Why expectations are not helpful

von Johannes Justus

Many of us can still remember very well when we sat under the Christmas tree as children and were finally allowed to unwrap the presents. Those were sometimes very emotional moments. Within just a few moments, the frame of mind changes drastically. Either the expectant look changes into a radiant laughter, because the eagerly awaited gift becomes visible during the unwrapping, or a look saddened to death and tears gather in the face, because it is only knitted socks or a sweater after all. The following relationship can be established: The higher the expectation of the gift, the greater the disappointment when the object of desire is not in the box.

Thus, the following general statement can be derived from this: Expectations are potential disappointments. And this is by no means merely a matter of gifts. Whose expectations have not yet been disappointed? The parents did not live up to the children’s expectations. The children may not have turned out to be what the parents hoped for. And even after the deeply sincere and convinced “Yes, I will, with God’s help”, one realizes that even the beloved spouse has his or her little corners and edges, which one had perhaps not expected. Family get-togethers, celebrations, church services, Christian events or vacation trips, all of this holds a lot of potential for disappointment. But how can I protect myself as far as possible from disappointment? And how can I myself contribute to not becoming a reason for disappointment all too often?

What lies behind the term “expectation”

Let us first look at the concept of expectation. As you can already hear, expectations have something to do with “waiting”. Thus, an expectation stands for a belief in the future. It is a state of waiting or anticipation, which often leads to a feeling of tension. There is an assumption that things should happen or develop in a certain way. The latter characterizes a demanding attitude, with the expectant person taking a normative stand. In relation to other people, the attitude of the expecting person can be described as passive and inert.


In the context, it is also useful to take a closer look at the term “wish”. “To desire” means: to strive for, aim at, or hope for something. As will be shown, it is often better to wish for things than to expect them, since wishes tend to be of an active nature.

Expectations of others from me

People with expectations of me expect me to fulfill them. If I meet these expectations, they are usually grateful and happy about it. If, on the other hand, I cannot deliver the desired result, I am met with dissatisfaction and disappointment.

If I strive not to disappoint others, or to meet their expectations, then it is as if I am giving these people a great deal of power over my life. Therefore, at this point, allow me to ask the following question: can this be right and do I really want it?

At the beginning of our marriage, my parents often interfered in the upbringing of our children and expected us to implement their advice. One day I informed them that while they had a right to their idea of parenting, they had to leave us free to decide whether to adopt that idea or raise our children in a different way. Certainly, it was not pleasant for my parents to hear such a statement from their son. However, in the end, they understood us. Their intentions were good and positive, because they wanted us to give our children a good and Christian education. These values my wife and I share in principle, but we and not they were responsible for their implementation.

We have to live with the fact that people will be disappointed in us if we do not meet their expectations of us. At the same time, we must always keep in mind that we are not disappointing them, but only their expectations of us. Disappointment, as we know, is the release of deception. I suspect that especially in our church communities, there is a high probability that we will disappoint people. They come with a certain expectation and hope that their ideas will be met and their desires satisfied. But it is precisely the uniqueness of people and the different tastes that make it almost impossible for all expectations to be met. The fact that we will disappoint people here to some extent cannot be avoided. However, we are also not called upon to please all people.

My expectations of myself

Not only other people’s expectations can become a burden, but also one’s own expectations of oneself. For example, I am personally aware that growth takes time, yet I often wish for faster results in my development. But just by doing so, I only put myself under unnecessary pressure and increase my own frustration. Human development is involved in processes on all levels, which in most cases take their time.

So it is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes already dealt with the subject at that time and made a sobering judgment about it. According to him, we have no choice but to accept that everything has and needs its time:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

I have therefore given myself three recommendations for my growth, which I try to keep constantly in mind. I am happy to share them with my readers as well:

  1. do not assume that you can become a wise or deeply understanding person in a few days.
  2. Don’t expect too much of yourself at once. Take one step at a time.
  3. Do what you can, but do it with dedication.

My expectations of others

But despite all that has been explained so far, I am aware that it will probably not be possible to go through life completely without expectations of others. Expectations are simply part of being human. My expectations of other people have often been disappointed and I have often found them to be inappropriate.

So I always make the time-tested golden rule from the Gospel of Matthew 7:12 my own when it comes to my expectations of others:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This verse helps me to see my expectations from the perspective of others and to correct them if necessary so that they do not develop into disappointments.

The Austrian writer Ernst Ferstl stated very aptly in this regard:

“The greatest disappointments have their origin in too great expectations.”

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