Expectation is the root of all discontent

I have no desire to retire

The Pareto Principle

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Expectation is an oft-dismissed part of our lives; it just is normal to have expectations for almost everything we do. Case-in-point, goal-setting exercises during school. The practice was so ingrained within the day-to-day slog of our education that it became a bit of a running joke, I don’t know many people that took it seriously, not least until approaching the end of high school. But regardless, it reinforced the idea that we must and should expect things of ourselves and of what we get involved with in order boost the chances that it turns out better.

The meter that is often overlook as a part of this exercise is our individual responses to expectations. In a group or non-individual setting, having targets or expectations for a team, division, or organisation is standard operating procedure the world over. Once that is, however, converted into individual terms is where things can get a little sticky.

Our individual expectations for ourselves can be directly tied to our wellbeing, satisfaction, and outlook. Overachievement results its unbridled satisfaction and joy; underachievement spells disappointment and despair. There is always a silver lining, but for the most part that is how it plays it. It is a rather simple calculation when you break it down. If we think of expectation and performance on a 100-point scale, so long as our performance exceeds expectation, we will overachieve. If our expectation exceeds performance then we will underachieve. When they are equal is probably a good result as well.

When looking at performance and expectation, there are some things we can control and some things we cannot. In any kind of professional setting, performance is dependent on teamwork and on others. Even if you do a great job, there is no guarantee that the expectations of the group will be met. The group’s expectations will also be something not entirely in the individuals control. In one’s personal life, however, it is much easier to adjust either expectation or performance almost like levers. The lever I like to lower is expectation, with a smorgasbord of things. When I apply for jobs, my mindset is that I will miss the opportunity; when I look to buy a gift, my head is that I won’t be able to purchase anything and instead make something myself; if I am meeting up with people, I assume they will be late. This thinking lowers my expectation, while I still give 100% effort levering my performance to the highest degree.

Practically, it is hard to keep that gap between the low expectation I want the high performance I expect to put in. My primary technique into maintaining the gap is rather crude: I repeat to myself the belief I want to hold. For example: I will get a C in my exam today; there will be a long line at the supermarket; there is going to be a lot of traffic. Sometimes I don’t think I fully believe it myself, but it is enough to give me a false sense of confidence to ensure a result of overachievement.

This undervaluing of expectation paired with consistent effort in performance has been nothing short of amazing. I don’t remember the last time I feel angry, bitter, or aggrieved by someone. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I felt angry. I don’t know if this is a necessarily healthy way to live, but it is something that has worked for me.

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