They can really screw with your head. Seriously.
Expectations are what we hope for, but hasn’t happened yet. And that’s the problem. Most of us go through life with reasonable expectations about what we think will happen in the future, but every once in a while (or maybe more often if you’re like me) a situation comes along where we lose perspective and become a slave to unmet or unrealistic expectations.
Have you ever been there? Excited and hopeful for the future, waiting with gleeful anticipation for the result of your fantastical desire. It could be anything: a new business, a finished art piece, a new blog post (ahem), waiting to hear back after a job interview, an exciting announcement; anything you’ve put your heart and soul into. In the beginning, it’s just a glimmer of hope and cautious optimism. You think you’re onto something strong and have good reason to believe it’s going to be a success. But over time, as you discuss the possibilities with family and friends, emotion begins to add fuel and something begins to happen: the shape of the thing you are hoping for grows into a much larger untamed beast. An unruly monster of unrealistic expectation that can end up shipwrecking your reaction when it arrives, resulting in frustration and potentially derailing your purpose moving forward. We’ll call this monster Unmet Expectations.
Having expectation is normal. If you take action, you can expect a result. The expectation itself isn’t the problem; it’s the unrealistic or unmet version of itself that is. Hoping for something is great, and having faith in the result is wonderful, but it becomes dangerous when the thing you hope for is based on emotion instead of reality. What I mean is, there is a fine line between being driven by passion and being hijacked by emotion. The former keeps you on level ground so you can continue running forward toward your goal, but the latter can send you into a free-fall of frustration and confusion when things don’t work out to the degree you expected. Passion drives you in the face of setbacks, whereas emotion requires damage control before you can move on.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last seven months since launching a new church (Encounter Church), it’s that having proper expectations is critical. So much hard work, energy, and resources went into getting it off the ground that by the time we launched publicly, I expected the masses to flood through the front doors in record numbers (may be an exaggeration, but you get the point). I had worked through every aspect of our approach, thought through our vision, and got our teams ready to go. At our grand opening service, we had 225 people join us and it was exciting! A success by all measures. The following week, we had a third of that number, and in my mind I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. For the next few weeks it was the same, and I wondered if something was missing. I mean, I thought we had the best thing around! Who wouldn’t want to be here to experience this?! I even began to think that maybe I was the problem. Maybe I had missed something, or maybe even that I just wasn’t a good enough leader to reach the goal that I had in my mind.
This is the problem with unmet expectations. More so, it’s a problem with unrealistic expectations. You see, it’s one thing to expect 225 at a grand opening, but it’s unrealistic to expect the same the following week. Why? Because statistics show that typically a new church can expect approximately 40-50% of the people to return in week 2. What was my problem? Even though I knew the statistic, I allowed emotion to hijack my expectations which resulted in me comparing myself and our new church to everyone else around me. I missed the point. My unrealistic expectation clouded my ability to focus on why we started the church in the first place: to bring the hope of Jesus Christ to those who are far from God.
I spent the next few months wrestling with my emotions and frustration, and by the grace of God finally came to the realization of what was happening to me. I wanted so badly to do something great for God that I couldn’t see what I had right in front of me. A church full of people hungry for hope and the true life that God offers them. I could have saved myself all the extra pressure on my shoulders if I had seen with proper expectations.
Do you ever feel this way? Does this resonate with you at all?
I learned the hard way, and am grateful that I can see clearly now. Because honestly, while these past seven months have been wonderful and full of fulfillment, I spent so much time looking for what I didn’t have that I missed some great opportunities for celebration.
Here are a few quick things I have learned about setting realistic expectations that may be helpful to you if you find yourself dealing with unrealistic or unmet expectations:
- Discover/rediscover your reason – Always remember why you are doing what you are doing. Focusing on the reason cuts through emotion and clears up the fog of unrealistic expectation. Knowing your purpose will keep you centered and on task.
- Research the typical – Find out what a normal result is for whatever you’re working on. Don’t just guess. Ask around. Check statistics. Learn your demographic. Some things have different results in different places. Having a hopeful, yet realistic target will keep you grounded.
- Don’t compare yourself – You are you, not anyone else. Don’t compare yourself to someone else’s success or results. This will rob you of the joy of what you have accomplished.
- Keep going – Whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Remember #1 and keep going because the reason you started in the first place was you believed in what you were doing. Don’t give up.
How have you struggled with expectations in your life? How have you kept yourself grounded? Let me know in the comments below.