Letters To Seneca – Letter 14

Dear Seneca,

Expectations carry large amounts of burden, depending on how they’re wielded and where they’re pointed. Yesterday my wife and I had a deep conversation about the idea of expectations and how they can be harmful.

Often we set expectations on ourselves to perform at a certain level or to achieve a specific goal. As you know, we’re our harshest critics. If we’re not careful, expectation setting can end in a negative feedback loop leading to disappointment.

Expectations are malleable and can be manipulated in unique ways. Often times we create expectations of ourselves assuming it’s going to meet the expectations others have of us. Meaning, I think (X) person expects me to be (Y), so I’m going to set these expectations for myself to ensure I reach that bar. This form of expectation setting can get intense if you’re a people pleaser or at least a pleaser to certain people.

For example, I’m always trying to improve as a partner in my marriage and can often find flaws in my behavior based on friction-filled interactions. In moments like this, I create a set of expectations in my head on how I should behave in certain moments ensuring I meet the new bar I’ve set internally. But… Sometimes these expectations I’ve set are not realistic based on my personality and this applies the other way around as well.

There are two main takeaways I gathered from our deep conversation yesterday.

  1. Pushing: It’s important to know when you’re pushing expectations onto another person, especially if those are expectations that you push onto yourself. We as self-aware humans should be able to take a step back and observe this relaying effect of expectations through ourselves into those closest to us.
  2. Receiving: When placing expectations on yourself observe where they originated. Ask yourself “Where are these expectations originating from?” and “Am I personally interested in pursuing this goal?”. Often times we’ll discover that these are not expectations that align with our goals.