Depending on your expectations, this Musing is either unfortunately or fortunately not about the Charles Dickens novel. I would, however, like to retell a story about expectations.
A butcher is watching over his shop one day when a dog comes in. He shoos him away, but the dog comes back. Then the butcher notices a note in the dog’s mouth. He takes the note and reads, “Can I have 12 sausages and two lamb chops please.” There is adequate money folded in the note.
The butcher wraps up the requested meats and places the bag in the dog’s mouth. He is impressed and intrigued, and since it is close to closing time, he shuts up the shop and follows the dog down the street. The dog comes to a crossing, puts the bag down, jumps up and presses the button to cross. Then it waits patiently for the light to turn with the bag in its mouth. When the light indicates it is safe to cross, the dog walks across the road with the butcher close behind.
Arriving at a bus stop the dog starts looking at the timetables. It allows several buses to go by, then boards one, shows a ticket tied to its collar to the driver, and then sits near the driver’s seat looking intently outside. The butcher is nearly fainting at this point but continues to watch from a seat farther back. When the dog’s stop is in sight, it stands and wags its tail to inform the driver. Then, without waiting for the bus to stop completely, it jumps out of the bus and runs to a house very close to the stop.
The dog opens a big iron gate and rushes toward the door of the house. As it approaches it suddenly changes its mind and heads toward the rear of the house. Going to a window, the dog bumps the window rather hard several times before returning and waiting at the door. The butcher watches as a large man opens the door and starts abusing the dog, kicking him and swearing at him.
The butcher, shocked at this behavior, runs up and stops the man. “What in heaven’s name are you doing? This dog is a genius. He could be on TV!” To which the man responds: “You call this clever? This is the second time this week that this stupid dog has forgotten his key.”
In recovery we learn that “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” Another was we say it is, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”
Expectations are difficult things.
We wouldn’t want to live without any expectations. Healthy expectations are what cause us to anticipate future events and create enjoyment before the thing we are expecting even comes. Expectations can motivate us to achieve more, reach a difficult goal, or even push through something that might otherwise stop us. Expectations can create boundaries that help us to not veer too far off a healthy path for our lives.
Unrealistic expectations are poisonous. They cause us to be dissatisfied with what we have and where we are. They cause us to resent the people around us and lead us towards an entitlement frame of mind. They can eventually lead to us being disillusioned to the point of losing motivation all together.
So, what is the difference between healthy and unhealthy expectations?
The simplest way to differentiate is to ask, “Do I have a reasonable amount of control over the result I am expecting?” Many times we find that our expectations are in or on something that we have no control over: other people’s behavior, other people’s feelings, the condition or state of the community we live or work in, the market conditions of our business, politicians, Facebook—we could go on and on.
Having expectations founded on things we cannot control creates the toxic internal environment we often call resentment. We want and expect a certain outcome. Over time we come to believe that we deserve it and we count on it. We do what we can and what we believe is our part (even though it may have little to nothing to do with actually impacting the outcome.) Then when the result is disappointing, we blame others (or God, or the universe) and resent them for failing us.
Unhealthy expectations require others to perform and meet our needs in specific and often tightly defined ways. We make our circumstances and the people around us responsible for our contentment and serenity. Like the dog’s owner, we lose the ability to be awed by and grateful for all the good in our lives because we are disappointed in the lack of perfection.
Healthy expectations require us to do our part and allow for our own variability and the unpredictability of the world and the people around us. Healthy expectations don’t “lower the standard” or “settle for less” but they do create space for our lack of control over circumstances and other people. By remaining grateful for what we do achieve, do have, and do receive, we can continue to encourage ourselves and those around us to do our best while leaving room for an outcome we might not have anticipated.
At Kimray, the environment we live and work in is heavily influenced by factors we cannot control. We want to be careful not to become so fixated on results that are largely controlled by those factors that we lose sight of the things we do have control over and should have great expectations about. We want to guard against becoming the dog owner and resenting even the good in our lives because it fails to meet our unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we need to play the part of the butcher and watch our lives from outside to see all the great things we are experiencing. Be grateful, expect great things and give yourself and those around you a lot of grace. That’s the Kimray Way.