“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
— Bruce Lee
Expectation has a bad reputation. We are frequently told we shouldn't have expectations. This idea of releasing ourselves and others from expectation is embedded into spiritual beliefs, literature and abounds in many cliches. Consider the following: ” Many people miss the sliver lining because they are expecting gold.” ” Expectation is the root of all heartache”. ” Expectation is the perfect ground to grow disappointment”. “Anger always comes from frustrated expectations”… and on and on it goes.
We may get the idea that having expectations is a bad thing or a less evolved way of approaching the world and our relationships.
Yet, when I reach over and turn the light switch, I expect there to be light. If rain is falling and I go outdoors without an umbrella, it’s reasonable to expect I will get wet. If I commit to a monogamous relationship, it makes sense that I expect fidelity and that my partner would too. When I hire someone to do a job, and they tell me they can do it, I expect them to do what they say they can do.
I expect certain things from the people in my life, and I am content for them to hold me to the same standards I have of them. Additionally, I understand and respect that other people will have their own expectations of me, of our relationship.
I expect other people to expect.
Expectations lend shape to our experiences. They are the articulation of the standards we hold for ourselves and for others. Our expectations lay out our terms of engagement. When we have no expectations, we leave the door wide open for others to set the standards for our interactions. Contrary to the message contained in the cliches above, not having expectations doesn't mean other people will leap to treat us well, or that we will not be hurt. Let me be clear:
Having no expectations does not mean you will not be hurt. In fact, lack of expectations means anything goes.
It shouldn't take much of a mental leap to realize that without expectations, we are unlikely to have the ability to set and maintain boundaries. Without expectations we are likely to leave ourselves open to any manner of problem or difficult behaviours. If my son/daughter/father wishes to treat me with disregard or contempt, or your brother/mother/sister works to undermine your relationships with other family members - is it appropriate to have expectations about those behaviours?
I say yes. Absolutely yes.
If we have no expectations around other people's behaviour we leave ourselves open to injury.
Let's unpack this a bit more. The Bruce Lee quote above says, I am not here to live up to your expectations and you aren’t here to live up to mine. However, I think we can generally agree that if you aren’t interested in what I expect and are not willing to meet me at least halfway; and if I am not interested in your expectations and willing to at least meet you halfway … we probably don’t have a lot to talk about and we don't have a foundation for a relationship.
Having no expectations is actually a pretty self-defeating and painful place to hang out.
We all have a right to our expectations. Other people may not choose to meet to them, and that is okay. When we know other people, family or not, choose not to meet our expectations, we can make choices about that.
When we realize that we are not willing or able to meet other people’s expectations of us, that is okay too. We can communicate our unwillingness and then they are also free to make choices.
Expectations aren’t written in stone, there may be wiggle room for negotiation. We can consider other people’s expectations at the same time we form our own. It’s also okay to have expectations that you aren’t willing to negotiate. For instance, I expect violence free relationships. It’s non-negotiable expectation.
It’s okay to have expectations. It’s okay to have standards. It’s okay to communicate our expectations directly. It’s all feedback.
So …. what do you expect?