Great Expectations

Several years ago, I attended a seminar about strengthening relationships. The big idea was setting a foundation in your live that would serve you well in any connection - be it professional, romantic, familial, or a friendship. One of the questions asked was about how other people have the power to hurt us. They said something that stuck with me: the greater your expectation in a relationship the greater the power this person has to emotionally wound you.

Think about it. A stranger could level the cruelest insult at you but their words are easily ignored or forgotten. If a spouse or a parent said the same thing, you would be devastated. Even simple criticism from someone you love can hurt worse than the barbed words of casual acquaintances.

That seminar was an ah-ha moment for me. I was (at the time) in the middle of a long string of disappointment from unmet expectations so I latched onto this practical concept. However, I have the tendency to take truisms like these to the extremes. If (a) the people with the most potential to hurt me are those on whom I place the greatest expectations and (b) I don't want to get hurt, then the most logical thing for me to do would be to set the lowest of expectations for everyone.

As you can imagine, this did not turn out as planned. Sure, it worked for a while. But then it didn't. Then I was dealt the most wounding blow imaginable.

Part of my journey of healing these past couple years has been learning to set high expectations and not being disappointed when those expectations are missed. It has been brutally difficult and I am nowhere near proficient. I have lost count of the times I have told myself that I am OK when I'm really not or that it is not a big deal when it really is.

One of the realities I have had to admit is that I am far more self-centered than I would care to admit. Yet more and more I have found a degree of narcissism to be present in most everyone I meet. Knowing this, I can work on my own issues while bracing myself for others who might not be as self-aware.

This year, as I work toward being a better person, I am working to erase the concept that I need to keep my expectations low. Along with that, I must accept a few (generalized) facts about humanity.

People are mean. Most of it is unintentional, so I will show them grace.
People are selfish. I will speak my needs but understand that most care more about their own.
People are manipulative. I will set appropriate boundaries and love them anyways.
People are vindictive. I will not participate in the cycle of vengeance.
I will trust knowing that my efforts will probably be betrayed.
I will invest in the lives around me knowing that few will invest in my life.
I will set great expectations knowing that most will not achieve them.
I will offer encouragement, support, and assistance whenever possible knowing the favor will most likely go unreturned.

Through this, I know I will be hurt. I know I will be let down. Yet I will forgive, I will care, I will love. And sometime, somewhere, someone will completely surprise me. Someone will be kind and generous. It has happened before and I cannot wait to see it again. It is for these people I keep the greatest of expectations. You are out there. I do not know who you are, but I am eager to meet you.


  1. I full know well the challenge of trying to not be disappointed when expectations are missed.

    1. It's hard. Yet I believe it's worth it for those select few that surprise you.