Expectations: The Good News and the Bad News
“Great Expectations” works well as the title for that classic Charles Dickens’ novel. The idea of “great expectations” works, too, when you are setting career goals. The good news about “great expectations”: When you expect and encourage yourself to succeed, you are much more likely to do it.
Sounds pretty good, huh?
So what’s the bad news about “great expectations”?
Simple. We can make ourselves and everyone around us miserable if we live by what we “expect” them do to, or how we “expect” things to be done. In fact, this kind of “expectation” can destroy a relationship. They don’t do what we think they should. Or it’s not done the way I expect it to be done! And we get angry because our “expectations” are not met…and it goes downhill from there.
Let’s start with Thanksgiving dinner as an example. What do you “expect” to have happen at Thanksgiving? For some, it’s a turkey dinner with stuffing and gravy and your favorite side dishes – just for you and your spouse. Or it might be a huge family celebration, with everyone bringing something. Maybe a group of friends getting together. Is is a buffet? A sit-down formal dinner? Or maybe it’s just snack food and football, with barbecue later. Who cooks? Who cleans?
Now I’d like you to challenge yourself: Where did you get your ideas about what makes a “great” Thanksgiving?
What we grew up with usually feels “right”, or what we strongly want to have happen feels right. Those are our “great expectations”. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
How is that a problem? Because the other person may have the Opposite idea of what makes a great Thanksgiving!
And if you don’t realize that ahead of time, and collaborate on helping everyone meet their needs the best you can, well, there are going to be angry, upset, resentful people making Thanksgiving pretty miserable for all concerned. Your “great expectations” set you and them up for an awful holiday…and who wants that?!
Here’s another example of how “expectations”, especially when they are not communicated to the other person, gets you in trouble:
My late husband and I were both teachers. It had been a draining semester, with huge classes, added to tons of projects and committees. We were both desperately looking forward to Spring Break. A couple of weeks before break, I said to Brad, “I am really looking forward to a relaxing Spring Break.” He agreed. He wanted a relaxing Spring Break, too. And that was the end of the conversation.
We were both Communication majors – you’d think we’d know better. But nope! Neither one of us realized we hadn’t explained our “expectations”, in other words, what we each had in mind as a “relaxing” Spring Break. Uh, oh!
A few days before break, Brad said, “I’ve talked to Bill, and he’s taken vactaion time from work. He and his fiancee and her baby daughter will come visit over Spring Break. You and she can do things together, and Bill and I can golf. This will be so relaxing.” Oh, my Gosh! My idea of “relaxing” had been to sleep in, sit on the couch and read or watch TV, go out to eat, and maybe take a couple of walks. Low stress. Instead, Brad had arranged one of the most high stress events possible. I had met the fiancee once ten years before. We had less than nothing in common. On top of that, her daughter was 18 months old, and my house was not baby proofed. So guess what I was frantically doing the last few days before break?
The kindest way to describe that Spring Break was a disaster. Turned out, the fiancee had been told that I loved children (very true), and so I would babysit her toddler daughter so she could have a vacation. (WHAT?!) So the fiancee went off and shopped or whatever, leaving me with her toddler, while Brad and Bill golfed all day. Relaxing for Brad. 🙂 In the evenings, they all watched what they wanted to see on television, which of course was nothing I’d ever seen or cared to see again, while I cooked and cleaned and babysat. (Grumble, grumble….)
My Momma raised me to be polite. So I was….and I waited a couple of weeks to cool down before I brought it up with Brad.
I explained what I had been hoping for over Spring Break. His jaw dropped. I then told him how the Spring Break had been for me – being calm and factual. He apologized profusely….and then we started laughing at ourselves. We had been tripped up by our “great expectations”.
How do we handle those “great expectations”? First, instead of just “expecting” the other to know what we want, if there is something special we would like to have happen – Tell Them! Then ask them what they would like. “What would you like to have happen for Thanksgiving? or “…on our vacation”.
Next, we collaborate. What can we do to best meet everyone’s needs? This is where we get creative. What will make everyone the most content, or feeling as if they got what they wanted or needed?
Lastly, when we get really good at it, we’ll find we are often able to let go of our expectations, and just let it happen. We might even try something entirely new, and discover we like that way better. It is so much nicer, and it happens when we can let go of our “great expectations”.
The take-away is this: If you’re writing a classic novel, or goal-setting in your career, keep those “great expectations” going. But if you want a great relationship, try to avoid “expectations”. And when you realize you do have them, communicate what you would like. We are more likely to get what we want when we ask for it. And remember this about having some expectations. As the Disney song goes, we also can “Let It Go”, and have a lot more fun!