The title of this post is reminiscent of the Charles Dickens classic about how unfulfilling the expectations of wealth and status are, while loyalty and morality are the elements that guide us to true fulfillment.
But this isn’t a post about Charles Dickens, or the moral journey of his protagonist, Pip. Instead, it is about the great expectations we establish both for ourselves and the people that surround us.
What exactly are these great expectations? They are the tendency to deem our own viewpoints and opinions to be the pinnacle of what other’s should live up to. They are faulty benchmarks that prevent us from screwing up and to learn and grow from living. When it comes to these expectations, there is a thin line between wanting someone to be their best self and being who we think they should be.
I believe that when we hold expectations of others, we are in a way preventing them from living their best and truest selves. Essentially, we are telling them that they need to fit into a set of parameters that we have mapped out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life, and we should have the same respect for others.
The beauty of being human is that none of us really know what the hell is going on. We all wake up in the morning and are given the same amount of time to figure life out. How we choose to live that adventure is up to our individual selves. Many of the most enlightening times are those when we make mistakes and learn from them. We shouldn’t crucify others for living the lives they have discerned is the best path, even when things don’t turn out how we envision, or how we feel and think is best. Isn’t life all about making our own path, making our own choices and living through their consequences? Isn’t life about creating ourselves through the good and the bad? Isn’t life about making sure the time we are given is lived to the best of our own ability, through our own discernment?
When we set expectations for other people, we lose a sense of understanding and compassion for them. We set a benchmark to be reached and when they don’t measure up we can deem them inadequate or unworthy. No one should be deemed inadequate just for not aligning themselves with what we think and feel is the best. The sad thing is we do the same thing to ourselves, too.
We can forget that the expectations we set for ourselves are a disservice to our future selves. Through the expectations we try to live up to, we can lose sight of being gentle on ourselves and accept our own humanness. This can mean not allowing the grace of failure – an incredibly important tool for our growth and maturity. We may even, inadvertently, erode our own confidence, empathy and enlightenment as a result.
I lived my life for a while holding myself and others to the highest expectations. In many ways, I lacked the understanding to know that everyone has their own battles they face and their own journey they must take the lead on. It takes your world to fall apart to really understand that expectations are an inaccurate and unfair litmus test. Really what is the point of expectations? Does a person suddenly become better in our eyes when they act a certain way for a certain length of time? Do they suddenly become better to us because they do and say the things we want to hear and see?
I have found in my own life and in the lives of others that when they go through hell, when their world falls apart and even when they become the worst of themselves that that if they allow themselves the grace to breathe, forgive and learn, they begin to become their best selves. Sometimes it takes destruction to open our eyes to the world we want to live in, the work we want to do and the people we want to be.
You may be asking yourself, well shouldn’t we have the expectation for people to be good, moral, loyal and honest? Well of course, but these, in my opinion, are virtues not expectations. How to behave, respond, work, dress, talk – the list goes on and on – are the expectations that I feel can be detrimental to growth and relationships. Nothing proves this more than adversity.
Heartbreaks, losses and disappointments, while they suck and hurt sometimes more than we thought was possible, can be things that make us better people, and maybe even more truer versions of ourselves than when things go according to plan. There is no right way to respond, or act in accordance to adversity. Sometimes you just need to take things one day at a time. I find that when adversity strikes, whether it takes you a minute or a marathon to recover, are the times we learn who we are truly meant to be. They are more meaningful than any expectation.
So lose the great expectations you not only hold for others, but for yourself, too. Don’t rob someone else’s journey and even your own by grandiose expectations that prevent you from living life with your natural curiosity and the grace to screw up and be better from it. Allow yourself and others the ability to be human, to screw up and fail and to not only find, but create our best selves. When you do just that, you’ll find a version of yourself that exceeds any expectation possible.
Want to read more about unhealthy expectations? Here’s a phenomenal article from Forbes: 8 Unrealistic Expectations That Will Ruin You