When Reality Doesn’t Meet Expectations

When Reality Doesn't Meet Expectations

I’ve always been the kind of person whose motto is “expect the worst, but hope for the best.” I know, that’s totally not positive and seems counter to the general vibe of this blog.

But that’s me, in reality.

I really try to avoid getting my hopes up, because I would rather be joyful at an unexpectedly good outcome than bummed at an unexpectedly bad one. I believe this is what we call “self-preservation.” Here’s why:

Expecting the worst has helped me cope with many things

• Job hunting: I don’t expect to get the jobs I apply for, but I’d be stoked if I did. When I don’t hear back from any of them, I’m a little let down, but not devastated.

• Walking alone, especially at night: I like to believe the best in people, but—for safety reasons—I do put myself on high alert when I’m alone. No looking at my phone, and often my keys are placed strategically in my hands to scratch someone’s eyeballs out if need be. Yeah that sounds a little paranoid, but it makes me feel safer.

• Dinnertime with a feisty 3-year-old: I always go into dinnertime with the expectation that Z will tell me he hates it and doesn’t want to eat it. This happens about 50% of the time, and when it does I’m ready for it emotionally.

When it doesn’t, I’m thrilled!

Tonight, for example, he ate my spaetzle (German pasta-like dumplings) enthusiastically, even with audible “mmmmm”s. He even had a few bites of the accompanying Hungarian goulash and sweet corn, all without complaint. I was so happy.

Tomorrow we’ll be having baby back ribs, rice, and broccoli. I am fully expecting a revolt. But I’m hoping it won’t happen. 🙂

• Mother’s Day: As I discussed in my Mother’s Day post earlier, my expectations are low for this holiday because, historically, nothing fancy has ever been done for it. I’m cool with that. It’s fun when I’m surprised, but I wake up fully expecting it to be a normal day.

This past year, my husband actually said, “Oh that’s right! I forgot you’re a mom, too. Happy Mother’s Day!” Hahaha!

I was able to laugh it off instead of getting upset because that was just about what I was expecting.

Accidentally expecting the best has caused me a lot of pain

• Dating in high school: I remember two very specific moments in my life in which I tried to expect the worst, but realized later that I had really expected the best and was so disappointed.

The first time was when I asked a boy to a Sadie Hawkins dance—I guess I had really expected him to say yes, though I don’t know really what I was basing that on. When he turned me down, I kept my weak smile plastered on my face and tried desperately not to cry as I slowly backed away and returned to my friends.

Later, I actually went to prom with a super cute and pretty popular guy who I really liked (and had crushed on since middle school), only to be ditched pretty shortly after we got there. At the after party later, I wanted him to drive me home and he really didn’t want to leave. He refused (if I remember right). I ended up getting a ride home with another guy instead. I remember crying on the couch in my beautiful gown, telling my mom all about it.

Ugh, just the memories make me sick to my stomach!

• Losing my job: I was hoping for the best, and in reality I truly expected the best! I knew something terrible was going down, just by the vibe in the office that day. But for some odd reason, I thought I’d be spared.

I was so wrong, and it broke my heart. Way more than the dudes who rejected me in high school.

I’m still super sad about it, and it was over 6 months ago. If I’d actually been expecting the worst, per my own rules, I may have been affected by the situation less.

• Telling my son he was going to be a big brother: This one is, in retrospect, kind of a funny story and perfectly understandable. But at the time, I was heartbroken.

I had decided to be creative (not my strong suit) in telling Z that he was going to be a big brother. We made these coffee filter butterflies together, and I suggested we name them. We named one Mommy, one Daddy, and one Z.

Then the conversation went something like this:

Me: “…but we have another one! What are we gonna name this other one?”

Z: “I don’t know. How about we name it Grandpa Kenny?” (That’s my dad, with whom Z is kind of obsessed.)

Me: “How about we name it Baby?”

Z: “NO! Name it Grandpa Kenny!”

Me: “But guess what? We’re going to have a new baby in our family! You’re going to be a big brother!”

Z: “Right now?”

Me: “Later, but the baby’s in my belly now.”

Z: “Can I see it?”

Me: “You can’t see it yet, but how about we name the butterfly Baby?”

Z: (frantically) “No, I want to name it Grandpa Kenny!”

I finally relented and named the fourth butterfly Grandpa Kenny, and then we talked a bit more about our growing family. Z was absolutely not excited, and actually said he did not want a baby brother or sister, and did not want to be a big brother!

After about 6 months of listening to him mention that he wanted a baby brother or sister, added to the fact that a couple of his besties were becoming big brothers, I had come to expect that he’d be super stoked to be a big brother. Not the case. At. All.

I was crushed!

I showed the video to a few loved ones, who all thought it was funny and cute. I was so devastated by the fact that his reaction did not live up to my expectations that it took me a very long time to see it in that way.

All I could think was, “Oh my gosh, we’re damaging him forever. He’s going to resent us and hate the baby.”

Of course. Because jumping to that conclusion is totally logical.


Butterfly family, including Grandpa Kenny
Mommy, Daddy, Zachary, annnnnnd Grandpa Kenny. Baby who?

So, how do we deal when reality doesn’t meet expectations?

Honestly? I don’t have much wisdom on this front. I’m not good at it.

Generally, I fight back tears when this happens. That’s my whole strategy.

Ha! I know, super productive.

But I think, given what I’ve been learning about self-compassion, the best way to deal is to let yourself go through the emotions that surface when events don’t go down as expected.

My time in group therapy for my anxiety issues taught me about the “acceptance and commitment” strategy, which is basically when you acknowledge you are feeling a certain way and don’t try to push that feeling away. You kind of embrace it and let it hang out there for a while, mindful of the fact that it will eventually pass.

I think that’s probably a good approach to being let down by things in our lives. Beating ourselves up for feeling disappointed will only bring about more negativity. It’s okay to feel sad for a time after things go wrong.

What strategies do you have? How do you cope when you accidentally find yourself with high expectations and they don’t get met?

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6 thoughts on “When Reality Doesn’t Meet Expectations”

  1. I relate so much to this! I’m most definitely the same way. I love your writing style and your honesty. Can’t wait to read more posts ?

  2. That’s a good way to handle things! I will definitely try to be mindful of that in the future. For me I try to find something good in everything negative.

  3. I’m sure you already know that I am also one who tries to find something good in everything negative. And truthfully, it’s possible (maybe even frustrating for you at times) that when I have worked my “motherly counseling” with you I have gone too far in that direction. I think your “acceptance and commitment” policy is a good one. In fact in one of your earlier blogs (“Hiding Negative Emotions to Protect Children”) you talk about how important it is to let your child see your emotions… mostly so he can see you can work through them and be OK in the end. I see this as sort of the same thing. Being honest with yourself and those around you. Although I don’t plan on giving up on my positive outlook way of life–it works for me and makes me very happy on a day-to-day basis–I might think about acceptance and commitment a bit more when talking things through with other folks… like you.

  4. This post definitely resonates with me! I try not to get my hopes up about things by acting nonchalant. I always think that’s going to keep me even-keeled. I hate feeling let down and disappointed. I think I need to try that “acceptance and commitment” thing!

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