather example, if I am frustrated with not having hot summers, there’s a long list of places where I could find my preferred climate (yes, I do love heat provided it comes without humidity). Same for the peeps who want snow in winter—there are plenty of places out there that have weeks of snow without end. 

Would a move be feasible and worth my or your time and money? Depends. But if we draw up our priority lists and our current place scores high on friendships or business opportunities, we may just have to suck it up—meaning: stop complaining about the weather and find a way to travel at least once a year to a place where you are in your perfect climate. If climate scores high, however, for instance, because of a health condition you have, that’s a totally different story. In that case, you may want to shift your focus to how to build a life you love in the place that would be good for you. Listen to your intuition and be open to all the possibilities that come to mind. If it’s really important, you’ll find a way. But either way, let’s try and deal with it and then stop complaining. Just tell your mind Stop! the moment it throws out the I wish …scenario. It works!

Expectations we have of others

But how do you deal with your expectations of others? Naturally, you cannot change theirbehavior, can you? No, and attempts to changepeople are usually about as successful as attempts to change the weather. So don’t waste your time on that. Let’s instead look at our own side of the equation: 

You are disappointed because you consider someone else’s behavior inconsiderate and oblivious to your needs and wants. In this case, the first step is to ask ourselves: Have I communicated what I need or want? Have I communicated the goals and expectation? There’s an important difference here, by the way: Goals are performance or result criteria that have been agreed upon beforehand. Expectations are one person’s belief about what and how something should happen. Huge difference, that.

Coming back to your communicating clearly, maybe you haven’t because often enough we don’t even think about having expectations of a certain person behaving in a certain way beforethe whole mess happens. That someone else didn’t meet our unspoken expectation is not their fault, and we can’t blame them for it, no matter how “logical” or “normal” we think our expectations are. Holding people accountable for achieving or not achieving a goal is one thing, but nobody is obliged to meet our expectations.

Next question: Can we communicate those expectations now to remedy the situation or set ground rules for next time? That might be hard because it requires vulnerability—but keep in mind that showing vulnerability is not as hard as being disappointed over and over again, just because you can’t ask for what you need. And more often than not, vulnerability and honesty are the ticket to get you exactly that.

There’s pretty much no way around making yourself vulnerable as well if you have communicated your expectations upfront. Because now is the time when you have to own them and talk to the other person. Maybe you’ll want to wait until you are a little less upset. I always find it helps me to remind myself that people usually don’t do things to hurt me; they do what works best for them. End of story. With that in mind, I can try to shift my perception to see where they are coming from. That doesn’t mean I have to fully understand their behavior or accept it, but it can’t hurt to try before initiating a conversation. And when you have the conversation, continue to try by keeping an open mind to what the other person is actually saying. This is not about being right or wrong, or being guilty of anything. It’s about two (or more) people with different needs and wants, different values and goals, different expectations—and that’s okay as long as we find to a place of respect for each other’s position.

Expectations others have of us

That brings me right to the next category, namely expectations others have of us. Of course, everything I said above applies this way around as well. What other people expect of you—if they don’t communicate it—is none of your business. If they do communicate their expectations, you still have no obligation to comply—always, even if it doesn’t seem like it. 

Let me give you an example: For my mother’s last birthday, there was a strong expectation among members of my family that I would come to Germany for the celebration. Actually, the expectation was so strong that nobody talked about if, but only about when exactly I would be there. For me, the date was extremely inconvenient. It was smack in the middle of a week for which I could have accepted a very lucrative assignment. Canceling that made me pretty resentful and I can’t say I had a great time being in Germany. I felt like I had no choice but to go. But that’s not true: I did have a choice—only the repercussions of not going would have been so severe I wouldn’t have been willing to face them. That way, it feels like you don’t have a choice, but that’s all it is, your thoughts and feelings about a situation, not reality. It’s important to keep that in mind. In the end, it always comes down to which outcome we are willing to deal and live with. 

So these are the questions we can focus on when working our way through others’ expectations:

  1. Am I willing to meet the expectations? How will that feel?
  2. What could be the outcome if I don’t meet the expectations? Am I willing to risk this outcome? How would that feel?

But there’s one more thing to consider when we talk about the expectations others may have of us: Are those really their expectations or are we just assuming? Often enough, that’s what we do. So stop assuming and ask people directly!

Expectations we have of ourselves

Interestingly enough, the expectations we have of ourselves are often not that different from the expectations others have of us. In the example above, the expectations of my family mixed with my own expectations of me as a good daughter. It’s a pretty typical scenario because lots of the thoughts and actions that define our expectations of ourselves are based on beliefs we have carried along since our early years, so they reflect our childhood environment and upbringing as much as anything else.

What this means is that now, as an adult, when you feel the pressure of your own expectations to be and do certain things, you may want to take a step back and ask yourself:

  1. Where does this expectation come from? What old memories does it bring up? Who role-modeled this behavior for me? Or to whom am I going in opposition with a certain behavior or attitude?
  2. And most importantly: Does this behavior still serve me? Does it align with my values?

A good way to get to the bottom of these questions is journaling. If you want to read a little more about why and how to journal, I hope you’ll check out my blog posts on these topics. And if you want a little support to find your answers, feel free to schedule a free consult call with me and we’ll explore how I can help you reset your expectation mindset.