Usually when we think about expectations holding us back, our minds immediately go to low expectations, don’t we? A fish will only grow as large as its tank allows it, and all that. And the sentiment is completely true–if our goals are small, our accomplishments will be small. It’s only math.
But today, I want to talk about the other side of that problem. I want to talk about how your high expectations could very well be holding you back from something even greater.
If comparison is the thief of joy, expectations are the murderer.
Just over five years ago, I started dating the man who became my husband. Right out of the gate, he established himself as a thoughtful gift giver. Valentine’s Day fell just three weeks after we made our relationship official, and in that small amount of time he’d somehow managed to secure a first American edition of my favorite book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which he presented to me wrapped in brown paper and strings, just like the parcels Mr. Tumnus was carrying when he first met Lucy in the Wood. To top it off, he arranged for us to view one of my favorite films, Casablanca, at a historic theater.
My little geeky heart was in Heaven.
As time went on, though, the reality of this man’s thoughtfulness when it came to selecting gifts faded under the weight of my skewered expectations. Because you see, when it comes to the “traditional” boyfriend/fiancé/husband gifts, he isn’t so inclined. I can count on one hand the times he’s brought me flowers, and on one finger the times he’s brought me flowers without being nagged into it.
This used to bother me, especially when I worked in an office with women whose husbands sent dozens of long-stemmed red roses for everyone to see. My husband was a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man–why couldn’t he just have a natural inclination to send roses, too? That I didn’t even really care for roses seemed besides the point. It was just what was done.
This seed of irritation blossomed into a full-blown bitterness, culminating in a gift of a lovely, yet I’m sure overpriced, mixed bouquet on our first wedding anniversary. While I adored them and thought they were beautiful, the truth worried at my soul just below the surface. This wasn’t a token of affection. It was the white flag of surrender, offered by my husband as a last resort in the hopes that I would finally approve of what he had to offer me.
After that instance, I stopped nagging my husband to buy me flowers and decided to be grateful for the things he chose to give me out of love instead.
After letting those expectations go, I realized I didn’t even really like flowers that much. Sure, they’re nice, but they don’t do anything. They sit there, a momentary but very mortal decoration, and before long they’ve shriveled up and died. But the things my husband chose to give me on his own? Those were things I could actively use and enjoy for a long time. And the fact that he’s specially ordered 99% of the gifts he’s ever given me, or made special trips to multiple stores that are out of his way, mean so much more to me than the times he’s caved and half-heartedly purchased something that neither of us really wanted to begin with.
The last time he brought me flowers was this past Valentine’s Day. They were free leftover flowers at his work, and he had to bring them home by shoving them in a box so he could get them on his motorcycle so they were falling apart a little, but they were my favorite bouquet by far.
There are times when sticking to your guns as far as expectations go are a good thing. There are also times to re-evaluate what’s really important. Don’t let your high expectations prevent you from experiencing an even greater joy. There are things you don’t even know you want just on the horizon.