Managing Expectations and Disappointments

By The Road To: The Road Comments

"Expectation is the root of all heartache." William Shakespeare

Anyone over their twenties will have had a chance or two to realize that the way you manage your expectations can help prepare you for disappointment. Yet, nothing can train you to deal with your expectations better than confronting disappointment.

For entrepreneurs, this question of expectation and disappointment becomes particularly tricky: on the one hand, your long term vision must trust that things will turn out the way you dreamt and that you can make them happen, but at the same time you must be able to cope with the setbacks you will inevitably encounter along the way. Resilience in the face of the opinions and reactions of others, the challenges, and also adversity is a must for your ability to pull through.

I remember the first time I let a close friend read something I wrote. I got no response for days, just when I needed the feedback the most. As you can imagine, she was close to being thrown off the best friend list! At the other extreme, the next time I pitched an idea to an acquaintance, someone I only vaguely knew, asking for professional advice, his depth of understanding and ability to express in his own words exactly what I was trying to explain made me literally start crying. Besides the embarrassment of my unexpected reaction to this almost stranger, this encounter made me question what it is that allows us to better handle unexpected outcomes and whether women, who tend to be more emotional both in terms of expectations and reactions, are more likely to confront this in their pursuit of entrepreneurial ventures.


So I developed a few ground rules to be followed when looking for feedback and before getting carried away by unrealistic expectations:

Know your own state of mind

Working on a new endeavor requires a high degree of both practical and emotional involvement which means focusing a lot of attention, energy and effort on the undertaking. This mindset alone increases anticipation and thus the tendency toward dissatisfaction. Remembering that not everyone around us has the same attitude can mitigate both your expectations of others and your frustration when they don’t follow through.

If you aren’t sure of your expectations, don’t expect it from others; but if you do know what you want, be sure to speak your mind

It is easy to get lost in the transitional world created by reality and imagination. Pursuing a goal requires determination to the point where we are no longer aware of what is or isn’t plausible. Uncertainty pushes us to look for as much confirmation as possible while no one has an answer— your guess is as good as any other. The bottom line? Either ask clearly for what you want or just let it go. Chances are that in due time you will be better able to envisage your expectations.

Timing matters

The time factor is out of our hands. We want something to happen and we want it right now. But the world follows its own beat regardless of our feverish pace. Have you ever had the feeling that while you are running around in a race against time, the world is moving in slow motion? These unsynchronized movements are a good photomontage of how detached your expectations are from the way things actually happen.  Timing is crucial in the business world, but our ability to control those we are involved with— be it sub-contractors, suppliers, friends etc.— is somewhat limited.

If it is professional advice you are after – go to the professionals

Professionals understand your intentions and know you approached them solely for their objective evaluation. So whenever it is results you are looking for, go to the expert. Friends will not necessarily understand the context of what you are doing and, more often than not, it will go over their head which is submerged in their own stories and struggles.

Expect less, accept more

One of the biggest problems with having high expectations, especially while pursuing an entrepreneurial road, is that they sometimes lead you to overreach and expect too much of the outcome. While I am all for taking a proactive role in creating your reality, you are far from being able to predict the future. The more you strive for a specific outcome, the less open you are to the circumstances and reality needed to shape your future. "Everything happens for a reason" is not just a mystical approach, it is a state of mind which allows you to let go of ineffective attempts to shape reality and be open to the opportunities offered by the surrounding's response (customers for example). So, expecting less is not about being on the defensive about disappointments and defeats, it is more about being on the lookout for new doors that may open when others close.

The future is unpredictable – no matter how hard you try, you cannot change it

Sounds a bit obvious? True, but think how often we try to play the game and look to control future outcomes to suit our dreams. It is this anticipation that drives our fear of failure or disappointment. When we try something new, we develop expectations which then expand to a specific script that we build in our imagination; it is all inside our head. But we are, of course, limited in our ability to predict the future or the actual outcomes, and thus we are doomed to frustration. Letting go – there has never been a better piece of advice; it is definitely easier to let go of expectations than to adopt a relaxed, easygoing state of mind.

This week I started by introducing two examples of inspiration; that moment when the spark of an idea opens a corridor to new places. This is how it works in the fashion world, as well as in design and entertainment, although in many cases these ideas are hard to practically follow. By expecting no more than what this flash of inspiration can provide, we open ourselves up to new paths that can be forged from these little new ideas that are only remotely relevant to what we were looking for when we stumbled upon them. Yet, they each become part of the input accumulated in our mental data base, waiting in the wings to be someday accessed as major or minor influence. If we expect to attain the same exact results we had dreamt of, we can only be disappointed; if, however, we expect no more than what is on offer, we can use the inspiration as a starter and wait for a second wind to blow.

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