No matter what stage of your life you are in, I have found one thing true. Unreasonable expectations can kill joy. Sound dramatic? Think about the last time you were severely disappointed and take a minute to peel back the layers. Did someone disappoint you? Did they meet your expectations? Did you clearly outline your expectations? Did your expectations match what they were capable of?
I grew up in a military family. My father was in the Navy, and high expectations were the name of the game in my household. Excellence and perfection were always expected. My father had a phrase he liked to repeat; ATD: Attention to detail. My divorce opened up a deep wound. I didn’t meet the expectations. I wasn’t perfect. The battle of my inner perfectionist runs deep. If you relate to this statement, I highly recommend reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by my guru and woman crush, Brené Brown.
Should you release all expectations? No, I think it’s fair to have reasonable expectations of yourself and others, as long as you clearly communicate them. I call these positive suggestions or standards. They can motivate, inspire, and challenge you, but they are just ideas to propel you forward, not expectations. So, where does the releasing come in? Shifting away from unrealistic expectations, assumptions, and guilt can be the key to transforming your life and happiness, and not propel you into what Brené calls a “shame storm.”
Imagine this. It’s your birthday, and you LOVE birthdays. Your partner was not raised to over celebrate this kind of occasion; however, you were. Your past expectations include a day dedicated to you, cake, cards, presents, and the list goes on. At the beginning of your relationship, he mentions that birthdays are not particularly special to him. Hearing which option would you choose to:
A. Agree with him and try to take a more low key approach
B. Tell him how much birthdays mean to you and that you would like to carry on the tradition, clearly outlining what you want within reason.
In my younger years, I choose A. I wanted to be agreeable and mesh well with my partner’s beliefs. I can tell you that this leads to years of frustration and resentment. My expectation did not match my communication. Instead, I have chosen to go with option B this time around. Option B may still require patience, drilled down communication, and being realistic; however, it will far outweigh option A.
Releasing unreasonable expectations can bring more flow into your life. In flow, people surprise you vs. disappoint you. If you recognize what people do for you, instead of focusing on what they don’t, you will have a clearer understanding of who they are. At times, this understanding may point out a gap in your relationship.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What do I expect?
- Can I share this expectation clearly and consistently?
- Why is this expectation vital to me?
- Where does this expectation come from?
- What happens if my expectation is not met?
- What happens if my expectation is exceeded?
- Do I have the same expectation for myself if the roles were reversed?
- Have I clearly communicated this expectation?
- Do I understand how the expectation’s recipient learns, communicates, and processes information?
- In the broad scheme of things, does this expectation really matter?
What do you notice in these questions? Most of the ownership is on you because you are the one creating the expectation. When it comes down to it, if you were faced with one day left to live, most of your expectations would go out the window, so question yourself. Again, I am not saying that you shouldn’t have standards. Owning your life and your responses will help you navigate balance, flow, and joy.
So tell me what expectations do you need to release? How can you change your perspective on a situation? I would love to hear any suggestions that you have to move us forward.