Life is fluid and full of surprises. It constantly changes, and things happen without our permission. We can insist on how things should be, but life does not necessarily follow our wishes or expectations. We can do everything within our power to direct life according to our limited wisdom, but we would not always succeed. Every person around us is unique. No two people are completely alike. There may be similarities between them, but never a perfect match. We often expect others to think and behave like us, but it always ends up disappointing. We can never control how others act and we cannot change them to fit in to our mold. Furthermore, people also change. Their core self may not be as fluid, but everything else is malleable. People adapt to their environment, and they are transformed by their experiences. It is often said that we should avoid having expectations in life and in people, lest we end up disillusioned. But it is human to expect something in return for what we put in. It is healthy to have expectations because it is a byproduct of having hope in something. Hope is the very essence that motivates us to live life to the fullest. Avoiding expectations is not the objective, but rather, learning to manage them where we can accept an outcome even if it is contrary to what we desire. This helps us maintain the balance needed to have a satisfying life.
I know of teachers who dedicate their entire lives to educating children. They do this because they love what they do, and they find satisfaction in molding the future of other people’s children. I am sure some of them have been disappointed when kids they mentored never returned to say “thank you” after they graduated and became successful in their careers. I know of people who saw their jobs as a ministry and vocation. They went to work early, worked overtime to get tasks done, gave it everything they got, remained loyal to their bosses, and never bothered to ask for a raise. Yet, their effort and dedication remained unnoticed but the little mistakes they made were highlighted promptly. I know of business owners who gave up opportunities to make a profit to be good stewards of their money and helped give their employees an opportunity to have a better life. I am sure it must have been disappointing when their employees left when they were needed most because there was a better opportunity presented to them elsewhere. I have invested in friendships where the line between us was blurred, and I nurtured them as if they were part of me. Unfortunately, over time, what was once extraordinary became ordinary, life became busy, and the value of our relationship became less than the pull of new adventures. There are some people who ate well, exercised regularly, lived a healthy lifestyle, and got regular check-ups by their doctors. Yet, they somehow fell ill unexpectedly. I know of people who dedicated their lives serving God, did extraordinary things, and gave up their own comfort and needs for the sake of others. Still, they have unfortunate things happen to them. We go to school, study hard, and expect to get a high-paying job after graduation. Sadly, for some, the hard work did not pay off and they ended up doing something other than what they invested time, money, and effort to become. Many people are programmed to believe that the normal progression of life should be to go to school, get a job, get married, and have children. However, the reality is, some people never get to marry, and some would not be blessed with children. Life is unpredictable. Many things are beyond our control. What we get may not always be commensurate with what we give. People and circumstances constantly change. Those we hold dear, come and go. The difference between “what was” and “what is” can be a minute. We must be aware of this truth in order not to be caught off guard when it happens.
It is natural for us to expect appreciation from people we have helped. Most, if not all, help others because it is the right thing to do and it is in their nature to help. I am certain they also derive pleasure and happiness doing it, but that does not take away the nobleness of their action. The expectation to be appreciated stems from the fact that most people who have been helped truly appreciated it and expressed their sentiments accordingly. Hence, it became part of societal norms and tenets of basic human decency. The problem herein lies with the ungrateful person who acted outside the norms, and not with the Good Samaritan who expected appreciation. His disappointment is a natural emotion, and not a manifestation of selfishness, manipulation, or insincerity. However, it is important to learn how to manage these letdowns in order to prevent hurt and discouragement.
Many of us were taught from childhood to set goals and work hard towards achieving them. Many seek their purpose in life and channel their time, energy, and talents to fulfill it. We find these people who are driven and motivated very inspiring, and we want to be like them. The “If I can dream it, I can achieve it” mentality often sets us up to expect lofty results from our hard work. There is also this transactional mindset where we believe that good things should happen to people who do good. A lot of us also have a tendency to believe that the prevailing opinion of what is good is true. All these contribute to forming many of our expectations in life. This kind of thinking, however, does not take into account that God is in control of everything, and our desires will be fulfilled only if it aligns with God’s will. It also does not consider that there is redemptive value in withholding blessings or allowing failures in our lives, in much the same way we discipline our children because we love them.
Dealing effectively with unmet expectations rests solely on how we think and how we react. We cannot depend on other people or circumstances to satisfy us. Life happens to us, and not for us. We cannot dictate what life ought to be nor can we demand how others should treat us. Our willingness to accept whatever life brings, gives us the fortitude to face the possibility of disappointment in having expectations.
We should accept everything that happens as if that is the way it is supposed to be, because it is. There is no alternative. We cannot alter what already happened. It is futile to reject reality. We do not have control of things outside of ourselves. The only things we can control are our thoughts and reactions. Therefore, we should do what we intend to do in life, embrace our expectations, and be prepared to accept whatever outcome. We should let our expectations motivate us to pursue our intentions with passion. Should the outcome be other than what we had hoped for, we should be humble enough to accept that not everything will go our way, be proud that we had the courage to pursue our purpose, and be grateful for the experience. It is natural to be disappointed, but it is not beneficial and healthy to stay disappointed. What is happening in the present moment is the only reality. Accepting this allows us to see things for what they are and determine what options are available to us. Acceptance is not acquiescence or surrender. It is engaging and interacting with life much like a surfer riding a wave. Resisting life or rejecting reality is akin to a surfer trying to stop the wave, fighting it, and crashing. If we determine that there is something we can do to change or improve, that is where we should direct our time and energy. If there is not anything we can do to alter our circumstances, we should not dwell on it in self-pity and should simply move on to more productive endeavors. If there is not a good answer to our dilemma, it is not wrong to sit still and wait for clarity. Waiting is still an act of doing. Patience will serve us better than reckless and indiscriminate actions that might end up causing unintended damage.
It is important to accept that other people are different from us, and we should accept them for who they are. We cannot expect them to think like us, act like us, and respond to things like us. Furthermore, we cannot control them and make them become like us. This will only lead to frustration. Even if we agree with others at the moment, be conscious of the fact that people also change. It is okay to have expectations of others, but we should not be surprised when they are not met. In reality though, it is likely that most of our expectations are met because we tend to gravitate towards those who are like-minded. When people have major differences, they tend to naturally drift apart anyway. But it is the rare disagreements between like-minded individuals that cause the most heartaches. These are the instances where we have an opportunity to grow. We need to learn to focus on what we can do, and not what we think others should do. We need to modify how we think and react toward others when they fail to meet our expectations, rather than force them to do what we expect them to do.
We do not need to create arbitrary expectations by defining what is good and what makes us happy. We should simply accept whatever is given to us, be thankful for them, and expect to be happy with whatever we receive. If we do not define happiness based on our marital status or number of children, we can be content whether we are single or married, or whether we have children or not. If we do not define what makes life good, we can be satisfied even if we are alone, sick, or poor. We should have the faith to believe that life itself, and everything that comes with it, is a gift from God. If we consider everything that we receive as a gift, the only expectation we can have is to be happy.
Having expectations in life is essential. It gives us something to hope for. It can motivate us to overcome difficulties. It is not something to be avoided to spare us from hurt and disappointment. It is not an indication of insincerity and does not lessen the merit and purity of our intentions. When allowing ourselves to have expectations, it is vital to expect that some of them will not be met. What will guard our hearts against disappointment and discouragement is the openness to accept that everything is happening the way it is supposed to be, accept others for who they are or what they become, and accept everything that comes our way, good or bad, as a gift that we need to be thankful for.