The Power of Expectations

Photo by Anders Carlsson

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had a lot of opportunities to think about expectations and the power they have over us.  In part, it was reading Brené Brown’s new book, The Atlas of the Heart.  If you don’t have this book, buy it.  I think it is an important reference volume for the human experience.

As part of becoming more comfortable in my own human experience, I have worked a lot with naming, recognising, and managing emotions.  I find that the better I can recognise what I feel, I can stop my own automatic cycles that often lead me into a dark place of first, anxiety and then, self-loathing with all the undesired actions that come with it.

I can also communicate more effectively with the important people around me.  I can name my feelings, and decide then how and what I communicate about them.

Brown’s book says “When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our head of how things are going to be and how their going to look. … When the picture fails to play out in real life, we feel disappointment.  And sometimes that disappointment is severe and brings shame and hurt and anger.”


I struggle a lot with control issues.  I’ve made huge improvements over the past years.   In the past couple of years though, I have been frustrated with my own progress.

There have been two main occasions, first in our move to the US, and now over the past few months, that have brought my control issues to a head. 

If we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a model, we could say that my control issues manifest themselves in the base levels (physiological and safety).  In the higher levels, I find myself much more flexible, able to achieve self-actualisation, cognitive and esteem needs, and even belonging and love needs in very different and varied ways.

I felt quite a bit of pride with the flexibility I have developed, which is probably why I’m so disappointed now.  It’s a function of expectations, especially on myself.

I have a lot of things I want to do with work, with Nspir, but also other creative projects.  I know to make them work, I need to plan. 

But it’s awfully hard to plan when you don’t know when you will move.  I feel like the entire upcoming nine months are outta control.  It’s exacerbated by dealing with all the daily practicalities to allow the move to happen, quite liking where I am, and knowing that with external conditions as they are, the future situation isn’t as good as the present.  It’s even tougher when I need to motivate all of this to a twelve-year old who has already had her world shaken up so many times.

On reflection though, where the shame and hurt and anger come in for me, is the disappointment in myself.  Why can’t I manage this better?   I know all this stuff about managing life and expectations (I dare to teach in it, which reminds me of my own imposter syndrome – how do I think I can teach something I struggle with myself), I know my real and true physiological needs will be met.  I won’t truly be unsafe.  I’m not (and my family won’t) be out on the street.  I definitely have first world problems.

And that’s where the expectations are key.  Letting myself be human.  I’m not a machine.  I’m not unfeeling.  I still can feel fear and anxiety, even if I cognitively know that things aren’t really that bad.  I can still teach and share my knowledge and experience, even if I’m not perfect.  Maybe I’m even more effective because of my own struggle?  I’m still struggling with that, but I’ve been told in my 7 Habits class that those were some of the best teaching moments.

And most importantly, I’m not alone.  As part of being more authentic and sharing my own self, I shared that I am struggling.  The comfort that has come from those who reached out, whether it was to share their own struggles, their own methods for dealing with them, or simply the message that they are there and they care, has wrapped me in a big flannel and down duvet of love and peace.

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