Skip to main content

Failing to Meet My Expectations

Tom Petersen


Share This article

My coworker Joe had to have a difficult conversation with me recently. He had to call me on the carpet for my bad behavior.

In a rare moment of self-discipline long ago, I asked my colleague Joe, a Christian, to hold me accountable when he sees me do something that isn’t contributing to my goal of being the greatest apostle since Paul. (His first task was to explain the difference between my definition of “greatest” and God’s.)

Since that time, Joe has gently nudged me toward truth and light. But he’s apparently tiring under the strain of keeping me in line, because this time he didn’t pull any punches. He said that my criticism of a colleague during a department meeting was not only a poor Christian witness, but probably sabotaged my career. To add insult to my own self-inflicted injury, he said I seem to have a sense of entitlement.

“You act like the world owes you something,” Joe said, his arms crossed, brow furrowed and head shaking as only a true friend can do. “It’s kind of a lousy way to share your faith.”

What Joe has going for him in wisdom he lacks in tact.

Expecting Easy Outcomes

But after I recovered from the veracity of Joe’s brotherly accountability, I thought about his words. He had a point. Somewhere along the line, I have developed a sense of entitlement about work. I have come to expect that things will go my way; that I somehow deserve pleasant outcomes and freedom from any kind of harm, setback or even inconvenience. Joe characterized that as an expectations problem.

Understanding Expectations

I think we all go into work with some expectation of how our day will go. And even when we say we expect the worse, I think that deep down, we think that things should always go our way. And sometimes they do. But when work meets my expectations, I’m usually not even paying attention. After all, that was what I expected! But when things don’t go as I expect, that’s when I get fussy.

Calculating the Expectations

Beginning to realize the extent of my expectations problem, I started listing them out. I was amazed once I realized how many unrealistic work expectations I had! And about the only thing that tied them together was the consistent belief that only good things should happen to me.

Expectations of People

My greatest expectation of people is that they will act in my best interests. I expect my boss to consistently praise my work, my co-workers to drop what they’re doing to help me, and the IT Help Desk person to personally come re-boot my computer when I call. Needless to say, those expectations are seldom met. Apparently, other people think I should put their needs ahead of mine. (People! Listen up! That defeats my whole purpose!)

Expectations of Rewards

The longer I work, I’m embarrassed to say, the more I think I should be compensated for my work. After all, I bring great longevity and wisdom to my employer the longer I am here. If nothing else, they should pay me more just to keep my mouth shut about the location of the files detailing past company failures (which isn’t hard, since I’ve played a part in most of them. Which also might explain why my expectation of rewards goes unmet…)

Expectations of Ease

I have been a productive member of the work world (if you don’t get too technical about the definition of “productive”) for more than 20 years. After all that time, I subconsciously think that work should start getting easier. But like the stock prospectus says, “past performance is no guarantee of future returns.” Or, as one of my co-workers says, “If it was easy, they’d hire monkeys to do it.” I think he meant it as an encouragement.

Expectations of Unity

Nowhere in my employee handbook does it say that we are a company free of conflict, where everyone gets along and peace reigns. Yet I seem to think that every meeting should produce only mutual respect and common vision, and maybe even some tangible demonstration of teamwork (like a tree house, maybe, or a quilt). Imagine my disappointment when the only outcome of a meeting is another meeting, scheduled specifically when certain people can’t attend, because they’re not team players, you know. God made us all different – why am I surprised when we act differently?

Expectations of Fairness

My expectation that everyone (particularly “me”) will be treated equally and fairly crashes into reality quite a bit.

One of my favorite lines from the movie “Lion King” occurs when the mean lion Scar says, in that Jeremy Irons accent of his, “Life’s not fair.” I loved saying it to my kids as they encountered the bumps and bruises of life. I was helping toughen them up, I thought. So I was quite displeased when my son first said it to me, in response to my whining about some petty issue at work. Kids today are so insolent.
I take some solace knowing that this expectation dates all the way back to Eve. Her sense of inequity that God had disqualified one tree as a source of sustenance was one of her motivations for taking the forbidden fruit. What a comfort to know that if there had been no Adam or Eve, I would still commit original sin!

Recalibrating my Expectations

So knowing all of this, what’s my response? I need to recalibrate my expectations, realizing bad things happen to good people, even when those good people are “me.” Paul doesn’t pull any punches, either, when he tells the church at Thessalonica, “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” I Thessalonians 3:4 (NASB).

Second, I try to be content with what I have and where I am. Again, Paul has counsel on the benefit of contentment when he writes, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” I Timothy 6:6-8 (NASB). When my expectations are calibrated along those lines, everything that happens beyond that is gravy!

Finally, if that doesn’t work, I turn to my friend, Joe. He has helped me reset my expectations. He is always consistent, with his deep sighs and head-shaking in disappointment.


Share This article

About The Author


Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor.