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The Paradox of Expectations: How they are both Creators and Killers

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Expectations usually have a negative connotation, a bad ‘rep’, but are they truly that bad? My answer? It depends. I believe they are both creators and killers and it depends on the context and intention.

Now, let’s look at both.

Expectations can be killers if it’s getting in the way of harmonious relations, whether that be romantic, at work, or in general. If you have some rigid sense of how people should be and how things should run, then your expectations may be getting in the way. It depends on the context, of course, but is it really a matter of your colleagues and management smartening up or are you being controlling?

Expectations are also killers when the reality of the situation does not match up to your vision. You expect your partner to be as proactive and tidy as you, but there they are on the couch again watching the latest reality show. Similarly, if you expect to be promoted but it has not yet happened. Why? Are you proactive? Do you volunteer or initiate projects? Are you visible and share tactical ideas? Have you asked? These discrepancies can cause resentment or resignation but it’s important to examine and change the underlying causes.

It is also is a killer if it comes between you and your happiness. You say to yourself that you will be happy when you achieve [fill in the blank]. You expect to be happy when you get the house, you expect to be happy when you get your imagined partner or when you lose a certain number of pounds. The problem with that is your happiness is, unfortunately, dependent upon an external condition or circumstance and is often times elusive. Let’s say you get the house, partner or lose the extra 15 pounds you wanted - but you feel the same, then you think something else will fill the void. To close what I call the happiness gap, make a decision to be appreciative and happy now; then the things you wanted tend to fall into place. Backed by action, of course. I am all for the law of attraction but without the law of action, the former is a warm blanket in an empty bedroom. There is an illusion of comfort with the blanket but the reality is you’re sleeping on the floor. When you are coming from a place of contentedness and action, you close that gap and create fruitful expectations.

Expectations can also be creators. I have seen this when I used to teach. Students tend to meet the expectations of the teacher, so if a teacher has high expectations, their students tend to meet them in academics and co-curricular activities. Using the school example, the word “expectations” is a constructive replacement for classroom “rules” and can be used to co-create a code of conduct.

In this light, expectations can be healthy and a game changer. It can help you “raise the bar” where otherwise you would at the bar, or merely meeting it. They are definitely creators if you have no expectations. Now, one can argue that having no expectations is a good thing, an evolved and enlightened thing, and that may be true, but again, I believe it depends on the context. Having no expectations of a student or child may prove problematic. Perhaps then they are neutral and it is whatever intention or value you assign that makes it good or bad.

Good or bad, as said in The Go-Giver, you get out of life what you expect.[1] Expecting more and acting from a healthy place can help you achieve your goals, expecting nothing or less can give you exactly that.


[1] Burg, Bob, and John David Mann. The Go-Giver: a Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea. Portfolio Penguin, 2015.

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