Great expectations


Sometimes one hears people saying things like “I’ve given up my expectations of X” or “I know better than to have expectations of Y” and so on. When I hear such statements, I hurt for the speaker. They’re kidding themselves and setting themselves up, ever more firmly, for the disappointment they hope to avoid.

It is the function of our brain to create and have expectations. The brain is a huge prediction machine, and is specifically designed to keep us alive by acting on expectations. To try to evade this function is to attempt to defy our very physiology.

It takes a vast amount of training and rigour to even begin to distinguish our expectations, let alone give them up, and most people just don’t have this. It’s also likely that truly giving up expectations requires distinguishing the larger phenomena in which they are embedded such as the “reality illusion” (the illusion that how people occur to us is reality) and the illusion of time.

The biggest issue with the idea of the malleability of expectations, however, is that it fails to take something major into account.

It fails to account for other people’s expectations of us.

While we’re busy declaring we’re giving up our expectations of others, we’re overlooking the entire question of their expectations of us. Yet these expectations are just as likely to cause us trouble than our expectations of others, only more so.


There is an alternative to pretending to ourselves that we’re giving up expectations and getting hurt in the process, and that’s to get interested in uncovering the expectations others have of us.

This path is about recognising that expectations are always with us and getting committed to discovering what they are. It’s about ditching the idea we can be superhuman – ie, above other human beings by virtue of our giving up of expectations – and joining the ranks of human being as one person doing his or her best amongst other people doing their best.

It’s about opening a conversation with X or Y, rather than evading a conversation and remaining in our isolated “giving up expectations” mode. It’s about getting to discover who X or Y actually are.

The way of conversation leads to connection, discovery and intimacy; the other way leads to disappointment and frustration, whatever we may like to say about it.


Image: Expectations by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

If you enjoyed this post …

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:


19 thoughts on “Great expectations

  1. A little bit off topic, maybe; but I learned a big lesson when I realized that the most important component of satisfying clients was to meet or exceed their expectations. This may sound obvious, but it was always so tempting to steer the project in a direction that would meet my own expectations. . .


    • Spot-on topic as far as I’m concerned, Mrs Daffodil. Yeh, if we were to try to wash our hands of expectations and pretend we were “above them” in the business world, it’d go pear-shaped in seconds! Too bad we sometimes think different rules apply at home.


  2. The image for your posting, one of my favorite by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. “EXPECTATIONS” obviously that is why you chose it, glad you did! Your topic is a good choice as well, My good friend says “it is hard to hunt when you have no one to bring the rabbits home to”. His perception is of anothers’ expectations, and that is what gave him motive to hunt, or work or whatever. Your post is one of those that I wish were longer! Good stuff, thanks


    • John, don’t you just want to put out your hand and feel the sun on that pink marble seat? I do :)

      I like your friend’s saying. I hadn’t thought that having a stake in something is also about expectations. Thanks.


      • Yes Alma-Tedema was known as the best painter of marble in history. He strove to achieve this. In the picture you featured there is no middle ground, only foreground and back ground, this keeps the focus on the marble and the maiden awaiting her expectations, It is like good poetry leading the viewer to a conclusion that is within themselves. We see our own expectations, a great painting this is.


      • Great comment. I love what you say about the “conclusion that is within themselves.” That’s it! Everything human beings will ever experience is already within us, waiting to be borrowed from “The Future”.

        I did not know that marble was Alma-Tadema’s forte. He succeeded brilliantly in his intention. Curious what you say about no middle ground. I’ve just realised my brain has been trying to find a middle ground. See where the diagonal meets the end of the seat. My brain had been interpreting that as receding into a middle ground. Now I see that it joins the end of the seat on the same plane as the seat, ie, the foreground.


      • Yes, notice also the seat is a slow feminine curve intersecting a branch of flowers, supported by a straight masculine wall. The eye takes in more there as the wall drops down, and is returned to the left to scan it again and again. You find your eye searching in pans, as the mind is searching in expectation, that is why it is a masterpiece.


      • The stair case is descending on the right, but it implies she ascended to her awaiting position. It helps to keep you encircled and is a direct reference to climbing out of the distant village. The shadow provides the lace, her dress has none, the branch is bent to her favor, a sort of genuflection to the composition.
        I do agree with your earlier comment, everything is within us and borrowed from the future, it is these images from the past that give us cognizance and reference from which to be aware.


      • I like that, the staircase helping keep the viewer encircled. Very good. And “climbing out of” the distant village … very astute. And the lace and the branch as genuflection. Now about this left hand … what is she doing? My mind of course sees her talking on a mobile phone … ;) And what is that about her right hand? Is it her little finger or a handkerchief?


      • Her right hand shows a gentleness of self preening, Her left hand is doing something with her hair, it shows she is “there” we are invited into the physical common hand movements and pass through any mental resistance as viewers because we see ourselves within. The hands do this work in this picture. They waive us in.


      • That “gentleness” makes me laugh. Men often use this word in relation to women. I hear that as a projection of what they want to see ;)

        I think she’s waiting for her lover. I don’t think she’d be feeling gentle. She could even be distressed. That’s what her left hand says to me, like she’s dabbing her eyes. It’d be very unusual for a woman to preen with both arms raised. We use one arm or the other. Both arms raised is more like lasciviousness which is a later picture …


      • Oh I agree, men wish to see it that way. But when women look at this picture I think they project what the woman is feeling, but the picture was painted to say what the artist wanted the viewer to see, not to guess what the woman was thinking, being able to project by either man or woman makes the picture successful.
        A woman using one hand to help the other as she clips her hair back is very sensual. perhaps not to you, but to men it is. It is more likely she is placing flowers in her hair from the blossoms.
        Interesting take on it that you have.


  3. And from years of teaching adults, I know it’s crucial to hear what their expectations are at the beginning of the course so you can try to meet them.


    • Yep. It’s vital in the teaching context!

      You raise a good point about trying to meet them. We may or may not meet expectations and actually, it’s not usually a make-or-break issue. What is a make-or-break issue is not enquiring and soldiering on as if we are the only one entitled to have expectations!


  4. Another nice reminder. Just as I felt that your post on the Unsaid was about us being ourselves, managing expectations is also about letting everyone else be themselves.


    • Well said. That’s it.

      The thought “I’m giving up my expectations of X” arises when we think that X is always going to disappoint us. Underneath that thought is another, “X is not how I want X to be; X is bad/wrong/unacceptable to me”.

      So, yes, the thought, “I’m giving up my expectations of X” arises from non-acceptance, from not accepting X in every way he is, and in every way he is not.


  5. @eightdecades. Ah, that’s right. My eye keeps being returned to the left, back to the enclosure where it’s all warm and round. My eye kind of shies away from the steps part. It’s blank and flat in comparison. My mind is only interested in the shadow of the branch on the marble in this section.


Your comment will be an adornment to this blog ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s