I come from a smallish town in southern Alberta, Canada. I was raised around remarkably polite people who held the door open for each other, small talked in the grocery line, covered the person in front of them if they were a little short on coffee money, and mowed their neighbor’s lawn if they were out of town.
When I left for college, I was quite shocked by the coldness of the people where I moved. I held the door open for a guy on campus once and he acted like I had done something horribly offensive and responded with something along the lines of “I can hold a door myself!” Most people didn’t even acknowledge if I attempted to help them. I was shaken because I expected that everyone was generally as polite and friendly as the people where I came from and if someone was rude to me it was because they wanted to make me, individually, feel bad. I was young and thought the universe revolved around me (of course, silly).
Several years later, I read a book by Jodi Picoult called Nineteen Minutes and encountered a quote that changed my thinking. ““There are two ways to be happy: improve your reality or lower your expectations.” Now, that quote over-simplifies happiness, but it does bring up an important truth. We often place unrealistic expectations (both high and low) on our significant others, friends, families, coworkers, and even strangers on the train. So, knowing that, how do we manage our expectations to improve our happiness—in all areas of our lives? Here are a few suggestions.
Realize your place in the world.
One of the biggest issues we have as humans is our desire to classify other people as more or less deserving than us of success and happiness. Unfortunately, we often consider others around us to be less deserving than we are—merely as nuisances that should just get out of our way. This happens a lot in everyday life. The thing that we don’t tend to realize is that we are as equally annoying to others as they are to us. We aren’t any more important than they are, even if we like to think we are! When we start to realize that we are all just trying to do the best we can, and we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, our expectations start to become more realistic.
Don’t take it personally.
It takes a lot of growing to realize that most people aren’t doing things to personally attack you. In fact, they likely aren’t considering you in the equation as much as you think they are. This is, surprisingly, comforting. Thinking back to the angry campus door guy, he likely had no problem with me or what I was doing. He was probably just having a bad day and took it out on the first person he interacted with. I think The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz states this concept best: “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.” When we accept that, we will be much happier and have more realistic expectations of others.
Assumptions are likely one of the largest problems with managing expectations. When we assume something, we’re really making fools out of ourselves and the other person. Assuming we know what another person is thinking or feeling or doing is a sure fire way to be disappointed. If you aren’t sure about something, ask! If someone does something and you don’t know how to interpret it, talk to them about it. Communication is really the key to solving this problem.
These are just a few suggestions, but they carry a common theme. The conclusion I’ve come to is that the key to managing expectations is to realize that they are our own problem and no one else is to blame. When we take a hard look at ourselves and change our own thought processes, we’ll be much happier, kinder, compassionate, and we won’t place unrealistic expectations on those around us—which can help you in both your work and personal life!