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  • Writer's pictureLaura Roeven

Expectation is the Mother of all Disappointments

We expect things of ourselves and others. It happens all the time. I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Expectation is the mother of all disappointment” I bristled at it and felt that accepting this idea would leave me lazy, not striving, and complacent. I LOVED my expectations and saw them as a companion urging me on. I did not want my expectations to be equated with disappointment in any way …and then it happened as I was thinking about expectations, I experienced disappointment. This event was like a key unlocking a door of knowing more about what makes me happy and unhappy. Expectation is not a cheerleader; it is an idea of what I thought would happen. When what I thought did not meet with reality, this left me feeling lack, loss, and frustration.


“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.” —Michael J. Fox

Expectation is not a shining idea to aspire to. That is an ideal. Expectation is an idea of specific anticipation. We can have our expectations met, or have our expectations exceeded. These leave us feeling pleasant. But when our expectations are not realized, we can hold on to what we wanted and diminish our joy. Having an awareness around expectation is a helpful tool to promote happiness. Here is what I learned when unpacking the process.

Breaking Down an Unmet Expectation: Demystifying Expectation Laura’s Case Study

  • Hidden Expectation: I expected to experience COVID as a like-minded community event. I imagined the pandemic would be like difficult times in history when the nation came together.

  • Expectation went unmet: There are a lot of varying thoughts and beliefs on how people think we should behave during a pandemic. The unity as a nation did not happen.

  • Thoughts: I find that a differing belief makes me mad and defensive. I dislike what I am hearing which creates distance in me when I listen to contrasting views. I cling to national unity and focused on disparate messages. My thoughts keep looking for coming together and it is mental sandpaper when my expectations are not visible.

  • Feelings: I feel frustrated when my thoughts on COVID procedures are viewed negatively. Equally, I balk at opposing views. It makes me tired to disagree on something so important. As COVID wears on, I find that my feelings followed the unmet expectation.

  • Words/Behaviors: I find that I avoid talking about COVID with others. I am spending less time on the phone. This is leads to diminished connections.

  • Relating to Others: Our expectations and behaviors lead to responses. I have responses and who I am talking to has responses. It’s natural, like a conversation loop. When I call to check in, and the conversation turns to opposing ideas, I want to hang up the phone. In turn, the other can feel the distance and wants to connect. My behavior limits this connection. Within relationships, unmet expectations can create a feedback cycle that does not promote the relationship. It can feel sour and confusing. Unmet expectations can cause hurt feelings.


Now that we have unpacked the mechanics of expectations, let’s explore what to do with them.

Transforming the Negative to Neutral or Positive: How to Meet Expectation

I acknowledge that I hoped and expected a different experience in the pandemic. I thought this would be something to come together on for the good of all. “Come together on” is not even possible in the literal sense. Talk about unmet expectations! Working through the exercise above, it is laughable seeing the set up I created! Victory gardens, community connection and support look differently than I expected. After really understanding what the expectation was, it is possible to move into a more positive space.

Create Positive Spaces: Environmental Compassion

Environmental compassion is a total tending to the moment with utilizing our kindness and love. This tending can be as expansive as the moment holds. My wish for comfort and ease for all people in the world is a compassionate thought that blankets the earth. I can offer that. Conversely, tending to my interior disappointment with compassion is an arena of one. “You expected connection and that isn’t possible the way you pictured it.” Holding the mindset of environmental compassion is the offering wishing love and peace for self and others.

How do I tend to myself with COVID expectations? When I notice my thoughts are negative toward others or confused in myself, I take a breath. I stop the biting or critical thoughts and re-decide what I want to think, feel, and do in this moment. My goal is peace, connection, and love. Using compassion, I can better understand that I make mistakes and others can make mistakes. When I offer myself compassion in COVID, it sounds like, “This feels frustrating and scary.” “I wish I was an expert, but I’m not.” “I long to be comforted. What do I need?” Compassion sidesteps expectation by tending to what the need is. Environmental compassion is a wide acceptance that meets any moment. “We are not going to agree about this. Let’s talk about something that we both enjoy. What other topic would bring you joy to discuss?” The message moves from right and wrong to whole-hearted wishing to connect and appreciation of whom you are with.

Positive Spaces: Off the Beaten Path

In any expectation, we often land where we do not count on. This is a great time to find a road less traveled. My friend Marilyn described a “quaint Dutch town”. In this context, quaint meant inconvenient, difficult, and time consuming. She shifted these frustrations to the appreciation of the beauty of her surroundings. We can do the same when we realize an expectation is unmet. Holding curiosity, “What is possible here? What is opening for me to learn? Is there a hidden gem in this moment?” These questions seek the road less traveled. Nate Ware talks about the literal road less traveled and the science behind expectation and happiness in this short video.

Let it Go

Finally, the best thing to do with unmet expectation is to let it go. After meeting what expectation is not fulfilled and honoring how you feel with compassion, it is time to open your palm that is gripping your expectation and release it. This was unmet. I release you to adjust to the moment that is really happening. It is only with seeing clearly and letting go of what was hoped for that the power of choice can return.

Guy Findly explains how this is done perfectly:

“What's the first sign of a lurking, hidden expectation you didn't know you had? Pain! People don't do what we want, things don't happen quickly enough, the weather doesn't cooperate, our bodies don't cooperate. Why are these moments so painful? Because our minds are focused on a static, unchanging, me-centric picture while the dynamic unfolding of a broader life continues around us. There is nothing wrong with expectations per se, as it's appropriate to set goals and work, properly, towards their fruition. But the instant we feel pain over life not going "my way," our expectations have clearly taken an improper turn. Any moment you feel resistance or pain, look for -- and then let go of -- the hidden expectation. Practice giving yourself over to what "you" don't want. Let the line at the store be long. Let the other person interrupt you. Let the nervousness make you shake. Be where your body is, not where your mind is trying to take you.”

Enjoy being where your body is…



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