In medicine, we talk often about a disease’s natural progression; the predictable way in which a disease or condition will behave if medications, care, or interventions are not used for treatment. If you were to get appendicitis, for example, a surgeon might say: ” If we don’t do surgery to take out your appendix, it could rupture and cause an infection in your abdomen, which could make you very sick and could possibly kill you.” Discussing the natural progression is an important part of a patient’s right to informed consent, because how can a patient make an informed decision about their medical care if they don’t know what could happen if they decline the care offered to them? The reality is that they can’t… no one can make a truly informed decision if they don’t have all of the information in front of them.
Developing an expectation of what will happen in the future is akin to making a decision without knowing all the information. When someone’s expectation falls short, it’s likely they’ll say: “well if I had known this to be the case, then I wouldn’t have expected that to happen.” We’ve all heard that being said by ourselves or someone we know, and such a statement always implies dissatisfaction or regret. In developing an expectation, you are required to either have all the factual information, or hazard a guess about all the factors that could possibly be involved in affecting the outcome of the expected “thing.” If you have all the factual information, then you don’t really have an expectation; instead, you have a known outcome. However, when you guess about all the factors that have to line up for something to happen the way you expect it will, you are projecting your own impressions and desires about what and how you want it to happen.
Rarely does the desired outcome of an expectation measure up to the expectation itself. For this reason, expectation can only lead to disappointment. Even if most of the outcome meets most of the expectation, there is something bound to have fallen short; undoubtedly, this is the thing that will allow disappointment to creep in. Disappointment, no matter how small of a seed, will grow to suffocate enjoyment and pleasure in any situation.
I often tell my children to never have expectations of anything or anyone except themselves. On the surface this seems very negative and cynical; however, when you delve deeper into the concept of expectation, it’s easy to understand how it prohibits joy and satisfaction. Rather than expectations, I encourage my children (and myself) to develop a process with an end goal in mind. It might seem that having a goal is similar to an expectation, but it couldn’t be more different. A goal involves personal actions and decisions that will hopefully, but not always, result in the desired outcome. Working towards that goal requires a process that is self driven, flexible, and modifiable as circumstances changes and more information becomes available. Therefore, a goal allows one to keep their mind open to the possibility that the outcome might not be what they originally imagined. While one might still experience disappointment if the goal isn’t met or the process doesn’t go as intended, disappointment is only one of many possible outcomes.
Unfortunately for me, I lost sight of the advice that I usually abide by and I fabricated an expectation. Predictably, I am now harbouring the disappointment that goes along with having attempted to place all the stars in the perfect alignment, assuming that each piece of the puzzle was only mine to place. While I usually don’t get myself into these situations, when I find myself here, I am always surprised at how upsetting that feeling of disappointment can be.