High Hopes

Spineless photo from mybestvalentine.com (sharing permitted)

Hoping is not sufficient!  Photo: mydearvalentine.com (sharing permitted)

“I don’t get my hopes up. Then I am never disappointed.”

This is a view of life I hear others voice, but I don’t share.

There is a line to be drawn between running full-blown into a situation with the highest of hopes, and expecting nothing.

As you might guess, I choose the middle path.

Expectations and emotions run high when a big life change is on the horizon: hoping for an offer of marriage, a healthy baby, an approved thesis, a promotion.

If the same high expectations are applied to, “What is she going to get me for Christmas?” or “Dinner had better be waiting for me when I get home,” then an attitude adjustment may be in order!

My natural modus operandi is to be as prepared as possible for things within my control. (My mom would call it Meeting God Halfway). Sometimes that doesn’t feel like much. I can ace my cover letter, meet the qualifications, practice interviewing, and still be passed over for the job I desperately wanted. Then it comes down to self-talk.

Do I say, “Eh, I bet that would have been a crappy job anyway?”

Or “I’ll never find work; there are too many better people out there.”

Or “It was only one application; I’ll send out 16 tomorrow!”

Or “It’s been 6 months now; I had better broaden my scope and try the entry-level positions too.”

Sometimes we have a lot of control but maybe we shouldn’t exert it. Everyone in my family knows my cousin is pushing her daughter to study medicine. I was telling the daughter about my work and she said to her mom, “Oh, I would love to be a librarian!” My cousin said, “Oh, no you don’t!” and shut her up. Mandy is now in Med School but will she be happy? I would not want that responsibility.

I could manipulate results. Let’s say I am not impressed by the candle my friend gives me as a birthday gift. I give her a gift certificate for a spa day on her birthday. Ta-dah! I have upped the ante.

When it comes to expectations, my mental process goes something like this:

  • I ask “How important is it?” but I don’t settle for making everything low priority
  • If it is important, I talk about it rather than waiting for someone else to come around
  • I think hard about my motivation for influencing another person
  • If I want a result, I do something rather than nothing
  • Do I enjoy anticipation or not knowing? Can I stay In-the-Moment?
  • How happy will I be when I get what I think I want?

How do you manage expectations?


  1. I think I’ve always had pretty high expectations of most things – myself, others, life – but as I’ve gotten older and experienced disappointment I’ve become more aware of my expectations. After being let down by others multiple times, I learned not only to expect less from others but also to communicate my expectations better. It’s ridiculous to expect others to have the same priorities and values and standards as I do!

    I still have high expectations for myself, which, as you mentioned, is something within my control. Recently I’ve been trying to let go of my expectations of life as well. After going to university didn’t quite pan out as I’d hoped it would, I tried a different approach for moving to the UK. Instead of setting concrete goals and timelines for things that I wanted to accomplish (find a flat, get a job, make lots of friends, go on awesome adventures) which would surely lead to disappointment, I tried to leave my mind open to different possibilities. Especially since London and England are different from anything I’ve ever experienced before, I think that having rigid expectations would have prevented me from being exposed to or accepting of certain opportunities or ideas.

  2. I always feel like others always have high expectations of me, and get disappointed because I’m an ace in the classroom but a complete klutz in real life. I can remember stuff in a book and mark the right answer—how does that translate as “smart”? I get by with being a decent person and helping others out when I can.

    I don’t expect much from people because I don’t have list expectations. All I expect is that you are decent and forgiving.

  3. I like your list of questions to ask yourself. There are many everyday things in life, where you need to have low expectations, otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy over unimportant stuff. I expect every computer service call to take at least two hours. I expect most customer service calls to be less than fulfilling and that I will need to help navigate. I expect baggage claim to take a long time, so I sit and rest while I wait. This enables you to arm yourself with patience, information and diplomacy. Also, it prepares you when you get the CSR off script, because then they are usually lost.

    On the bigger things, I do have greater aspirations. Give some things a shot and see what happens. “No” is an acceptable answer, but if you never ask, then you won’t have a chance at “yes.” You can even pick your moments and see if neat things happen. People should not be frightened by the word “no.”

    • I like your examples! Reminds me of staff at work (including myself at times) who leave themselves exactly 35 minutes for their 35-minute commute to work and can’t understand when the other staff get irritated when they are always running late because of “traffic.”

      I must be like you, in that I have high expectations for myself, but I try to be realistic about timing, barriers, etc.

  4. I set high expectations for myself – and I try to meet them. I learned as a child to be thorough and check my work very carefully – it turned out I am dyslexic (I flip my b,p,g,d, and q’s when I write) and I have a lot of trouble with the concept of left vs. right, and a few other quirks.
    I am good at managing it and finding mnemonic devices and creating cheat sheets (one of my problems is spelling words with ible or able in it or double consonants). Most people don’t know about it unless they see me do one of my “tricks” – if you say go left I have to put out my hands with my thumbs at right angles to my fingers – the left hand makes an L – and since I don’t flip my L’s I know that is left.
    The thoroughness has turned dyslexia from being a problem into being an advantage – very good for an Engineer or planner.

    • Great example, Jamie. You could have just said, “I’m no good at those things” and got yourself off the hook, but you held yourself accountable, for something it was in your power to do.

  5. Fiona

    I think I handle expectations of myself with a great deal of planning and often long-range goal-setting (I need to do x, y and z to get that job, all of which might take a couple of years.) I get frustrated with ‘wishful thinking’ alone. And I aim for resilience in the face of setbacks.

    The thing that gave me pause in your post was the line about “thinking hard about your motivation for influencing someone else.” As a parent especially, it is very hard to step away from over-planning and guiding children in the directions you want them to go (be it leisure pursuits, study plans, career expectations or deeper things like choices of partners or gender expectations.) Food for thought!

    • Hi Fiona, I truly believe it’s the responsibility of parents to guide their children into adulthood, and give them increasing responsibility as they grow older and can handle it. Unless they are very controlled or repressed (like my cousin’s child, whom I believe was offered no choices), they will usually exert their will and guide you, if they truly believe you are sending them down the wrong path. As they get into their mid-to-late teens, they are more likely to either rebel or show anxiety if parents’ expectations just will not work for them.

      When I wrote about influencing someone else, I was thinking more of adult-to-adult. You can state your expectations, lead by example, show kindness and forgiveness, and so on, but ultimately they will do what they will do. I suppose it is a mark of their character if they trample you in the process! (Something that many of us can identify in exes, co-workers, etc.!)

  6. Ooh, a tough one. I truly think it depends but I lean toward the reserved side of expectations. I try to take others’ hype with a grain of salt so I’m not unrealistic with my expectations – which used to happen to a lot when I expected to love books/foods/songs that others gushed about. Then there are certain things I don’t care about (becoming a better basketball player) so I have low expectations for myself when I play and don’t worry about how poorly I’m doing. But if something is important to me (arriving on time to work, appointments, etc.), I hold myself to a high standard and prepare accordingly so I can meet those expectations.

    One thing I don’t think I do is give myself big, out of reach expectations (like pay off my mortgage by 35), which some people argue is good for you – a kind of stretch goal to motivate you. But I see myself being stressed by those kinds of expectations.

    • We’re not unalike; I would say I research and prepare a lot and work hard, and then I am optimistic, but also hope I am graceful in defeat!

      I have stretch goals (such as savings goals) but not monstrous ones (like “Freedom at 55” retirement – not happening!)

  7. Great question! I tend not to hold many expectations for myself or, more importantly, for others. I tend to like the adventure of seeing where things will lead which could be good or bad but so far has led to a wonderfully adventurous life!

  8. Ginger R

    Interesting topic. I haven’t thought about how I might manage expectations. I had to think about any “expectations” I might have. I think more in terms of how I handle disappointment. Is that negative thinking? (Ha!) Or perhaps – I only give a second thought in the aftermath – to those things not meeting my expectations. I’m a planner – so I give lots of thought to the things that matter to me. I have a plan. If it matters to me – I speak up. If something doesn’t work out quite as expected – I think: “Okay – Let’s try Plan B”. I’ve learned to trust myself to be able to handle whatever comes my way. And – I find myself saying “It’ll work out”. And – it usually does.

    I also tend to reexamine (question?) my thinking about something. For example: My 87 year old mother lives with me and hubby. I have 6 other siblings. In the beginning – I was disappointed they didn’t offer to have her come stay with them for a weekend to give us a break. They help out in every other way possible. And – express their sincere appreciation to us for caring for our mother. I dearly love my siblings. They are busy in their lives also. It was my decision to have Mom come live with us. I didn’t want to bear any ill feelings about it. After some thought – I came to decide I was the lucky one because I get to kiss our mama good night every night. She’s enriched our lives beyond our expectations. I no longer think about Mom being away from me.

    I guess I manage disappointments. I’m not sure what this says about me.

    • Ginger, so well said! And a very touching story. I have often found myself taking on too much responsibility and resenting it (and others, for not taking on more). I agree the best way to deal with it is to recast one’s attitude and find the positive in it.

      I don’t think it’s negative to deal well with disappointment. I know some folks have a can-do and a keep-trying attitude, but sometimes it works to know what to stop.

      You made a good point that we tend to only re-examine our expectations if something doesn’t work out as we hoped. Maybe we should spend more time examining the things that go right and why they worked!

  9. ‘Expect the best, prepare for the worst’ – this has been my ethos throughout visa successes and disappointments! I find it has worked out pretty well. I would rather this than either being disappointed or overly negative!

    • I think I prepare for the best, and accept that the result could be “null” but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I prepare for the worst. To me that would imply I was waiting for disasters all the time! For example, I could apply for a job and not get it, but I wouldn’t prepare for being fired from my current job at the same time 🙂 But that’s probably what you meant.

  10. As Holly above I always expect the best but prepare myself for the worst. I think it is quite character building to be disappointed from time to time as it makes the things that go right feel even better!

  11. Interesting reading all the different approaches to expectations!

    I’m a high expectations, glass half full and nearly overflowing, kind of girl. But I’m a hard worker and strategic planner, so it isn’t pie in the sky, fanciful high expectations. And I don’t get down if things don’t work out a expected/hoped. There are many roads, many paths, many opportunities that I can take.

  12. I walk the middle path as well but only because my attitude towards things can be almost bi-polar. I tend to be more realistic/sarcastic/pessimistic swinging to great optimism another times. ^___^; It all balances out I guess.

    • I like to think I’m very optimistic and very realistic at the same time. I don’t think they’re incompatible. I just don’t feel optimistic (or even want to) about things that have no chance of succeeding!

  13. Holly

    Due to my husband’s chronic illness I have had to adjust how I manage expectations the last few years. I have come to expect less from family, little from friends, next to nothing from colleagues and only what is required from my employer. That way, when I get a sincere inquiry or other kindness I am truly touched. I’d rather it be this way than for me to be constantly angry because people don’t care and aren’t living up to my expectations.
    I continue to set high expectations for myself though, and I am trying to adjust those somewhat and give myself just some portion of the grace I give to others.

    • It’s sad that you’ve had to lower your expectations, and that no one seems to be rising to the occasion. But you are handling it with dignity. Since it sounds like you aren’t getting much help, I am glad you are being kind to yourself!

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