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The danger of high expectations

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All throughout winter quarter, all I heard was how unimaginably better spring was guaranteed to be. “It may rain at least once a day now, but in spring, it’ll always be sunny.” “You may be drowning in work now, but in the spring, you’ll just lounge outside.” “Studying will be the last thing on your mind.” I was promised I’d be happier, brighter and tanner.

Having high expectations definitely makes me more excited for what’s to come, however, at the same time, it risks serious disappointment if things don’t end up panning out as anticipated. So what’s better? Being hopeful and risking a letdown? Or expecting nothing and bracing yourself with pessimism?

In some ways, I definitely think that expectations are crucial. If you expect nothing from those around you or from the situations you find yourself in, you are essentially settling for mediocrity. Expectations establish standards. For instance, I expect myself to put forth my best effort in the classes that interest me, and I’d be disappointed if I didn’t meet that standard. Sometimes, the expectations that others have of you can also be positive. For example, if one of my friends expected that I go to the gym with them, I’d be much more likely to show up knowing they were waiting for me to come. Other people’s expectations keep me accountable. Similarly, when authority figures or mentors convey expectations, people are more likely to succeed because someone is encouraging and motivating them to strive for something specific.  

But from the complete opposite perspective, some people claim that expectations are the root of all disappointment. If you tell yourself to have low expectations, there’s no way you’ll end up dissatisfied. Throughout the cold and the rain of winter quarter, my friends and I have assured each other that spring will glisten and shine with endless possibilities. If, after ten weeks, I look back at spring as simply the same as winter quarter with slightly hotter weather, I’ll definitely be disappointed. Instead, maybe, I should’ve expected nothing and only left room for elated surprise. I guess we’ll see.

It’s also key to keep low expectations for things that you’re generally just bad at or things that simply will never happen. I have a terrible sense of direction, so I shouldn’t expect myself to find the nearest Starbucks, even if I’ve been there multiple times. I should just use Google Maps. In other words, be realistic and don’t expect miracles.  

Contact Elizabeth Dunn at eldunn14 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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