A Reasonable Expectation

by Christopher Lovejoy on June 30, 2010 · 6 comments

We all have expectations.

Some are reasonable; some are not.

I’d like to think that all of my expectations, for myself and for others, have been reasonable.

But I know this is not true.

On my path of personal fulfillment, I’m always looking to increase the number of reasonable expectations that I have, relative to the number of unreasonable ones, and I expect to be successful in doing so.

I intend to do this because I believe that it’s a vital part of what it means to be personally fulfilled, and a vital part of actually becoming so.

You might think differently, and if you do, I would hope that you have some good reasons for thinking this way. For you, there might be room for unreasonable expectations on your path of personal fulfillment. If so, perhaps this post will change your mind about that.

Near the end of my previous post, Promise and Possibility, I raised the specter of The Dreaded Expectation.

It goes something like this: “I expect this to happen (whatever “this” is), and if it doesn’t, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to make you pay in some way”.

The consequences of failure are not pretty. Some examples include:

“I might have to withdraw my attention”

“I might have to ignore your contribution”

“I might have to dismiss your efforts”

“I might have to find someone else to do the job”

“I might have to do serious violence to your person or property”

“I might have to (fill in the blank)”

The list is virtually endless.

The world is full of quick and quiet little expectations of this type:

“I expect you to behave, and I expect you to behave in this way …”

“I expect you to perform, and I expect you to perform in this way …”

“I expect you to improve, and I expect you to improve in this way …”

“I expect you to succeed, and I expect you to succeed in this way …”

“I expect you to commit, and I expect you to commit in this way …”

“I expect you to excel, and I expect you to excel in this way …”

And here’s the clincher:

“… and if you don’t do what I expect, well … you know me well enough, and if you don’t, well … you’ll get to know me soon enough.”

To be sure, it’s not the expectation itself that gives us a problem. It’s the type of judgment that lies inside it.

Like a coiled snake ready to strike.

Anyone in the role of a professional or a parent knows that expectations require sound judgments – the more reasonable, the better.

In this post, I take a look at what I call A Reasonable Expectation.

On a path of personal fulfillment, what is reasonable? What can I reasonably expect of myself? What can I reasonably expect of others?

Before I attempt some answers to these questions, I’d like to address the kinds of judgments that might infect the expectations we have.

Negative Judgments

The Dreaded Expectation contains at least one negative judgment.

A negative judgment fails to affirm the presence or dignity of the person to whom the judgment is directed.

Such judgments can be punitive or manipulative. We might apply them to ourselves or to others.

How might they come about?

Let’s cut to the chase.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a typical judge of character.

Let’s give this judge a hearing.

Listen closely:

“Put simply, there are five things about you that I might not like:

1) your behavior

2) your performance

3) your lack of success

4) your commitments

5) your lack of status

If I don’t like your behavior or your performance or your commitments, it’s because it makes me afraid that you won’t succeed or excel in what you do. And that might reflect on me.

You need to know that so much of what you say and do is bound up with my sense of safety and security. I would feel safer and more secure if you could just behave yourself and perform as well as I expect.

I cannot and will not tolerate any behavior or conduct that I deem to be inappropriate or unacceptable. Do I make myself clear?”

Sound familiar?

Such words are usually unspoken, conveyed by expectations that contain protective judgments.

Of course, these judges of character might not like their own behavior, or ther own performance, or any one or more of their own commitments.

How easy, then, would it be for them to distract themselves from their own apparent failings, to forestall criticism by sending their judgments to others through their expectations.

Two Basic Approaches

Is it possible to have expectations without the kinds of judgment that seek to punish or manipulate us into compliance or servitude?

I would say “yes”.

Having explored the nature of The Dreaded Expectation in this post, I’ve come to understand that we can approach it in two ways:

1) deal effectively with expectations that contain negative judgments

2) affirm your own expectations with confidence, without such judgments

These two points by themselves deserve a post of their own.

For now, I’d like to return to the main question I posed earlier in this post:

What can I reasonably expect on a path of personal fulfillment?

Reasonable Expectations

Consider these imperatives:

Behave. Perform. Improve. Succeed. Commit. Excel.

In that order.

The two key words here are ‘succeed’ and ‘excel’. Why? Because, where our expectations are concerned, we behave, perform, and improve so that we can succeed, and we succeed and commit so that we can excel.

In this world, success and excellence are prime objectives.

In a quest for success or excellence, actual results and outcomes can be (a) good enough, (b) ideal, but not perfect, or (c) perfect and complete.

In light of these distinctions, what is reasonable for personal fulfillment?

First, ‘reasonable’ does not mean ‘realistic’. Quite literally, ‘reasonable’ means ‘able to reason’. If I’m able to reason calmly, clearly, and cogently about an expectation that I have, then by definition what I have is a reasonable expectation.

Second, a reasonable expectation might be realistic, but it need not be. I might expect an ideal (but not perfect) result or outcome for myself that is also reasonable, based on what I’ve done in the past. It might seem like a stretch for me to expect it, but at least I have some ground on which to stand.

Third, if I get an expectation of a perfect result or outcome from someone, I might not be able to make it my own, in which case I would be hard-pressed to meet it, or to meet it in a reasonable way in a reasonable amount of time. What is reasonable to me (a result or outcome that is good enough) might not be reasonable for someone else (a perfect result or outcome).

Fourth, knowing what I know about The Dreaded Expectation, I can reasonably expect to form as many of my own expectations as I can, not only to move myself in desired directions, but to more easily deal with The Dreaded Expectation if or when it rears its ugly head.

And finally, with the power and the freedom to be myself, I might allow myself (reasonably) to have a high expectation – one that is unrealistic, and yet one that doesn’t compromise anyone’s safety or security – just to see how far I can take it. Think of it this way: if I never allow myself to test my potential to succeed or excel, how will I ever know what I’m capable of having or doing?

This list is by no means exhaustive. As I probe this topic more deeply, I expect that my understanding of A Reasonable Expectation will grow.


In summary, expectations are formed or driven by a need for success or a desire for excellence. They can be realistic, they can be reasonable, or they can realistic and reasonable.

On a path of personal fulfillment, and with the proper mindset, expectations can be free of judgments that seek to punish or manipulate yourself or others into compliance or servitude.

In my next post, I will explore how to (1) deal effectively with expectations that contain negative judgments; and (2) affirm your own expectations with confidence, without such judgments.

Until then, what can you reasonably expect of yourself or others on your path of personal fulfillment?


BriteLite July 1, 2010 at 6:51 am

I like that you’re preparing the ground for something deeper and more comprehensive, but I seem to have missed the connection between The Dreaded Expectation and A Reasonable Expectation.

Would you care to elaborate?


Christopher Lovejoy July 1, 2010 at 7:07 am

Hello, and thank you for your question.

A Reasonable Expectation is my answer to The Dreaded Expectation. As I mentioned, The Dreaded Expectation contains at least one negative judgment. A Reasonable Expectation contains no such judgments, but does contain at least one affirmative judgment with respect to behaviour, performance, improvement, success, commitment, or excellence. I’ll have more to say about these distinctions in my next post.

Insight Hunter July 7, 2010 at 11:06 am

Concerning the world’s expectations, since I cannot do anything about other’s expectations, I try not to worry about that and simply ignore it. Of course, there is a social (and perhaps economical) price for doing do, but that is what one has to pay for being an individual.

Personally, I try to have little or no expectation of others. That way they do not let you down. This also helps to build emotional self-sufficiency.

On Reasonable Expectations – I think a reasonable expectation would largely be based around what has happened in the past in similar circumstances. When the circumstance is new and knowledge is imperfect, then it is hard to know what is reasonable. However, using logic and our experience of the world, we can come to a range of what one can reasonably expect. Of course, it is easy to cloud one’s thinking with self-deception, if one really wants something.

Are all Unreasonable Expectations Bad? The post made me wonder if any unreasonable expectations are okay. I think it is best to expect a range of possible results. High expectations out of that range will lead likely to disappointment. The person usually lowers their expectations, to perhaps the high end of the range, though some will not, and they’ll be perpetually disappointed, which is unhealthy. If expectations are low, they are always easily fulfilled and not realistic. One might raise them to the low end of the spectrum. If they are kept low, the person might be too pessimistic, of have unrealistic low confidence levels. Keeping expectations reasonable does seem best.

I find even fantasizing or daydreaming (and not necessarily expecting) about a result can be ever-so-slightly negative when it doesn’t occur. However, if the harm is minimal, the imagining of an ideal situation can have benefit if not indulged.

Christopher Lovejoy July 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hello Mr. Hunter, it’s nice to hear from you again.

I like to think of the world’s expectations as the expressions of one imperative: conform. Conform to the prevailing consensus of what it means to behave, perform, improve, succeed, commit, and excel. As an individual, you get to choose whether to conform, and if you do choose to conform, you get to choose the when, the where, the how, and the why.

With respect to holding expectations of others, I like to wear the vest of my expectations lightly. My feeling is that we all tend to take for granted those expectations that get met on a regular basis, but then bring too much attention to those that don’t.

I agree with your assessment of reasonable and unreasonable expectations. Nicely put.

Your final point speaks to the caution that some people have about The Law of Attraction. There have been reports of people who make and keep scrapbooks and vision boards of images that they would like to see made manifest in their lives. Some even claim to have witnessed these images in real time some time after. As long as you take some action on your expectations, I don’t see any harm in trying.

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