Expectations are a daily part of our landscape; I walked into my kitchen this morning expecting to get a coffee, and that everything I needed to make it would be there. I am sipping a hot cuppa right now (and loving it). There have been mornings when I’ve not been able to make myself a coffee because someone else drank all the milk, or I wasn’t paying attention to my coffee supply. Those mornings are harder than they need to be, even though forgoing my coffee first thing in the morning is really not the end of the world. Those mornings are harder because I have an attachment to one particular outcome and (dare I say) I see it as an entitlement, which when disrupted creates feelings of frustration, sometimes even anger, which then go on to influence my day if I do not bounce back from this initial disappointment. In other words, I make a big hairy deal about it and in so doing leach negativity into the start of my day. What is interesting here is I am the one doing it to myself, so that means I always have the choice to not react in this way when I cannot have my precious coffee (preserving the wellbeing in my day).
However, if I were to head into my kitchen every morning with no expectations at all of what may or may not be available for me to caffeinate myself, I leave myself open to possibilities, like a nice black tea or a cup of hot chocolate. When I am open to the possibilities of my well-stocked kitchen (for there are always options on hand) then not having a coffee does not produce a hardship in my day at all (not even a blip), even when my preference is for coffee. The difference here is my expectation. One example has me attached to only coffee and the other has me being open to a range of options. It never ceases to amaze me how such a simple thing such as awareness of our expectations can make a consistently positive difference in every day. And this doesn’t stop at coffee, this can be applied anywhere.
What makes us expect things? At work we form “emotional contracts” with our manager and our organization through both written and unwritten agreements. Contractually we know we will be paid accurately and on time; this is an example of a written agreement that we have an emotional connection to that could be defined as an expectation (and a reasonable one at that). Unwritten “agreements” usually fall into the category of expectations as well, such as “I have worked overtime for you for the past four months to help make us successful, therefore I will get a bigger bonus this year than last”. You can feel the implied emotional contract in that expectation. However, what we actually control in that scenario (getting a bigger bonus) is very little as employees don’t provide input into company-wide bonus budgets or have significant individual influence on things like the economic viability of the company, markets, etc. that effect an organizations’ ability to pay out performance based bonuses. Never the less, we build emotional contracts with all sorts of things at work we don’t control, forming the basis of expectations that may or may not be able to be met (i.e. “If my work is perfect I’ll get accolades!”, “If I say ‘yes’ to everything I will be well liked”, etc.). Experientially we don’t get our expectations met all the time, so you’d think we’d figure it out and become less attached to outcomes we don’t influence or control. But we don’t.
Expectations are something we all carry, it’s how we hold ourselves and each other accountable for things that have been promised or that are needed. But they are frustrating as well, they work in a spectrum influenced by other variables; expectation + need = requirement, expectation + want = entitlement. When the common denominator is expectation, we don’t always allow ourselves to accurately see something objectively or realistically (being discerning about need versus want). Expectations are inert (not the source bad or good feelings) until you add them with something else (a promise, a need or a want). Let’s look at this another way; expectation and hope are related emotions, and in this example hope is usually thought of as a very positive emotion, and expectation less so. Yet they are two sides of the same coin, hope being something aspirational and expectation being something contractual (remember the emotional contract we form). It’s choosing to frame this openly for ourselves, using both expectation and hope, that can help us to better manage our emotions. “I hope I get a bigger bonus this year because of all the overtime I’ve worked, but I recognize there are many other factors at play that have nothing to do with me, but might mean my performance bonus won’t be any bigger than last year.” In choosing to be less attached to a particular outcome, you can realistically look at what is in your control, which helps you to be less influenced by negative, energy sucking emotions than an unchecked expectation would otherwise allow. This gives you emotional options (a whole beautiful range of them), while recognizing that you do have desires and wants. These options are key to sustaining your wellbeing, whether it is in the workplace, or starting your morning off right.
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.