The Gap Between Expectations and Reality

The Gap Between Expectations and Reality January 16, 2019

Expectations are a tricky thing. On the one hand, it is healthy to expect certain things – to be treated with respect, to not be interrupted, to have the laws obeyed, etc. On the other hand, our expectations are so deep and so thorough that we do not even know their full extent ourselves.

We expect people to react in very specific ways. I once had a friend who would ‘test’ people in her life by acting a certain way. If they didn’t say or do just what she thought they should, she wouldn’t be friends with them. Pretty crazy, right? The only difference between my friend and the rest of us is that she is admitting to doing this.


Why Do We Expect?

Each of us is living in a different world. At least in one way. We each have experience that is unique to our story. We have a diverse set of people who have influenced us. We’ve made decisions and watched to see what consequences came from those – and not all of us have received consequences identically.

The result is that we each have a different understanding of how the world works, and we expect this to be reinforced. We expect people to be polite or to yell when we make a mistake because we have been taught this is how people are, how life is, by the relationships and experiences of our lives.

We are people of patterns. We expect things to follow the formulas we’ve been given. When something happens that isn’t according to plan, it can be baffling to us. The patterns have been broken or ignored.


Meet Reality

Reality is never exactly what we expect it to be. It is much too wild for that. Much too complicated. As mentioned earlier, we sometimes don’t even know we had expectations until reality feels disappointing. Only in retrospect (and with a healthy dose of self-awareness) can we retroactively name our expectations.

When our patterns break, it can feel as if a violence is done to us. Sometimes that is exactly the case. Other times it is not. But it always feels as though an injustice has befallen us. Reality sucks, the saying goes. We know this. Intellectually, we know things won’t work out the way we expect. Yet, we cannot help our expectations (to some degree) and therefore we cannot help feeling disappointed when those expectations are not met. People often say things like, “I knew this was a bad idea”. We know reality can’t be hemmed in by our expectations. But our expectations are a runaway train.



When reality lays rubble to our expectations, we find ourselves in the pit of despair. Even if we know better, it hurts. It is confusing and annoying and challenging.

One of the great questions of life, and the great markers of character, is what are we going to do when our experience in reality does not meet expectations. Will we blame? Will we deny reality, as many do (and not just the “crazy” people)? Will we take it in stride? Will we try to kill our expectations, which often results in over-silencing our honest self?

No matter how we respond, the greater question is why? What makes us persevere or freeze or revert or ignore?

This isn’t a blog about answers, just one to ask the questions. We expect so much out of life, out of ourselves, and out of one another. What happens we reality doesn’t match up? How do we respond? The answer to these questions are worth consideration. Because more than money or intellect or relationship status, the answers to these questions will shape who we are.

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