I’ve been wanting for a long time to write about expectations. I find them a source of both suffering and happiness, depending on how you’re, well, managing them.
Expectations are part of our life, wether we like it or not. Unless we’re in Nirvana, fully detached from Samsara, and immersed in the now, we’re all having some sort of expectations on auto-pilot. We’re constantly beaming a stream of small projections for our short, medium and long term reality, a stream that we rely on in order to take decisions. It’s like a map that we’re constantly drawing in our psyche: we expect our mornings to come when we go to sleep, we expect our loved ones to be there when we need them, and so on and so forth.
It would be nice if we could live without any sort of expectations, but I find this highly unrealistic (unless, like I said, you’re already enlightened, in which case you can safely go away now). But if you’re not yet enlightened, bear with me, you may find something useful in the paragraphs below.
Always Expect The Best, But Plan For The Worst
That’s how I choose to manage expectations. Yes, really, just that. Expecting more? (Pun intended… )
To be honest, the most important part is the planning, the “always be ready to fail” part, not the hope for things to always turn out the way I want them. That hope is somehow a given, we’re all naturally inclined to expect the best.
This planning for the worst is a subtle art. It should be honest enough to function as a safety net when the shit hits the fan, but it shouldn’t be too pervasive, in order not to spoil – or even prevent from happening – any good thing that may come up, especially when something feels too good to be true.
Here are a few things I always take into account when planning for the worst, things that kinda worked for me over the years:
1. We’re All Different
So my expectations are different from your expectations – that means I shouldn’t “enforce” my way, and you shouldn’t drag me into your ways. We may need different things, and that’s ok. Planning for the worst should always take into account this constant difference between people and between what they want.
2. Communication Is A Difficult Process
We’re not the best communicators in the world – we always have penchants, idiosyncrasies, different understandings of the same word, and so on and so forth. That means I should always take everything that another person says with a little grain of salt. It’s not like I don’t believe them, but they might simply be meaning a different thing. Keeping a decent distance from anything other people say is a safe bet, one that, in time, prevented many heartaches and broken dreams.
3. It Takes Time
Nothing happens over night. Nothing of value, of course. Expecting something valuable to appear, to manifest just like that, is simply unrealistic. Things need time to mature, so patience is paramount. Planning for the worst means simply accepting that incubation period – and be a little weary when stuff rolls out too fast.
4. When The Threshold Is Reached, Just Back Off
Having patience doesn’t need you should wait for ever. There is a certain level of tolerance that shouldn’t be breached. You don’t have to stay in that job forever, you don’t have to work for that startup forever (guilty as charged), you don’t have to support that relationship forever. You may still have expectations that the job, the startup or the relationship will eventually flip in the right direction, but you shouldn’t grow old while waiting for that. When your threshold is reached, just back off, no matter how hard it is. By breaking up with that job, that startup or that person, you free space for something or someone else.
The most important thing, though, is to understand that you have no contract with reality. There’s no obligation for reality to mold over your expectations. Reality just is. It’s up to you to mold over the constant change that pervades every second of our lives.