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What Do You Expect?

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

As I prepare to facilitate my first webinar, From Grief to Gratitude, A Journey of Hope (register here), I’ve been thinking about my expectations for this event. How will I define success? What would cause me to feel disappointment or embarrassment? What do I expect?

The wonderful Brené Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, defines disappointment as unmet expectations explaining that the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment*. She distinguishes between unexamined and unexpressed expectations and examined and expressed expectations. Good stuff.


Regardless of the type of expectation we hold, expectations impact how we feel about ourselves and others.


I imagine the seeds of our expectations were planted in our earliest days by our family of origin. We were told, “You don’t have to be Einstein but you better at least get C’s.” Or maybe we heard, “No child of mine would ever - ” and fill in the blank: drink alcohol, have sex or a baby outside of marriage, fall in love with a member of the same sex, get a tattoo.


Expectations mark values and beliefs like tombstones mark where a casket is buried. We understand there is a value buried beneath the expectation but we don’t name or recognize it.

My parents told me, “Do your best.” This expectation reflects values of hard work and perseverance. I used to think this was a very gracious expectation. Effort above results.


However, results do matter at times, right? (Think airline pilots and surgeons) How does one know when they’ve done their best? What does best look like? Isn’t there always room for a tweak here and a fiddle there? And aren’t there times when my best isn’t needed? Is it possible that striving to do one’s best all the time at everything leads to an exhausting, joy-depleting level of perfectionism?


I’m realizing it does for me. If the expectation is to do one’s best then achieving this goal leaves nothing to celebrate when we achieve our goals! We did our best - that’s what was expected. If we admit to not doing our best then we experience shame in addition to disappointment.


So, on one hand, expectations may lead to perfectionism, disappointment, and shame. On the other hand, no expectations may lead to ambivalence, despair, and cynicism. What then shall we do with our expectations?


How often do expectations affect your ability to experience happiness?

  • 0%Never

  • 0%Sometimes

  • 0%Often


Three G’s and a C


I invite you to explore with me a healthy response to our expectations using Graciousness, Gratitude, Generosity, and Communication.


Graciousness – When was the last time you cut yourself some slack? When didn’t the result live up to your expectation but was good enough? Maybe even better than good enough if you thought about it. Reflect on a project or task you accomplished that didn’t live up to your expectation. What inner self-talk do you hear? Look at a picture of yourself as a child. What would you say to that child? Whatever that is, claim it for yourself right now. Practice being gracious with yourself.


Gratitude - Take a deep breath when an expectation isn’t met. Consider two or three things about the situation for which you are thankful rather than spending time critiquing how you or someone else could have done better. Name the value that lies beneath the surface of your expectation. Is this a value you want to keep? Make time for gratitude.


Generosity – Generosity takes graciousness to the next level. When you experience disappointment with a situation or person (including yourself) consider two or three things that went well and tell them. What valuable skills or characteristics did they exhibit? Name the positives and celebrate the experience.


Communication – If we don’t share our expectations with others how are they supposed to know what they are or how they disappointed us? Let your needs be known. Listen to the needs and expectations of others. Negotiate. Agree on the primary goal. If you are struggling with a relationship reflect on your expectations and how you might better communicate them.


Graciousness, Gratitude, Generosity and Communication. Tools to helps us manage our expectations rather than our expectations managing us.


If expectations are preventing you from celebrating accomplishments or striving toward a goal, schedule a Welcome to Coaching Session today. Let’s explore ways you can move toward your goals while experiencing joy along the way.


* Brené Brown. Atlas of the Heart (New York: Random House, 2021), 43.

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