When It Doesn’t Go Your Way

disappointmentThe check doesn’t arrive.

You don’t get the job.

You get laid off.

Your spouse doesn’t call.

The car breaks down.

The bus is late.

You end up waiting over an hour for your appointment with the doctor.

Your favorite candidate loses.

You discover your favorite soft drink is bad for you.

The list of disappointments can, if we focus on them, go on and on. And for those of us in recovery, failing to understand that disappointment is just part of life, can be deadly.


If you look at that list again, you’ll see that every instance of disappointment is also a result of expectation. We expect the check to arrive and the car to work and our spouse to call. Often those are reasonable expectations, or so it seems.

The definitions of the word, expectation, has to do with waiting for or anticipating something to happen. It’s a looking to the future.

And in truth, it would be hard to get along in life if we didn’t have some expectations. We wouldn’t get up in the morning if we weren’t pretty sure there were a floor to step on. It’s certainly reasonable to expect the phone or your internet connection to work. It’s probably reasonable to expect your spouse call and the car to run, especially when you’ve been good about maintenance.

But even when we’ve done everything right, things still go wrong. It’s the way life is and no matter what we do we aren’t going to change it.

When expectations become demands

The danger is when our expectations become demands. That’s when our response is apt to be much more of an unthinking reaction and probably way over the top for what actually happened.

There’s a huge difference between a gentle and reasonable expectation and an expectation that has turned into a demand.  If we’re honest with ourselves we can usually tell the difference long before we get into trouble. For me it’s a tightness in my chest and belly. I can also find myself protesting too much.

For example, last Tuesday a client told me he mailed a check to me. At the moment he’s in Canada, and that does tend to slow down the mail some. We both figured it would be here today, a week later, with no problem. It didn’t arrive today.

I had some ‘demand’ emotion running on this and I felt fear hit my belly. Yesterday my car quit running and it’s probably a distributor or a fuel pump. My fear is I won’t have enough to pay for it and I was counting on the check showing up today.

Part of me began mentally chastising my client with thoughts like “the jerk, I’ll bet he didn’t mail it.” That’s a sorry street to go on. He’s always paid me pretty promptly. I have no reason at all to think he lied. He may have gotten the check in the mail a day or two later than I thought – if that’s true, it will show up.

I did email him to let him know the check hadn’t arrived – he’ll make it good one way or another. But I had a moment or two of what can only be described as insane thinking.

It’s really about how we respond

Once recovery settles in a bit the goal becomes something like balance. Something happens and we respond. If we react and get out of bounds, we notice it and do what it takes to get back in balance. A prayer, a deep breath, working with a newcomer, a nap, reaching out to our sponsor, going to a meeting – any of these positive actions and many more can help us get back to the right response.

The only way life becomes smooth is if we smooth out our responses to it. Life ebbs and flows. There are periods of calm and then there are storms. Ups and downs. It’s our response that actually determines our experience, and that takes practice.

By the way, while I was writing this, Jerry, the mobile mechanic came and fixed the car. He likes cash, don’t we all. Before he got started I told him how much cash I could get from the ATM and asked if he’d be okay with a post dated check – dated to Wed. when I know a check will be deposited. He laughed, said sure, thanked me for telling him before he got started and I’m mobile again. That’s the kind of life dance I like… he was reasonable, I was reasonable and we both had fun and the car works.

What about you – how are you learning to let go of demands disguised as reasonable expectation? Are you responding or reacting? How does that work for you? Tell us in comments.


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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Ben Sutherland


Mellissa June 11, 2013 at 5:49 am

One of my favourite aphorisms is “Expectations are pre-meditated resentments.” Except I qualify it with **unexpressed** expectations, etc… I find results are WAY better when I express my expectations, discuss them with the provider (and sometimes that’s me!) and adjust to the reality of the situation. I don’t always get my own way!

annew July 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Mellissa, addin ‘unexpressed’ makes a lot of sense… so many of life’s problems seem to step from no to poor communications.

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