Unmet expectations can make us very upset.

Looking back on my biggest disappointments this year, I began to suspect that there is something less obvious behind these stressful episodes; after all, surprises happen often enough without always causing problems.

Eventually, I realized that every time I have gotten upset it was because I made some expected outcome mean something about me.

how i got here

This topic has been on my mind because I was unable to take an international trip with a group of friends (lost my passport 😅).

While this is obviously upsetting, I felt a particularly painful sting.

To me, the situation meant I “can’t connect with my friends,” that I “deserve to feel isolated,” that I “am a degenerate - who loses their passport?” More crucially, I made it mean that all the progress I’ve made this year was for nothing.

Again, I had unwittingly made this trip mean something about me.

fear

Unsurprisingly, fear choreographs the resulting chaos.

All upsets are triggered by fear - fear that this thing that you need so bad is going to be taken from you. Or worse, that you yourself will cause its loss.

We are afraid of being seen or discovered - particularly by ourselves. The fear of exposure makes our hearts race, makes us sweat, makes us run away,

makes us upset.1

That is the essence of why unrealized expectations can be such a challenge. We have to confront a shortcoming that we thought the desired outcome could hide. When I didn’t get transferred to the specific team I wanted at work, I felt I’d been exposed as hack and a phony.

conclusion

These insights can help make some pretty dark moments more manageable! When you notice you’re upset because of a thwarted expectation, ask yourself

what did I make it mean?

When you have your answer, you’ll discover some fear. You are then free to continue giving it power or

to find peace in that you’ve discovered something to work on.

And stay committed to the possibilities the desired outcomes represent rather than the outcomes themselves. Keeping them in mind will help you stay focused on what you’re trying to cause rather than getting upset.


  1. And to make things more confusing, we can stumble upon “good” behavior in this fearful state (think highly competitive people who, in striving for their parents' approval, become athletic legends) but also very “bad” behavior like when we are so afraid of our anxiety’s triggers that we cause them over and over (in my case, fear of abandonment causing me to not value people in my life thereby causing abandonment). Realize that this isn’t about good or bad - it’s about effective or ineffective. Do your mental models give you access to the type of success you want? Do you have control? ↩︎