Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Expectations

Expectations. They can be motivating high-jump bars, poles to estrange a relationship, or bats that we beat ourselves up with.

They can motivate the person you expect things from to achieve more. It can be equivalent to believing in them, seeing their potential, and not letting them get away with things.

Ethel Catherwood of Canada, winner of a gold medal in the women's high jump event at the VIIIth Summer Olympic Games / d'or au saut en hauteur femmes, lors des VIIIe Jeux Olympiques d'été

Expectations can also be harmful. When you expect unrealistic things of people, you set them up to fail. When you don't share your expectations with someone, but expect him or her to do it anyway, you are lighting the torch that will set your relationship aflame.

Your own unrealized expectations can contribute to feelings of worthlessness.

Expectations (ones you know and lurking ones you didn't know you had) can make you feel disappointment.

I think the expectations we don't realize we have are the sneakiest and hardest to combat. All throughout high school I expected myself to ace every test, nail every exam. There was anxiety and sleepless nights before the test, tenseness during the test, sometimes dread waiting for the grade, and either disappointment in myself or a sigh of relief when they were graded and handed back. In that way, expectation plagued me—I didn't usually celebrate my grades, but I feared not making them.

The Expectation Monster bit the hardest when I crossed the stage at the senior award ceremony. I had received several awards—including the science award—but as I sat there I tasted bitter disappointment. I had gotten exactly what I hoped for (the expectations I knew about)—these awards evidenced that. But I still felt disappointment. I expected it to feel more victorious, more exciting. But the papers clutched in my hand didn't really mean that much to me, in the long run, and I wondered what it was that I had really wanted all those years...

I crossed the stage, 4th person in my high school because of my GPA. I thought back over the last four years. Was it worth it? I wasn't sure. And I still felt that this was somehow empty, that I had sacrificed too much along the way to my expectations, only to feel that my expectations of the returns of those sacrifices weren't what I had hoped.

Thinking back on that now helps me feel motivated to search out the expectations I have for myself and for people around me. Then I can consciously decide if they are good to keep (such as expecting the person standing next to me on the bus to try to not fall on me), or if life would be better without them (such as expecting my husband to do the dishes the way I was taught how to do them).

Discovering your hidden expectations and weighing their effect can help you be happier—either because you decide to let them go or because you know what it is you're striving for.

But on the other hand, the high expectations others had of me helped me see what I could do, or at least have the courage to try to achieve things that required a lot of effort, willpower, and belief in myself—belief that I sometimes needed to borrow from others (my parents, my teachers, and sometimes my peer group) as I tried to measure up.

high expectations

One short example of that was when my friends thought I would do well as a representative of the 7th (or 8th?) grade class in student government. I wouldn't have put myself out there to run if it hadn't been for their encouraging words, and I applied myself to the responsibilities involved because I knew they had faith in me to do a good job and bring up the important issues. And I enjoyed the great opportunity in the student government because of other people's expectations of me.

Have you had someone who helped you achieve more because he or she had high expectations of you?

What are some expectations you have of other people that you haven't told them?

Have you found out that you had hidden expectations that sabotaged your happiness, either in a friendship or with life in general?

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