Manage your life; don’t let others’ expectations define how you live.
Your glass is not empty or full; it’s already broken.
“You see this goblet?” — asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai Buddhist master.
“For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table, and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, “Of course.”
When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
Expectations make us suffer — pretending that things will go our way creates unnecessary stress.
Life is like a fragile glass; it will break sooner or later. Rather than expecting things to happen one way, enjoy them for what they are —and while they last.
The Problem with Expectations
“Deceiving others. That’s what the world calls a romance.”
— Oscar Wilde
People tell me that, sometimes, they feel they are living someone else’s life. Like something is missing. That’s because they allow other people to determine their choices.
Social pressure is deceiving — we can quickly lose control of our lives without noticing it.
Your boss, partner, friends, parents, and more have expectations — they don’t see you for who they are. They observe the gap between who you are and what they want you to become.
To overcome expectations, we must maintain ownership of our choices.
Pleasing other people is like chasing a moving target. Everyone has different hopes for you. Social pressure is fluid — people will continually change their expectations toward you.
Expectations are an illusion. By trying to please everyone, we end pleasing no one — ourselves included. That’s why most people don’t live the life they want. Everyone feels frustrated and disappointed.
That’s why it’s better to expect the unexpected — accept the glass will break.
Anticipation is tedious — even when things go as expected, we can’t enjoy unsurprising events.
Even the few times we get what we wished for, we cannot be happy either.
That’s the problem with anticipation — we experience things before they happen. We fall in love with expectations. If what we anticipated doesn’t come true, we feel life is unfair. If it happens, then the lack of surprise makes the actual experience less exciting.
The same happens with people. They expect you to behave in a particular way, but when you fail you to do so, they get frustrated. If you do please their expectations, they will have new hopes for you.
High Expectations Are Not a Good Influence
“Don’t walk in my head with your dirty feet.”
― Leo Buscaglia
People tend to make decisions based on how others expect them to perform. Others can help us raise or lower our bar. Most people try to fulfill other’s expectations to gain respect and appreciation.
People who believe in you can inspire you. However, what happens when their intentions don’t align with your desires? How can you stay in charge of your own life?
We all crave autonomy. No-one wants to be told how to live. Don’t expect people to live up to your expectations. That’s one of the hardest things in life: we have a hard time understanding that people are not under our control.
Similarly, people’s expectations are theirs; you have no obligation to fulfill them. Pushy influence always creates disappointment.
In Mind over Mind, Chris Berdik explains how anticipation can inform, even dictate, our future experiences. The science journalist reveals how our forward-thinking brain shapes our actions and perception. He describes tricked wine tasters who rejected and later rewarded an identical vintage based on a higher price tag.
Berdik also uncovers the downside of expecting too much, such as when star athletes fall apart at a crucial moment. Likewise, people who watched an uplifting movie were deceived by their expectations. Those who had earlier read about the benefits of joy felt less happy after watching the film than those who hadn’t.
Aiming for the best is not the problem — our attachment to our expectations is the issue.
Dalai Lama said, “Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.”
When our expectations are unrealistic, they turn into a bigger problem. Like hoping that glass will never break. That’s why we should expect the worst and aim for the best.
You have expectations of others. And others stack expectations on you. Some are more realistic than others.
Believing that unspoken expectations will bring you what you want is unrealistic. Expecting your colleagues to do what is in your interest, but not theirs is unrealistic. To think that your children will always follow your rules drives disappointment.
People Expect You to Be Someone Else
“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
Many people bear resentment when the outcome of an event is less than they imagined it would be, even if their expectations were based on unrealistic assumptions.
The gap between what people expect from you and who you are makes everyone frustrated. To bridge that void, you must reframe your relationship with people’s expectations.
Not expecting things from others is the first step towards preventing people from dictating how you live.
Life is reciprocal — when you realize no one owes you anything, you won’t expect people to owe you anything either.
Expectations create a social contract — it’s an implicit agreement between others and you. If you don’t push back, people will assume you are okay with it.
That’s why people invade our lives. When they don’t see any resistance, they keep moving from a beachhead to conquer your entire life. Some do it on purpose — they love controlling other’s lives. Others do it because they are merely reacting — their behavior reflects what others do to them.
Regardless of people’s intentions, it’s up to you to overcome their invasion. Speak up.
If you don’t resist, not only you legitimize the agreement, it becomes a social practice. Soon, you’ll start doing the same to others — when you let other people define your life, you want to prescribe theirs too.
How to Defeat Expectations
1. Put your oxygen mask first:
The first step to getting rid of expectations is to treat yourself kindly. To take care of others, you have to put on your oxygen mask first — address your needs before attending people’s desires.
Accepting yourself as you are (flaws included) is the foundation for a long-term friendship. When we take who we are, there’s no room for pushy influence.
Being self-compassionate is like fresh oxygen to your mind.
Research by Dr. Kristin Neff shows that compassionate acts towards ourselves release the ‘feel-good’ hormones. Increased levels of oxytocin make us feel comforted, calm, and connected.
2. Adjust the Way You Think
You cannot control what others think about you, but you can choose how you talk to yourself. Your inner-talk can help or harm you, as I wrote here. Learn to choose your words wisely.
You are the best person you can talk to.
Pay attention to your inner dialogue. Are you being kind to yourself or adding more pressure? Does your conversation focus on who you are and what you want to be? Or is it full of expectations of who you should be? Your dialogue should be yours, not shaped by other people’s thoughts.
3. Speak Up
People need limits — some because they are acting without noticing it, others because they tend to impose their desires. Speak up. Don’t let them dictate who you are and what you should do.
People will assume the social contract is active unless you explicitly break it.
Learn to draw a line. You don’t need to be harsh, though. Just let others know when they are out of bounds — not everyone realizes when they are trying to define how you live.
4. Free Yourself and Free Others
When you remove your preconceptions and expectations, you can do the same to others. Living the life you love is liberating — you don’t feel the pressure to please others. Similarly, you won’t need to impose your will on others either.
When you take ownership of your life, people feel empowered to follow suit.
Expectations are an illusion — they add useless pressure to everyone. Let’s recover the joy of living. Remember when you were a kid. You probably didn’t have time for expectations — you were busy enjoying life one-minute at-a-time.
5. Stop Judging, Stop Expecting
Expectations derive from being judgmental — when someone can’t accept how you behave, they expect you to change. By learning to be more compassionate toward yourself, not only you’ll ease your own expectations, you won’t feel the need to judge others.
Life is not perfect — removing expectations will let you appreciate your life as is.
Judgment adds frustration, and negativity — perfectionists are never happy. When you let go of expectations, you create space to enjoy the here and now. Your life is not what it should happen, but what is happening as you read this post.
Removing expectations doesn’t mean lowering your bar but letting go of unnecessary pressure. Only when you feel relaxed, you can give your best.
Learn to see the glass broken.
Enjoy things while they last and be okay when they break. Living without expectations requires accepting the worst and aiming for the best. And that applies to what people expect from you too.