Expectations. Man deciding whether he is able to climb a rope.


What do you want from life? What do you expect to achieve?

These are important questions, and we should have ready answers. We might say we know what we want; we all have dreams and goals. But if we’re honest with ourselves about whether we actually expect to get those things, we may live our lives more intentionally.

Most of us can easily articulate what we want in abstract terms—health, happiness, and meaning—but we should also be able to give more concrete answers. The specific things we want and expect from life should be related to our more general goals. For example, having children or doing good work should give our lives meaning.

If you’re totally honest with yourself, do you expect to get what you want from life? If not, it is important to think about why you don’t expect to get something you want—why don’t your wants and expectations mesh?

A good place to start is by identifying your wants. These might include specific life circumstances, experiences, relationships, or things. Make a list, and categorize your wants in a way that makes sense to you. Don’t put general items on the list (e.g., happiness). Try to be specific enough that you can easily check a box if you achieve your goal or obtain the item.

As you go through this exercise, don’t hesitate because of perceived feasibility, cost, or logistics. If you want it, put it on the list!

Next, go through the list, and identify the items you expect to get or goals you expect to achieve, and those that you don’t. Be totally honest.

Dividing up the things we want in this way can be helpful in guiding how we live our lives. If we want something and fully expect to get it, we should be able to rattle off what we are doing toward that end. We may find that our expectations are actually a sense of entitlement. We want something, and we expect to get it because we are entitled to it. This is a dangerous perspective to have.

We may be legitimately entitled to certain things, but if we start to develop a mentality of entitlement, it could impact our ability to work toward something in earnest. We may think: “If I am entitled to something, why should I have to work for it?”

The other side of the expectations coin is not expecting something that could enrich our lives. There are many reasons why we might not expect to get something we want. We may think we’re not talented or skillful enough, or we may never have the means to obtain it. Perhaps the path we have to take to achieve something may be too complicated.

Any of these conditions may exist, but we should not dismiss a want out of hand. We should ask ourselves:

  • Are we really not talented enough to achieve something? Lay pride aside, and be ready to fail. If we plan, prepare, and give something our full efforts—and then fail—only then can we say we aren’t able to achieve something and should adjust our expectations.
  • Do we not have the means to obtain something? Maybe this is really a question of priorities. We may really want a Maserati, but we choose to have a house instead. We make mental tradeoffs, and the priority items on our want list make it to the top.
  • Are we willing to do what it takes to get something? Often, we’re not. I might say I want to be a Hapkido Grandmaster, but if I’m unwilling to put in the tens of thousands of hours necessary to achieve this rank, then my lack of expectations are well-founded.

Our wants may be real, but our expectations are based on a variety of factors. For those things in life we want, we have to fully examine our expectations to understand which of those wants are worth pursuing.

To really make changes in our lives, we have to look for instances in which we want something that could enrich our lives and that we could potentially achieve or obtain, but for some reason we don’t expect. Whether from a lack of confidence, a sense of unworthiness, or a lack of ambition, we have set our expectations too low.

Don’t sell your expectations short. It’s important to have lofty wants, but if you don’t have lofty expectations, those wants are unlikely to come to fruition. Be ambitious with your expectations. Expect to have the life you want, and you will be much more likely to make it happen.

Expect great things, and great things will happen.

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One comment

  • Brian Johnson February 21, 2019   Reply →

    I am going through the success principles and your message is in line with these principles.

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