Great Expectations


“You might not need eyes to see!” Last week’s episode of This American Life, entitled “Batman,” is about how expectations affect the way people live their lives. It focuses on the story of Daniel Kish, who is blind, but can navigate the world around him by clicking with his tongue, or “echolocation,” like bats do. He has, by all accounts, exceeded expectations society has of blind people, and he attributes this to the fact that his mother never set low or limited expectations for him, so he never set them for himself.

expectations-defAre expectations good or bad? There are lots of reasons given for not having expectations, or for not having high expectations to avoid disappointment, stress and increase happiness. Expectations can get in the way of great life experiences if we are constantly trying to “live up to” other’s expectations of us. But there is a difference between living UP to expectations and living DOWN to expectations. If we never set a high expectation, or if we are constantly reminded of low expectations others have for us, it is impossible to grow.

Our culture seems to prefer HOPE over EXPECTATION. What is the difference between Expectation and Hope? “Expectation influences our behavior and attitudes. It affects how we see the world. And then how we respond to it.” But the definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” So why is hope encouraged and expectation discouraged, when hope is really just a type of expectation?

Author Gretchen de la O says, “There is a difference between Expectation and Hope—a BIG difference. When one hopes for something they believe there is a chance it won’t come to be; while when one expects, there is only the belief that it is done.” For this reason, “failed” expectations can result in serious disappointment. But I don’t think that is a reason not to have expectations. Instead, we should view expectations as a way to set lofty, yet realistic goals, and to learn to better handle disappointment … to “manage expectations.” Jeremy Binns talks about healthy hopes vs. unhealthy expectations. Whether you call them hopes or not, the point is that expectations for things we can control or influence are healthy, and expectations outside of our control (I expect that my friend will return my phone call) can let us down.

Lastly, although not directly in our control, how can expectations of others be a good (or bad) thing … can our expectations of others influence how they live their life, like Daniel Kish? Some expectations we have of others may be based on a judgement we have made about them and their abilities. Studies have shown that teachers’ expectations affect interactions with the their students. When teachers expect children to succeed, they allow more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: They consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more, consequently giving these students a better chance at success. “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ.”  Stanford psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck explains, “it’s not something you can put your finger on. We are not usually aware of how we are conveying our expectations to other people. But it’s there.”

Managing expectations means considering what expectations we have, preparing to deal with unmet expectations, and examining how our expectations influence our own ambitions and those of others. What more can you expect?



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