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What Role Does Expectation Play In Your Life?

Many years ago, I read a book called Top Performance, by Zig Ziglar, and one particular story really stuck with me.  While in line at the airport, Zig sees a ticket agent walking toward a counter that says ‘position closed’.  He anticipates that she is about to open a new line, and he “mentally and physically got ready to make a quick dash to the counter.”  She did, and he did.  When he got there, however, the agent informed him that his flight was cancelled.  He hadn’t anticipated that!  He’s Zig Ziglar, so he handled his disappointment quite well.  But it really got me wondering, just how much do our expectations influence how we handle life’s ups and downs?  

What role does expectation play in the magnitude of our disappointment?

I was babysitting Logan at his house when he was about 3 years old, and I made him a sandwich. Unfortunately, I cut it the wrong way and he had a major meltdown, a hissy fit beyond all proportions. Because I cut a sandwich wrong.  It ended with him in timeout in his room – sobbing – and me feeling bad and not a little perplexed.  With more experience, I would have understood that he had certain expectations and those expectations were not met.  For a child of that age, who is just learning about the world, it must be so difficult to have little real control over your life.  It was just a sandwich, but for him it was a major curve ball.  When you pull the rug out from under a child, they don’t know how to handle it, their emotions go crazy.

As adults, are we better able to handle it when our expectations aren’t met?

Or is it just that we’re better able to repress the temper tantrum?

Here’s another thought: had we been at my house, would Logan have had the same expectations?  My experiences with him and his brother lead me to think not.  At my house, they would often direct me: this is how we do it at home, this is how we like it.  Change of location meant a change of expectations.  They anticipated that things would be different, and they either compensated accordingly or took matters into their own hands by educating me on the ‘right ways’ of doing things.

Do you plan or control your life in such a way that your expectations are generally met? 

If so, when surprises or disappointments inevitably occur, are you able to handle it better?

Or is it that much worse?

When I asked about expectation, several people had no immediate answer.  I was met with blank stares or asked to clarify what the heck I was talking about.   I actually expected more people to have that reaction, because I don’t think we often consider the role that expectation plays in how we approach the world.  We have high expectations, we have low expectations, we have different expectations of this person than we do of that person.  Every day, people respond to the high or low expectations that others have of them, even if they don’t consciously realize it .  Especially kids. 

But let’s leave it on a high note!  What about those times when you have no expectations?  Sometimes the best things happen when you’re not expecting it, and even the most ordinary bit of life can take on extraordinary meaning.  Or produce extraordinary joy.  Maybe the key is putting your expectations where they belong, the high, the low, and the no.  It takes some practice, but it can be done.  Just ask Zig Ziglar.

PS: Logan calmed down quickly enough, we made up, and he ate the sandwich.  But I still feel bad about it.


Here is what some other people said:

Sharon:  Honestly, I don’t like expectations.
Michelle: You don’t like to have them or for other people to have them of you?
Sharon:  I don’t like to have them.
Gloria:  I have expectations for myself.  I set expectations for myself so I will aim for the goal.  But if I didn’t get it…then try again the next time.
Sharon:  I hate being let down, so I don’t like to have them.
Gloria:  It’s for myself.
Sharon:  Plus I think an expectation is almost a judgement, too.  And I don’t think that’s fair.  I guess when I think of expectations, I think of a parent and a child

Laura:  Oh, I have no idea…that’s a weird one.

Fez:  I’m like, brown, so yeah… my parents…  When I said, in fourth grade, that I wanted to go to Harvard – I said that as a joke, and my parents actually wanted me to go to Harvard after that.  Then in fifth grade, I made the mistake of actually saying I wanted to become President.  And then in sixth grade, my mom just planned out my whole life future by then, and started talking to me about all the stuff I should do.
Michelle:  To get to that point of being able to be President?
Fez:  Well…not President, but like a really high occupation.  I’ll probably get a high paying job if I follow her way, because she’s saying get 2400 on my Sat’s, get into Harvard and get all A’s in Harvard, get a really good job…

Lynn:  Not much.  I kind of just live every day as it is.  I don’t really look towards the future, so I don’t really have a whole lot of expectations.  I feel like what happens to me, there’s a reason for it and you accept who you are and what you have and who’s around you in your life and that’s that.

Peyton:  Can I be like that pageant girl?  “Well I think that they don’t have maps.  So…they can’t really learn about the maps…that are learning for us.”  So, that’s what I think about expectations, Aunt Michelle.

Natalie:  It plays a big part in my life…I expect things to go my way…and if they don’t, I get teed of.  But, they don’t always go my way, so I have to hold my tongue.
Michelle:  More at home, or more at work?
Natalie:  More at home, because I’m more in control at home, so I expect a lot more from home to go my way, versus at work.

Rebecca:  What you expect is what you get.  What you anticipate, a lot of times you create.  And I’ll put it in terms of panic attack: if I expect a certain reaction, my body, my chemicals, my brain will create that reaction when the time comes.  If I say, “I’m going to have a panic attack if I go there,” by the time I get there, I’ve built myself up through expectations and that’s what my body produces.
Michelle:  Basically, you’re body has done what you told it to do.
Rebecca:  Exactly.  So that, when you’re in a situation and you have expectations about it…(sigh).  And another thing, I had certain expectations for my vacation last year, and when things didn’t work out how I expected them to, I was very disappointed.  Whereas, if I didn’t have any expectations, it would have been a lovely vacation.
Michelle:  I do that to myself all the time.
Rebecca:  You build something up, or you want something…you want a certain outcome.  So, when you don’t get it, you’re not satisfied, although it was a satisfactory situation.  So I think expectations…or if you don’t have any expectations at all and something is okay, it’s a lovely experience.

Group Discussion

Martha:  Great expectations!
Jacque:  What’s that line in the movie, “We’re a perfect couple – I have too many expectations; you have none.”
Tina:  Expectations?  When you have them, people let you down.
—Tom:  Only if you expect it.
Tina:  It’s just one of those things – it depends on what your standards are and what the topic is.  Like…professionally people let me down all the time.  But, I’m a perfectionist.
—Tom:  Well, to me…my mind went in a completely different way.  When somebody says ‘expectations’ to me, I thought more like Martha, ‘great expectations’.  To me, the word expectation brought up future.  The older you get, the less that you look at that with ‘great expectation’.
Jim:  With great enthusiasm?
—Tom:  Yeah…
Tina:  You take an “it is what it is” mentality?
—Michelle:  Or…there isn’t as much time left?
Tom:  I think it’s more time-line.  So, rather than bringing great pleasure…  Different personalities are going to look at it differently.  Me, I was a measurer.  Just like with money; I didn’t spend all mine up front.  I saved some for later, for the future.  It’s the same with any other increment in my life – you save some for the future.  I save my best stuff for last when I eat it.  I want my last bite to be something I really like.  So that makes the timeline…probably more stressful for a person who’s oriented their life like that.  You know, because now I see that…  You pull out a tape measure, and you roll off the inches, you look at the average life span.  And it might be, in my family, let’s say that it’s 90.  Even if you put it that long – Daddy was 97, Mother was 87 – then you look at my age on there, 63.  And you look how far you’ve been.  And what you’ve got left.  Well, I have spent most of my resource.  And that is uncomfortable for someone who’s saved most of their resource all of their life.  If you know what I’m saying.
Jim:  But you know what, Tommy, I think that you are very logical.  And you’re expectations are cause-and-effect, if you want to go there.  You use a very sound, proven method to achieve that, so you’re not disappointed a lot.  Where other people have inflated expectations, which tend to let them down.
Tom:  My thought process is much more lineal.  I see and understand the conceptual, but the overriding process with me is more lineal.
Jim:  You know, most depressed people have too great of an expectation, and they never achieve it, which drives them down.  It should be more logical, I think.
Tom:  As far as people talking about expectations, and hanging expectations on other people, I wouldn’t do that.
Michelle:  Sometimes it’s hard not to.  When I was a kid, Mom once asked me to do something that I didn’t know how to do and she got mad at me.  She later apologized and said, “Sometimes I forget that you don’t know everything that I know.”  That’s something I’ve carried through my life, because sometimes I have had expectations of people that I later realized were not realistic.
Jim:  If you have realistic expectations, there’s the potential of them being met.  If you don’t have realistic expectations, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for…negative.
Michelle:  How do we – or can we – train ourselves to be able to…
Jim:  Deal with things?
Michelle:  Yeah, handle those situations where what you expect to happen gets turned around.
Martha:  You do one day at a time.
Jim:  There’s two approaches you can take.  You can have a proactive or a reactive approach.  In a reactive approach, you have things that go on that spark a mechanism within you that you don’t control – then you respond to it.  A proactive approach is analyzing what’s of value to you, and if it’s not of value, then you don’t let it bother you.
Michelle:  Are you able to do that?
—Jim:  Yeah.  I mean, I’m talking about things that matter.  Not somebody cutting you off in traffic.
Michelle:  Have you always been that way, or…
—Jim: No.
Michelle:  How did you get to that point?
—Tom:  He got trained at work.
Martha:  He joined the Air Force.
—Jim:  I guarantee you, you gain discipline in the military.
Tom:  Are you talking about self-discipline?  What kind of discipline?
—Jim:  I’m talking about self-discipline.
Tom:  Or rules?
—Jim:  Well, you get rule discipline, too.  But you get self-discipline, because you’re made to face the consequences.
Tina:  What you won’t do when nobody’s looking?
Jim:  Well, now we’re getting into integrity.  Yeah…but, it’s all about self-discipline.   Next question?


Items of interest:

Isn’t It Romantic?  Wait…Isn’t It? by thesinglecell

Mind Reading…or not by Malinda Essex

Thursday, blessed with a happy heart by Patricia  (read the comments about choice)

Acceptance: Things Will Work Out…Or They Won’t by Mind Margins

Fortytude by LeeAnn

Zig Ziglar’s Success Habits (

Of firestarters, toasted marshmallows and lessons by happysherlock


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. This was interesting- I had a totally different take on the question. I once heard a story in which two people walk into a diner. One is a woman who expects to lose out in life, the other is a man who expects to win. Just a mindset. The man notices a $5 dollar bill as he walks in and picks it up, thinking how lucky he is. The woman stepped right over the bill just a few minutes before, and sits down thinking, “nothing good ever happens to me…”. I think life is totally like that, whether we realize it or not. Since hearing that story I pay attention to what my expectations are…

    June 27, 2011
    • Expect The Best!

      If I had been asked the question, that would have been my take, too. That’s where I intended to go with this, but I just didn’t quite get there. I thought my sister was going to talk about that when she said, “What you expect is what you get.” But she immediately took a turn and went next door – saying the same thing, but addressing the physical aspect of it.

      Going back to Zig Ziglar, that’s what it’s all about – the power of positive thinking. I think we’re so not aware of how our expectations, in many ways, rule our life. We create our own reality – we create the life that we have – by telling ourselves to expect the best, expect the worst, expect nothing. Just like in your example, when we expect good things to happen, then you see those good things around you. And when you expect all bad, you see all bad. Or at the very least, those blinders you put on yourself don’t allow you to see the good.

      It’s like my sister said, your brain gives you what you tell it to give you.

      For me, I do this in subtle ways. It’s not that I think the world is against me, that nothing good happens in my life. It’s more that I don’t set my expectations very high. I expect mediocrity. I expect that “this is as good as I can do”. I don’t expect to achieve greatness. I don’t expect to be financially successful or have a career that I simply love. And why not? Why don’t I expect more? Is it the fear of failure? Is it that by expecting more, you have more to lose when your expectations aren’t met?

      In my last job, I created a few courses based on positive attitude to address some communication (and other) issues we were having. I made a little keychain card that said ‘what did you expect’ on one side and ‘the mnid cmepolets the pcuitre’ on the other side. It was based on the fact that when we are reading, our mind fills in the blanks of what it expects to see there. It does the same thing in other parts of our lives, as well. It sees what it expects to see. So, expect the best.

      June 27, 2011

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