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How Expectations Serve and Limit Us

When we are humbled or curious enough, we can transcend limiting interpretations of our experiences. And that’s when we start seeing new possibilities and opportunities that had seemed outrageous before.
How Expectations Serve And Limit Us

Earlier in my career as an engineering project manager, one of my first bosses had told me that my expectations were too high. My impression was that he didn’t agree with my “style” and thought I should follow the “common standard.”

Although his comment bothered me, I continued with my way of managing projects. Over the years, my expectations had allowed me to manage teams and successfully accomplish projects that no one had done in the organization.

Setting high expectations had served me, my teams and employer for years. One day, I suddenly noticed that my expectations were creating a lot of stress for myself. My experiences had also made me too confident; I started insisting on how things should be done, and I wasn’t as open to others’ ideas. These behaviors created friction in my relationships.

It was around that time that I started realizing the difference between management and leadership. As my work became more complex, I spent a lot of time unlearning what had helped me for decades and started to cultivate new mindsets and behaviors.

Instead of being fixated on how things should happen, I started assessing situations with the bigger picture in mind. Creating an open and safe space for constructive collaboration and communication became a higher priority than checking off the list of to-dos. This new orientation had allowed my teams and me to come up with creative and better solutions than any of us could have come up on our own.

As I gradually stepped out of my old identity, I have had many opportunities to realize so much knowledge and opinions that I had taken for granted were from a very narrow point of view.

A year ago, I was listening to a talk from a highly respected teacher in a retreat, and I dozed off! During the break, participants were discussing how amazing the teachings were, and I was embarrassed to admit that I fell asleep during most of her talk! I felt ashamed that I couldn’t stay awake.

In listening to the conversation, one of the mentors who has been friends with this teacher for decades casually said she fell asleep during the teacher’s talk all the time! It was her way of taking in the teachings. I later learned that there are people who receive knowledge at the vibrational level by drifting into a deeper state of consciousness, and that may look like falling asleep.

I am not saying that anyone falling asleep in classes and workshops are receiving vibrational knowledge : ) My point is: when we are humbled or curious enough, we can transcend limiting interpretations of our experiences. And that’s when we start seeing new possibilities and opportunities that had seemed outrageous before.

It is unfortunate that many people’s hearts get closed off due to numerous life challenges. As a self-protective mechanism, we build walls around ourselves and set low expectations. We stop believing because we don’t want to feel hurt and disappointed again. Instead of seeing life as an adventure, we see life as a chore to get through.

Having expectations can help or hurt us, depending on the context and the driver behind the expectation. Setting a clear expectation helps us establish mutual understanding of common goals. Keep in mind though that our expectations are often driven by past experiences, which can be based on incomplete or biased interpretations.

As the world continues to change and becomes more complex and unpredictable, I find it immensely helpful to have goals and desires while leaving enough room for the Creator or Higher Power to mobilize resources for us. When we choose to surrender instead of controlling, the outcome can be incredible.

I recently facilitated an energy clearing to help a woman to be more open to her path and gifts. We set the intention to clear her conscious and subconscious barriers, but we didn’t have specific expectations on what her transformations would look like.

A few days after the session, she noticed that she no longer needed her asthma medication that she had been taking for 20 years; the blocks that had prevented her from speaking fluidly also got cleared. As a facilitator of this work, I continue to be amazed by the incredible shifts clients experience. Being open and curious is the key for me.

The changes and uncertainties are accelerating at the individual and global level. Life is calling us to grow and evolve in a BIG way.

If we pay attention to the gentle prompting of what needs to change and take actions proactively, pain and suffering can often be avoided to a great extent. Otherwise, the chain of events can turn into crises that push us over the edge, and we are left with no choice but to adhere to Life’s calling.

As you set your goals and plans for this year, use the following questions to reflect on what grander version of you is trying to emerge.

What are the recurring themes around the challenges you have been facing?

Some common examples include not feeling heard, valued or appreciated; people are taking credit for your work; yearning for greater fulfillment in relationships; or looking for a second chance in life.

If your challenges represented invitations for a much-needed change, what would that be? What type of support would you need, and what is one action you will take to move closer in the new direction?

Instead of making this a mental exercise, write down your reflection and develop a plan of actions. Getting feedback from a trusted colleague or loved one can be helpful. There is power when we come together and support each other. Please don’t do this alone.

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  • Carmen Lee

    Carmen Lee is a SWE Life Member from the Sacramento Valley Section in California. Her first career of 20+ years was diverse, ranging from program management, strategic planning, leadership development, and workplace culture improvement. She now dedicates her second career in empowering change leaders to rise above their circumstances and experience peace, joy and freedom in being their Authentic Selves. You are welcome to share your reflections or ask questions by emailing Carmen at For more information about Carmen, visit