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Expectations, Disappointment, and Looking At Things In A New Light

I have been reading a book entitled “Atlas of the Heart” by Brene Brown – Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience. As I was reading, I came across a section in her book which notes that “disappointment is unmet expectations. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.”  This statement hit home for me while I was reading it.

As Brene states in her book, disappointment can bring about emotions such as hurt, anger, and in my case, sometimes a lowering of my self-esteem. I reflect to when I first started working with John Chambers as his executive assistant at Cisco. I can remember clearly a day when he asked me to completely reschedule his entire week ahead for him to travel. What?! I had worked many hours, made numerous phone calls, and sent a massive amount of emails back and forth to schedule all of those meetings! I was definitely disappointed, and I was definitely angry!

Then, one of my co-workers asked me, “well, what did you expect?” That stopped me in my tracks. My co-worker pointed out that in having expectations that everything was going to work the way I wanted it to, I was undoubtedly going to get disappointed often, especially working with John but more importantly, in life.

Thus came the epiphany. Moving forward I decided to come to work every day with no expectations of how my day would turn out. If things when the way I wanted them to – I would be excited and happy. If things did not go my way, I would adjust and go with the flow. That thinking worked beautifully throughout my career!

As a career coach, speaker, and trainer, I talk to administrative professionals every day who express to me their disappointments in things like:

  • Not getting the salary increase they were expecting.
  • Not being promoted for a position they felt they deserved.
  • Not being recognized for what they thought was their best work.
  • Not being given a seat at the table

Now, having been in my own business for almost 5 years, I still have my share of disappointments, all due to high expectations of people, events, and things. Having to let go of a longstanding friendship due to a trust issue, a potential client that I felt a great connection with that never called me back, finding my slide presentation didn’t work with the event organizer’s laptop, to most recently having a major project I had been working on for weeks accidentally get “deleted”’ off of my computer because of something I did (is “freaking out” an actual emotion?). My list goes on and on.

I believe that it is normal as human beings for us to have high expectations. The key is how we manage them and keep them as realistic as possible when our expectations are not met. As Brene notes, “the more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.”

Here’s my philosophy now, and I won’t tell you this is an easy one to follow, especially when things don’t go expected. Rather than feeling all the negative emotions that disappointment brings:

  • I step back from it and become aware of the emotion it is causing in me and then take a deep breath (maybe a couple.)
  • I choose to turn the hurt, anger, or frustration that I’m feeling into one of thinking:
    • it was just not meant to be.
    • it is a learning moment.
    • it will work out the way it is intended to.

Disappointments will occur undoubtedly for all of us however let’s not let those feelings rule our day, instead, let’s choose to see our disappointments in a positive light!

Yours Truly,

Debbie Gross


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