What Do You Expect?

Expectations. We all have them. We expect good customer service, people to call us back, our flight to depart on time and our baggage to arrive at our destination. We expect students to apply themselves, parents to show up at school events, and our colleagues to come prepared for team meetings. On a personal level, we expect ourselves to finally lose those last 5 pounds, turn over a new leaf, or finally figure out that one thing we’re supposed to do with our lives. Expectations are everywhere.

If you’ve ever been disappointed, and who hasn’t, there’s probably an unfulfilled expectation at the root. Perhaps many. On a personal level, our goals, such as losing weight, figuring out our life path, or entering a new relationship, may be behavioral changes rooted in what we think we should do, how we should live, and what we should believe. Expectations we have of ourselves often come from shouldsI should be healthyI should choose a career path that makes money. I should do some volunteer work. Where there’s a should, there’s an expectation. And where do all of these shoulds come from? Everywhere. Everyone. Culture. Upbringing. Parents. Bosses. Media. Facebook. Friends. Self. And while moving to another location, changing gyms, or changing majors may help us move closer to our goals, these changes only address outward structures, and rarely get to the root of our shoulds, or shouldn’ts. Such changes may provide fresh contexts for meeting our goals, however, ultimately, they don’t address our inner character, beliefs, and motives.  The truth is, we take ourselves with us wherever we go.

I’m not suggesting we should never make a change by trying something different and blasting out of our comfort zone. I am suggesting that there is value in looking beyond our outward behaviors and choices to our why. We all have whys. Exploring our whys may provide some clarity around our personal expectations for ourselves. There will be times when we struggle to meet our goals and knowing our why may help us more quickly assume personal responsibility for our own success.

As we embrace our whys and come to some honest ground about our expectations for ourselves, there is power in treating ourselves with great care, reverence, and respect. Considering the expectations we have of ourselves can be challenging. I offer the following considerations when taking on this work.


Giving ourselves permission to change, grow, and take on new learning is freeing. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. We’re all making our way along. When we identify an expectation we have of ourselves, we can give ourselves permission to examine it and see how and if it fits with our values and inner character. Shifting our language from, “I should (lose weight, get myself organized, volunteer, etc.…)” to, “I choose to _____ because _____” gives us permission to consider our choices, explore our motives, and adjust where necessary.


So, we’ve identified a goal and given ourselves permission to choose it for ourselves because it aligns with our personal values. Although these steps are necessary, they are not sufficient. Buying the new running shoes doesn’t result in better heart health. It’s a start – we can always celebrate starts. From there, deciding what to do next can be challenging. Putting on those spunky new runners and getting ourselves out there on the trail, the treadmill, or that Krav Maga class may be intimidating. Perhaps starting with a walk around the block would be a measure of success for us. Small beginnings are not small things. So often, the beginning is where we can get stuck. Giving ourselves permission to begin with one small change is powerful. It’s easy to get hung up at the beginning of change because we hold an expectation of what we think success will look like. We can be so focused on the ultimate outcome that we can get paralyzed before we get going. It takes courage to begin because beginning something may acknowledge that our current state is insufficient and addressing our perceived insufficiencies can be uncomfortable. Let’s give ourselves permission to acknowledge our courage to begin. That is progress worth celebrating.


Jumping directly into a plan without doing the hard heart-work of examining our motives, values, and priorities can result in false starts and frequent stops. Plans based on shoulds rather than on values often backfire because values tend to drive us from within and shoulds from without. Before breaking out the calendar and mapping out your exercise schedule, the excel spreadsheet to track your debt reduction plan, or the college catalog that lists out various degree programs, consider the following:

·     Why is this change important to me and why now?

·     What might this change give me that I don’t have right now and why is that important to me?

·     What might I be able to do or be when I make this change?

Answering these questions may provide a foundation from which to craft a meaningful and manageable plan for yourself. Planning for successful outcomes may come more easily when your whys are clear and your values defined.


Let’s face it. Change can be hard. Our expectations of ourselves can be cruel masters if not rooted in values and priorities. A partner may be helpful in our process. Whether it’s a coach, a friend, a financial advisor, or a spouse, a partner can offer perspective, accountability, motivation, and laughter. Finding a partner, and being a partner for another’s journey, can be rewarding and motivating.  

Possibilities. Change. Resolutions. A new year carries expectations. As we consider the possibilities in 2018, let’s choose our actions with intention, aligning our hopes, dreams, and plans with our values and priorities. 

Related Articles