Great (or Maybe Not) Expectations

expectations

A friend shared the story of attending her niece’s college commencement. In the car on the way home from the event, Auntie remarked to the family in general that she had certainly enjoyed the valedictorian’s speech which had the theme of expectations.

To Auntie’s surprise, her generally sweet and sunny niece harrumphed and then barely audibly snarled the word expectations.

The subject was quickly dropped.

Apparently, that word holds a strong negative connotation for the young woman. I wondered to myself what had been the cause of expectations producing such a negative response from her.

Had she felt undue pressure from professors’ expectations of her? Perhaps she’d majored in a field she wasn’t thrilled about due to family expectations of what she should do. Or maybe she was angry at herself over too many self-imposed expectations. I, of course, am making up these answers. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

The word expectations is common in job performance evaluations. The above-and-beyond winners EXCEED them, most employees MEET them, the “needs help” group PARTIALLY MEET them, and the guy on his way out the door DOES NOT MEET them.

It seems that psychologists generally dislike the word, but mostly for two reasons. One is in connection to having expectations of others without letting them know what they are. In other words, if a wife has the expectation of her husband that he “should” take his clean and folded T-shirts upstairs and put them away but she never clearly states this reasonable request, that’s setting up a possible resentment when he doesn’t take action. (I’m not saying that this happens in our family and I’m not saying it doesn’t.)

The second reason psychologists appear to frown on expectations is when they are unrealistic. If someone who’s in the dating world expects every new date to be a Hallmark movie character, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. Or if someone expects to lose a few pounds but changes nothing in the diet or exercise segment of their lives, then it’s just magical thinking that the pounds will come off.

I actually like the word expectations and I use a phrase to describe what I believe most audiences bring with them to a performance: hopeful expectations.

Consider this: When you’re going to any event (such as a show, a football game, a concert, a lecture, a party, or the circus), you walk through the door with hopeful expectations. Maybe you expect to be entertained, to feel deeply, to learn something, to laugh, to gain information on how to improve, or to be bedazzled.

We attend events expecting to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise, why would we show up?

So instead of New Year/new decade resolutions, I’m going to set hopeful expectations for myself. Here goes. In 2020 I’m hopefully expecting:

  • the people I encounter to be kind
  • to find happiness in each day
  • the blessings in my life to outweigh the struggles
  • that the people I love will love me back every bit as much

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Forbes article on unrealistic expectations

Example of performance evaluation ranking