woman juggling
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
Managing expectations is as much a skill as cooking is. Each of us has an internal oven that controls the temperature of our expectations, and it needs to be monitored to produce the best results.
As a divorce expert, I've heard from countless women how their hearts have been seared on a frying pan after friends burned them with indifference or a lack of understanding. Crying, a client will say, "They have no idea how hard this divorce is and don't want to hear about it anymore."

I will often ask, "Have any of them been divorced?"

"No," they admit. "But they're supposed to be my friends. I expect them to be there for me."

At this point, I offer a box of tissues and some bon mots. "Would you allow someone who didn't train as a doctor to perform surgery on you? Would you go on a plane flown by someone who isn't a trained pilot?" Of course you wouldn't. A person must use her power of choice strategically. There is a reason there is a difference between the words "sympathy" and "empathy"—the latter requires the experience. When you assess the strengths—and weaknesses—of friends and family members, you up the odds for getting what you want and need. It is the divorced friend who will be able to give you better advice on how to circumvent the minefields on your road to happily ever after again.

It also pays to manage expectations of ourselves.

How can you manage your own expectations for your life?
If you want to be a doctor, you have to be willing to sacrifice at least eight years to achieve that goal. If you want to be a lawyer, it's seven years. That is not going to change, no matter how smart or charming you are.

Dig deep to figure out what you are good at. Close your eyes and say, "I'm good at..." and write down the first three things that come into your mind. Practice writing those things down for one week and soon you'll be able to focus on where you should pursue your efforts. Then, ask yourself what you like about the choice and what you don't like.

Earlier in life, I wanted to be a medical doctor but realized the sight of blood makes me queasy. I then redirected my love of research and helping people to writing and coaching. In the same way you write a weekly grocery list, you can write a list of what you are doing to achieve your goals. Your goal can include spending more time with family and friends or building up a résumé. You are the architect of your happiness and must decide what sacrifices are worth it to reach your personal goals.

But managing expectations isn't solely based on the premise that you should always win.

What do Serena Williams and Susan Boyle have in common?

We certainly saw the perils of that thinking with Serena Williams in a recent tennis match. So unaccustomed to losing, she banged her tennis racket and later berated a tennis official at the U.S. Open, making her the poster girl for bratty behavior. Again, each of us has an internal oven that controls the temperature of our expectations, and it needs to be monitored to produce the best results.

Did you notice how the word "temperature" also has the word "temper" in it? It means that you can get too hot and angry when your expectations collide with reality. Sometimes you are going to lose, and when it happens, you have to exercise self-control. It may have been better for Serena to set her own internal oven to "simmer" to bring out her competitive juices, rather than the boil we all witnessed.

And speaking of  "boil" look at the example of singer Susan Boyle, the Britain's Got Talent contestant whose initial performance was a worldwide, overnight sensation.

Boyle had a dream to be a singer and defied expectations that someone so plain and ordinary could have such an extraordinary voice. Her story became a metaphor for possibility. But overnight fame became a nightmare when cameras poked at her as though she were a pig on a spit, causing her to have a meltdown from the scrutiny. Then she lost the competition after she and so many "expected" her to win first place—even though second place is still a victory.

Lesson learned is that there are no guarantees in love, in work or in life. However, you have the choice to work hard and smart, simultaneously. Simply working hard is not enough. Case in point: Boyle quietly retreated into a recording studio and now has emerged with a new, polished bob and chart-climbing CD.

One also has to be realistic about job choices. A teacher's salary will never buy as big a house as that of a doctor. If you care more about the house, train for a new job.

What's the last thing every person should do when trying to successfully navigate her expectations?

The successful management of expectations requires one last thing. We often expect people—our friends, our family, our co-workers and sometimes the public—to be mind readers. "Don't they know what I'm going through? Don't they know what I'm thinking and feeling?" Well, no.

If you do not communicate your needs and wants and explain yourself, you will be disappointed. Ask and you shall receive. Power is not something that is given. You need to ask for it. "I want a raise. I want to be treated with respect. I want to see you." At the very least, depending on the response, you will know where you stand and then can make strategic moves to improve your situation.

When a boss says you're not going to get a promotion because she likes someone better, work harder to find a job where your style is appreciated. That boss is unlikely to change her mind—ever. Yes, we are all burdened by someone's subjectivity about us. Yet the world is a still very big place full of opportunities to find someone who loves you and appreciates you either in work or in love.

As I often tell friends and clients, any time you argue with reality, you lose. Be realistic and choose well, and it will affect the outcome. I promise. And even if you sometimes fail, you can always press the reset button and change the temperature to create something more satisfying.

Jill Brooke is a writer for FirstWivesWorld.com, a site that helps women contemplating, navigating or moving on from divorce heal through self-love, smarts and humor. She is a contributor to the CBS The Early Show and a former on-air CNN correspondent. Her work regularly appears in The New York Times, Forbes FYI, The Chicago Tribune, Harper's Bazaar and New York magazine. She has also been the editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazines and written columns for AdWeek, Metropolitan Home, The New York Post and The New York Daily News. She is a certified coach trained at the Stepfamily Foundation. She is happily remarried with a son and two stepdaughters and lives in New York.


Next Story