Are Expectations Setting You Up for Frustration and Failure?

Resistance to what is, even when “what is” is not what you want, won’t bring you happiness

I always work to improve my life, like most people, but I can’t complain. My life is good! The fact that I can honestly say this feels like a miracle to me.

As a child and young adult, I was prone to angry outbursts, bouts of frustration, and periods of sadness. These moods occurred when things didn’t go according to plans, my plans.

Feeling happy depended on having things my way. If they didn’t go my way, I was in a bad mood, filled with frustration, annoyance, and sometimes even anger. A negative, sometimes overbearing energy abounded and colored how I experienced the world. The degree of conflict I felt went from a mild undercurrent of annoyance to a strong apparent anger directed outward, and often inward, too.

I dreaded the onset of winter, up until a few years ago. I hated wintertime and the snow it would bring. I’d grumble and complain to myself, mostly, about the cold and how ice and snow always threatened to ruin my plans.

This sentiment started when I was seven years old, about to turn eight. My parents had planned a birthday party for me. I was going to be celebrated. I would receive gifts. I’d be the center of attention. And I’d get to eat yummy cake, with my name sprawled across it. I was excited about my day and this fantastic party I would have. Then the unexpected happened. A storm front came in and forecasters predicted a foot of snow. One by one, each of my confirmed guests’ parents called my mom and sent their regrets. Their children would no longer be able to attend my celebration.

My eighth birthday party didn’t happen. Well, not in the way I had anticipated. There was cake and my parents and brother were there, but the party I had envisioned didn’t happen. I blamed winter and snow. And for a long time afterward, decades, I harbored a lingering undercurrent of disdain for winter. This effect on my mood was mild but influential, nonetheless.

A few years later, I threw a temper tantrum when my plans for two friends and me to be admitted to an R-rated movie (without an accompanying adult) were foiled. The conscientious box office worker asked to see our ids, and when we couldn’t produce them, she told us no. After lashing out at the employee and vehemently insisting to my friends that we should not see a more age-appropriate movie, we left. For the entire twenty-minute walk back home I stewed, blaming that worker for not letting us in. My friends chatted pleasantly and planned other things they would do that day. I couldn’t see beyond not getting my way. The effect on my mood that time was intense.

As an adult, I learned to control my anger, but it was still there. Internally I felt it, and the actions I took conveyed it. My first job out of college was a constant battle. The truth is my intuition screamed at me “don’t take the job”, but I thought I had to have a job before graduating, so I’d accepted it, knowing it wasn’t the right company or position for me.

I was treated very unfairly. I was not given a desk, chair, or telephone with which to conduct the business my employer had hired me to do. I’d repeatedly asked for these things but to no avail. One month into my tenure, I woke up covered in red, blotchy, extremely itchy hives. They persisted daily for eight months. My frustration had turned to a simmering anger which I could not fully express, so my body showed it for me. One week after I was terminated from that job, my chronic hives miraculously disappeared.

After being fired, I fought harder and filed a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The suit was successful and I collected a small sum of money. However, winning didn’t make me feel any happier. In needing to get my way, to prove that I’d been wronged and collect compensation, I gave up my ability to effectively find another, more suitable position quickly. I also gave up my ability to be happy or see opportunities my unfortunate situation presented.

I had the right and the free will to expect and demand things be the way I wanted them to be (and in reality should have been). However, exercising this right didn’t get me the happiness I sought.

Now, whenever I sense internal or external conflict bubbling up, I call to mind the question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Asking myself this helps me put the situation into perspective. Getting to this place where I can choose how I want to feel and take actions that align with those feelings has taken me decades to learn. And sometimes I need to be reminded of this lesson.

During a recent coaching session with a client, I had the opportunity to revisit this lesson. My client was frustrated at how a situation at work was playing out. He’d been in a similar circumstance before and had taken steps that had been effective. But in applying the same actions he’d taken before to this different situation, he did not see the results that he had expected. And he became frustrated with the parties involved. In sharing his feelings with me, he realized that expecting things to play out the same way triggered his feelings of frustration and anger. He recognized how his expectations have been holding him back, in life in general, from having less stress and anxiety and greater success.

Living life with less struggle and more joy is essential to me. I am always grateful when a situation reminds or teaches me something that will create more calm and peace in my life.

How do you want to experience your life going forward? Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right? In what ways can my life lesson and this one of my clients’ help you live it that manner?




Bold, fledgling entrepreneur, author, podcast host Discovering Courage, Finding Freedom, Living in France! Adventures.Insights. Stories.

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Patricia Brooks

Patricia Brooks

Bold, fledgling entrepreneur, author, podcast host Discovering Courage, Finding Freedom, Living in France! Adventures.Insights. Stories.

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