Managing Your Own Expectations and Dealing with Disappointment

It’s easy to say that by ridding yourself of expectations you will not suffer disappointment but is that really possible?  Is it realistic?  Should we just throw caution to the wind and ignore our innermost feelings, hopes and desires?  Should we all just become cynics?

I don’t think so.  I believe it’s about approach.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a planner, a list maker, a scheduler.  I operate this way because (1) I have a memory like a sieve, (2) I like to check back days, weeks or months later to see what I have accomplished for a sense of satisfaction and (3) I have a number of interests and commitments outside of my 9 to 5 and need to ensure that what needs to be slotted in is slotted in.  I may have decided this year not to be so hard and fast with my planning but I remain firm in the belief that setting goals in some form or fashion and learning from past experiences is key.

I have tried not to have expectations in many aspects of life but I’ve found that if I don’t set a goal for myself or at least mentally focus on an aspiration I am like a rudderless ship.  The issue that I have faced in the past was that certain expectations may not have been realistic or planned well, leading to a soul-crushing disappointment.  I’m also working on dispelling the notion in my mind that everything needs to “work out” because society says that such and such must occur by a particular time or even that the detailed goals I set for my life simply cannot be met due to extraneous factors.

If you’re a sensitive person like me, you tend to take disappointments to heart and see them as an indictment on your character, a personal failing or some sort of chastising from the universe complete with a pointed finger seemingly pushing you down a hole of despair.  Sound extreme?  Admittedly, it is and all you can do is learn from the experience and move on.

I remember my first job interview out of law school was several months after graduation.  It went well.  The managing partner told me he was impressed with me and that he would have the contract ready for review within the week.  Going into week 3 I called his office as I had heard nothing during that time.  Several of my calls went unanswered and eventually I found out through a friend that they hired someone with more experience.  I was devastated and could not understand why no one called me back, why the “offer” was not sent to me as discussed and wondered what was wrong with me.  Thirteen years of practice later in a number of different environments and working with superiors who ranged from Maria Von Trapp to Darth Sidious, I look back on my 23 year old self and realise that I was simply inexperienced with the ways of the corporate world and would face many other challenges and disappointments along the way.

For me, managing expectations and dealing with disappointment is definitely a work in progress.  At one point I thought that if I distracted myself and simply pretended that I never wanted to reach a particular ambition or desired result, the tugging in my heart would lessen but instead those feelings quickly deteriorated to resentment, sadness and anger.  So what have I decided to do?

I’ve decided to be rational and reasonable, to sit and really think whether the expectation can be met in light of my current situation, not what I would like it to be.  I also ask myself whether I think I can accept the result. Secondly, I’ve decided to plan sensibly, so if that I want something to happen, I will plan carefully and take all the necessary steps.  I will also try to incorporate patience into every day life, which will be an uphill battle but I owe it to myself.  My great aunt and mother’s favourite saying is, “Nothing before its time”, which used to cause me great annoyance but having lived through a number of manifestations of this, I agree 100%.  Finally, I will consider that obstacles may pop up and may do so at the least expected moment.  I had a health challenge in 2018 that I knew would have to be dealt with at some point but when my doctor announced that the best time to deal with it was “now”, that “now” was not my “now”.  However, it had to happen and I was forced to deal face the situation head on.

I also believe that management of expectations and the use of one’s time are inextricably linked.  Time waits for no-one.  Once gone, squandered moments spent in anger over disappointment will never return.  While it’s ok to give yourself time to be upset, much time can be wasted in steeping in the accompanying displeasure.   Ask yourself, am I adaptable and if I adapt am I likely to be happy with the result?  Can I be content with my situation?

This isn’t the first time that I’ve written on this subject but 4 years later, while I still agree with what I wrote, I believe that I’m better equipped to handle what comes my way.  I just have to put in the work.

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