We are all consumers of expectations. They are easy to come by — from parents, family, friends, the media — and many are self-created. Maybe it’s to be successful, get married, have children, look good, make a difference, please others...The list is endless, especially in today’s world, where there are constant opportunities to compare ourselves to others and look for ways to be more, better, or different. Never before have expectations been so high in terms of what humans are capable of, and this creates a paradox of opportunity and pressure.
Expectations are pervasive in our lives, and most of us are conditioned to be driven by them and to attempt to realize them. Our expectations then become our compass, which often navigates us right into an Expectation Hangover.
“When one door closes, another door opens;
but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door,
that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
— Alexander Graham Bell
“EXPECTATION HANGOVER” DEFINED
What is an Expectation Hangover? Here is my official definition: the myriad undesirable feelings, thoughts, and responses present when one or a combination of the following things occurs:
- Things don’t turn out the way you thought, planned, or wanted them to.
- Things do turn out according to your plans and desires, but you don’t feel the fulfillment you expected.
- You are unable to meet your personal and/or professional expectations.
- An undesired, unexpected event occurs that is in conflict with what you wanted or planned.
Three Different Categories of Expectation Hangovers
There are many different types of Expectation Hangover, but they usually fall into one of the following three categories:
Situational Expectation Hangovers. These occur when something does not turn out the way we wanted or we do not get the anticipated satisfaction from achieving a result.
Interpersonal Expectation Hangovers. This kind of Expectation Hangover occurs when we are let down by someone else or unpleasantly surprised by the actions of another.
Self-Imposed Expectation Hangovers. These occur when we do not live up to the standards or goals we have set for ourselves. In other words, we are disappointed in ourselves and the results we’ve achieved or failed to achieve.
Although the cast of characters and specific circumstances of an Expectation Hangover vary, the symptoms are generally similar to those of a hangover from alcohol but far more miserable and lasting:
- lack of motivation
- physical discomfort
- addictive behavior
- poor work performance
- diminished creativity
- strained relationships
- faith crises
- social withdrawal
- wanting to stay in bed, turn off the lights, and pull the covers over your head
Our beliefs and self-talk fuel a lot of the symptoms we experience during an Expectation Hangover. When things don’t go our way, it is natural to buy into debilitating thoughts like “I am not enough,” “I did something wrong,” “Everyone else is better than me,” “I’ll be alone forever,” “I’ll never be successful,” “Things never work out for me,” and so on.
If something unexpected happens to disrupt the image of who we think we are, we squirm, complain, and attempt to control it because our sense of identity is threatened. Our self-esteem plummets. We get caught up in regretting the past or latching onto the idea of something in the future we think will make us feel better. We’ll do anything to end our suffering — the problem is we just don’t know what to do.
WHY EXPECTATION HANGOVERS HAPPEN
“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts;
but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
— Francis Bacon
One of the most challenging parts of an Expectation Hangover is feeling that we’ve failed, that we haven’t met the standards or goals we’ve set for ourselves — especially if we’ve poured our hearts into the attempt. Not getting our desired outcome is one of the seemingly cruel ways the Universe teaches us the lesson that the journey of life is more important than the destination. We feel so alive in those moments when we are pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into something we believe in. We feel inspiration, enthusiasm, and passion. Those are all wonderful things to experience, and we like the feelings that accompany them. But as soon as we realize that the dream we had our heart set on did not come true, all the good feelings evaporate into an Expectation Hangover, and we find ourselves asking, “Why is this happening?”
Good question. During my own Expectation Hangovers, I have wanted to know exactly why it was happening, both so I could do something about it and so I could counteract my uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty. We think that if only we knew why something was happening, we could change it and not have to endure the Expectation Hangover.
The main reason disappointment happens is to teach us paradigm-shifting life lessons. An Expectation Hangover is a wild card that causes us to start looking within and, ultimately, to turn in a different direction. On the surface Expectation Hangovers might appear to create disharmony, but they actually have a harmonizing effect because the unexpected is what leads to innovation and novelty.
We don’t voluntarily sign up for the lessons Expectation Hangovers teach, because they threaten the things our ego clings to: control, security, and external results. Warning: the lessons I’m about to share won’t be very satisfying to your ego and won’t necessarily give you the kind of answers you desire.
For now, I invite you to open your mind to understanding these lessons.
“Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”
— Danny Gokey
Lesson 1: Control Is an Illusion
We are great at putting time and energy into achieving the results we want. And the more effort we put in, the more we feel entitled to get the results. When our expectations are met, we feel a sense of security and accomplishment; we feel safe and on track. We expect that life will evolve according to our plan and that people will behave in a predictable way. We all love control because the unknown is downright scary.
All the effort in the world will not always guarantee the result we desire. When you stop grasping for certainty, a deeper sense of trust emerges. And I don’t just mean trust in the Universe or a Higher Power; I mean trust in yourself and your own capacity to respond to life in an optimal way. Besides, if you knew everything that was going to happen, you would miss out on life’s pleasant surprises.
Lesson 2: Your Comfort Zone Is a Trap
We all have a comfort zone that we have constructed based on what feels safe and manageable. In this comfort zone, we make certain choices and engage in specific behaviors that reinforce feelings of security. It feels familiar; we know all the ins and outs. Occasionally, we will take a step beyond it, but usually only if we have made a careful list of pros and cons and feel a degree of safety about our level of risk. But our comfort zone does not feel comfortable because it is healthy; it feels so cozy because it is familiar and reinforces the illusion of control.
So we continue playing it safe, living life according to our plans, and engaging in familiar routines and behaviors. Disappointment itself can become a comfort zone. As much as you want to treat your Expectation Hangovers, you may be experiencing a degree of complacency about the status quo, having resigned yourself to feeling let down by life; but that is no way to live!
The human experience is one of continuous evolution. Within each of us there is an evolutionary impulse to transform. We are not static beings; change is unavoidable. If we resist or fear change, an Expectation Hangover comes along to help us evolve. No matter what your circumstances, do not settle for complacency or “good enough.” You deserve and are capable of so much more.
Lesson 3: It Ain’t Out There
Perhaps you can relate to the pattern of when/then and if/then thinking: When I get that raise, then I’ll feel financially secure. When I get married, then I’ll feel worthy. When I get a little more experience, then I can start my business. If I had not been laid off, then I would not be depressed. If I lose five pounds, then I’ll feel confident. If I had not made that mistake, then I’d feel proud of myself. The number of when/thens and if/thens our ego can buy into is infinite.
We think our happiness comes from getting what we want, and we often pursue our expectations at the cost of our health, relationships, and most of all, the present moment. Our obsession with what we can do, be, or have leaves us constantly looking for some external result. Then, once we get the things we think we want, we experience an Expectation Hangover if they are not as fulfilling as we thought they would be. Or we experience a short-term boost but then start looking for the next thing to strive for. It’s an endless cycle.
Lesson 4: You Are Not Being Punished
During an Expectation Hangover, we have a tendency to think we have done something to deserve the disappointment. We buy into the common misunderstanding that bad things happen to us to test us, or even as payback for something we did wrong. This could not be further from the truth.
The truth is that every circumstance or situation is for your Highest Good — even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The Universe does not punish, test, or keep a list of good/bad and right/wrong behavior. You didn’t do anything wrong. You have always been doing the best you could. Really. Even if you do not totally believe this yet, begin to consider it. What appear to be tests and trials in your life are actually priceless gifts and teachings.
Sometimes our expectations are based in fantasy, and we encounter an Expectation Hangover that feels like punishment when in reality it is saving us from future suffering. Not clinging to fixed ideals helps you see more clearly because your vision is not obstructed by fear or desire.
Keep these lessons in mind and begin looking at your life as a grand adventure that offers many opportunities to grow. When we are committed to our values but set our expectations free, we create more space for unexpected opportunities that can lead to happiness rather than a hangover.
“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor.
It’s to enjoy each step along the way.” — Wayne Dyer
Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life
by Christine Hassler.
About the Author
Christine Hassler left her job as a successful Hollywood agent to pursue a life she could be passionate about. In 2005 she wrote a guidebook for quarter-life women, 20 Something, 20 Everything, and she later wrote a book for men and women, 20 Something Manifesto. Today, as a life coach and speaker, she supports people of all ages. She leads seminars and retreats at colleges, at conferences, at corporations, and in beautiful locations around the world. To contact Christine or to learn more about her workshops, speaking events, and coaching sessions, visit www.christinehassler.com.
Watch a video with Christine: Moving Out of Fear and Into Love