The Overwhelming Price of High Expectations

I was having a discussion among very close sister friends, and a subject was brought up that took me to a train of thought I hadn’t visited in a while…maybe six posts ago.

I have a favorite saying that I learned to apply after years of being the type to set implicit expectations for people in my life, which I automatically expected them to follow because I set such personal standards for myself. “People are gonna people.” It is a mantra of sorts, that I sometimes have to repeat when I level up a set of expectations for someone that they may have no clue how to meet.

It usually goes a little something like this:

Me: It’s my birthday, and I mentioned to my husband that I love chocolate-covered strawberries a week ago. I expect that he will surprise me with that this year. It would be so thoughtful.

My birthday comes, the work day ends, no strawberries and I’m ready to throw the whole damb husband away (yes I said “damb”, the ‘b’ is silent). I would always live by “show others how you want to be treated, and use that bit of wisdom as proof that he obviously wasn’t paying attention to all the “showing” I was doing! I was consistently hurt, and every disappointment set a new brick in the wall of our relationship; a wall I was mostly building alone. This not only took place in my marriage, but also at my job.

Once that wall was complete, I hit it, hard, and woke up to the realization that my placing of implicit high expectations on people, was my way of trying to control the people with which I was in relation, in order to avoid them from disappointing me; which for some reason, I took harder than most. I realized that there was a pattern of disappointment in my life growing up that helped me make an ill- begotten, unhealthy vow unto myself, not to ever disappoint anyone because I want people to treat me how I treat them. What a mistake!! It is one thing to have control over the choices you make as it relates to treating people well, or leaving/loving people where they are when they don’t possess the tools to treat you how you would like to be treated, but placing high expectations on others, creates a higher fall for your disappointment. No wonder it hurt me so bad when people didn’t perform as I expected. Every time I created an expectation that people didn’t meet, my anger didn’t phase them. Most of the time they didn’t even know I was angry. My anger rose my blood pressure, and gave me headaches and weight gain that it seemed nothing could cure.

And then, as if someone turned on a light bulb in my brain, (more like a couple episodes of Iyanla, and a self-help book by Dr. Henry Cloud), I surmised that as hard as I went out of my way to please people and treat them well, I did it, not because it was out of the kindness of my heart only, but because I EXPECTED something in return. If I lent money, I expected a favor somewhere down the line if they couldn’t pay it back.

If I went to see their favorite movie, then when my favorite band came town, we better be going to see them next. I would tell myself that this was only right and fair, but in reality, life ain’t fair, and people ain’t either. High expectations set one up for a great fall, cynicism, and mistrust.

After I saw the world through “people” lenses, I saw more clearly, the fact that, people need room to improve according to the love, grace and forgiveness you show them. Fear and anger are good temporary tools to get people to cooperate with your vision, but the greatest leaders approach their people with love, patience, kindness, humility, and a servant’s heart. The sooner we accept the fact that “People are gonna people”, in other words, they are going to be who they know how to be; human, the better off we are at handling our reactions when they inevitably let us down.

Jesus knew that our flesh was temporal and weak. That is why there is so much emphasis on preparing ourselves through trials on Earth for the eternal. Was it easy for Him to allow himself the greatest betrayal and murder at the hands of people that He could have asked God to burn to a crisp? No way! He let it happen because it had to happen. He had a job to do, and a promise to fulfill. Because of His eternal thoughts, we have a chance at eternal life through Him. Imagine if He expected Judas to be his BFF for life because He held him down all around town with his eleven brethren! Jesus knew that he, like all the others that denied, or betrayed him, were people. And as a human person, he would do what human people do best. At the core, we are volatile and self-serving, and having that characteristic, will let down your expectations Every TIME.

I don’t say that to mean that all people don’t at least strive to be dependable, reliable, thoughtful, kind, and welcoming. However, in each of us, is the fleshly tendency towards self-preservation and selfishness that puts our needs before others. It sometimes feels like an uphill battle trying to get people to do what you want them to do, which can turn you toward negativity rather quickly, but I’m a proponent of working smarter, and an uphill battle will no longer do. I stopped sacrificing my health, wealth, and well-being in order to please people, and I meet people where they are. I am already a pretty laid back individual, and it takes a lot to get me riled up, but when I do, it’s obvious, but over the years, my observant and introspective nature has allowed me to see past what a person does or presents to me, and right into what the heart of the matter is. Because of this, it is much easier for me to accept people as they are because sometimes, the tools aren’t there.

I said all of this, not to say that basic decency isn’t a requirement when dealing with people, but to emphasize that it is not something owed to you, because humility comes with the notion that “I am only someone as it relates to God the Father through Jesus Christ, and He is worthy of it all.” If I must endure mistreatment and pain, it is for a greater reward in eternity. Being angry because someone didn’t treat you in the way you felt you “deserved” is a waste of energy, because none of us deserve anything. From that perspective, it becomes a bit easier to let go of the anger, hurt, and disappointment that come with high expectations.

I’ll leave you with three things:

1. People are gonna people.

You have to let them because many times that is all they can do. Keep being faithful in what you do, serving others, and treating them well. Allow grace and forgiveness, because no one owes you anything. Their best might be unacceptable to you from a legalistic standpoint, but some people come from penny beginnings and you expect quarter behavior because that’s what you know. Stop. It will save you time and heartache.

2. Placing high expectations on someone, creates a higher fall for you.

The more you expect, the angrier you are when it is not delivered. Practice grace and forgiveness, because if you were on the other end of someone’s wrath, you would want to be forgiven and included.

3. Speak frankly on why you expect, but still don’t hold it over their head if they fail to deliver.

Some people won’t, and can’t until they get to a point in their lives when they…can…

It doesn’t make them disrespectful or incompetent; they are simply human, and so are you. Let it go, don’t put the burden of your expectations on others because it is the quickest way to alienate yourself. You will look up and wonder how it is that you can’t keep long term friends, or people bristle when they are around you. The burden of high expectations creates a weight that many can’t carry in addition to all the baggage they already have yet to unpack. Be kind, for everyone is facing a battle you know nothing about.

–Tee

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