There is a plaque that hangs in my grandparent’s house – the house that I did much of my growing up in. It says, “He who expects nothing shall never be disappointed.” My husband thinks it is completely depressing and yet, isn’t it true? My generation, Generation Y, and the one that follows, the Millennials, have grown up being told that we can be anything we want to be and if we want it badly enough, we can make it happen. The world is our oyster. In North America especially, we are relatively unscathed by war, famine and poverty…well, perhaps not all of us. There is a renewed sense of hope and opportunity that permeates all of life. Not only do we believe that we can be anything we want, but we also believe that the world and those fellow humans who walk amongst us, are relatively good people. Unfortunately, these beliefs consciously or unconsciously create expectation.
Expectations We Place on Society
I suppose you could say that I am a realist. I don’t expect to live a long life because it is not historically probable. I mean, think about it: historically speaking, if you were to take every lifespan over every year the world has been in existence, I would venture a guess and say the average lifespan is surprisingly low. There have been countless deaths because of infant mortality, natural disaster, war, famine, disease – the list goes on and on. Not only that, but historically speaking there is no reason why I should expect to sleep in a warm comfy bed with a soft down comforter at night (or during the day) either. Have I lost you? Okay maybe that was a bit far, but the bottom line is that I fear that this renewed sense of optimism has turned into a sense of entitlement. Gen Y’ers and Millennials seem to think that they are owed something by the world, society, their parents and every human being that crosses their path.
We believe, myself included, that if we work hard enough, we will get an ‘A’ and that the money will come pouring in. That being said I challenge you to ask anyone who lives in poverty if they think this to be true. Then there are the people who believe that they shouldn’t have to work at all and yet, they should still be owed something such as an inheritance. I have had the opportunity to witness this firsthand recently and the selfishness, the entitlement and the greed of some people makes me very sad. This however, leads me to the second set of expectations that come from our twenty-first century optimism.
Expectations We Place on Those Around Us and We Place on Them
Many people expect or assume that the people around us value the same things as we do: equality, justice, truth and compassion. Friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not the case. Remember what I talked about yesterday? Unless we make our values priorities, it is possible they were not very important values in the first place. I think this expectation is most commonly misplaced in government. We make some pretty weighty assumptions about the values of our government, but when push comes to shove, do the policies reflect those values?
We also place expectations on a more personal level. We place expectations on “friends” and friends to be there when we need them, to speak truth, to love us, to stand up for us but when they don’t pull through, our heart aches. Your past undoubtedly has a huge affect on what you expect from your friends as does your personality type. Some people need a reaffirming text everyday whereas some friends won’t speak for months and yet, every time they reunite, they just pick up where they left off. Unrealistic expectations on friends can kill relationships before they even begin.
The same goes for family. “When I was a kid, a home-cooked meal was on the table every day, three times a day,” said no one ever but you get the idea. Chances are, the way you saw your family or other families interact in the past has strong implications for the expectations that you bring to your family. Do you expect your wife to cook a gourmet meal every night? Do you expect your husband to come home with flowers? Do you expect your parents to drop everything to come and babysit your kids? Do you expect your kids to know what true responsibility means? When these expectations are unmet, there can be resentment.
Expectations We Place on Ourselves.
Finally, there are expectations we place on ourselves. I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I feel like it speaks for itself. The problem with growing up being told that we can do anything we put our mind to is what happens when we don’t? What happens when we fail? We feel as though we are not good enough.
I think that this point is best explained with two personal stories. The first one is about my high school experience. When I was in high school, all the “smart” kids took challenge math, pre-calculus, Advanced Placement English and all the sciences. So what did I do – you got it, I took all of those ridiculous classes and in my grade 12 year, I did horribly in everything EXCEPT English, which I aced despite my dreadful attendance record. I struggled with my grade 12 report card for a long time. I felt embarrassed and wondered if I was really smart after all. The problem, however, was not that I wasn’t smart but that I had placed an unrealistic expectation on myself and quite frankly, valued other things. I expected that since I was smart, I should be math-smart. Sometimes, I wonder about if had recognized my aptitude for words as opposed to number if my life would look different now that I am in my 30’s. Then again, if I had realized I may have chosen a path other than going to Bible College (because I was too embarrassed to apply to any real universities and didn’t think I would get in anyway), where I met my husband, which brings me to my second story.
I would argue that romantic relationships create the most toxic expectations. This certainly was and probably still is the case in my relationship with my husband. All Most women do it – we watch romantic movies and expect our Mr. Darcy to emerge from the lake with a dripping wet thin, white cotton shirt clinging to his perfectly sculpted torso. Now that I reflect on this film however it seems quite ironic because really, Mr. Darcy wasn’t at all romantic in today’s standards, and Elizabeth Bennett definitely was not and yet, this is what we have come to expect! Flowers, music, romantic dinners, gifts, surprises, white stallions, waking up madly, deeply and passionately in love with our spouse (and God). The only problem is that this looks very different to different people.
We wouldn’t expect to see a fish climbing a tree. No, a fish’s dreams are realized not on land (contrary to what Disney tells you) but in the water. When we carry around the baggage of expectations (from society, the people around us or ourselves) we trick ourselves into believing that we should have different dreams, that our dreams aren’t good enough or that they are, perhaps, too lofty – ultimately, they are dreams that are not meant for us. But that is not necessarily true. That is the beauty of dreams: they are ours and ours only. For that reason, we need to take ownership of our dreams. We are not entitled to anyone’s help nor their approval.
So now it is your turn. Make a list of expectations that you have rightfully or unrightfully placed on yourself. Are they realistic? What about the expectations of others. Is it time to leave behind some of those horrid sweaters your Aunt Mildred made for you and the dresses your mom made you wear?