Check Your Expectations

“You are entitled to nothing.” - Frank Underwood

Here’s a harsh thought… you’re not entitled to decent health, 70 years on the planet, having healthy children or finding a soul mate. You may know people who have those things, maybe even all of them, but you may never be one of those people.

While we all acknowledge that life is unfair, we also all throw ourselves occasional pity parties around entitlement and comparison. Sometimes it’s petty, like being grumpy over a tight income month because we can’t grab lunch with a friend at a restaurant. Sometimes, calling it a pity party is too flippant. It can be a severe and deep cut of disappointment and injustice. Like a chronic health condition that can only be managed, not cured.

But no matter the cause, the sting gets its venom from expectation. And there is benefit in recognizing and checking our assumptions about what we should be granted in life.

Take the example of life itself. Most of us want to live past 70. Many of us even expect it. But only 43% of the population of earth lives that long. It’s odd then, isn’t it, that we are shocked when friends and loved ones do not reach that age? Yes, you can say all death is tragic, but all death is also normal. We all die, and more than half of us on the planet today will die before reaching age 70.  

The fact of the matter is that life doles out privilege and blessings pretty unevenly. For example, going back to life expectancy, some are lucky enough to be born in Monaco, where the average age of death reaches 89. It’s 79 in the US and only 53 in Nigeria.

We can take solace knowing that our joy and wellbeing in life are not tied to coincidental circumstances. People can win the lottery and hate their lives while a poor fisherman spends all day grinning ear to ear. Scientists who have studied identical twins tell us that only 10% of happiness is dictated by actual life circumstance. The rest is genetics and attitude.

And part of cultivating a good attitude depends on checking expectations. In fact, we bring the value to circumstance with our expectations. Without it, a circumstance just “is,” it is not good or bad.    

This is the point of the increasingly popular Chinese proverb about the farmer whose horse ran away. The neighbor said, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

A few days later, the horse returned, leading a few wild mares back to the farm. The neighbor said, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son tried to break one of the mares and she threw him so he broke his leg. The neighbor said “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Finally, soldiers came to the village and recruited the able-bodied boys for the army and did not take the farmer’s son. The neighbor said, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

All our personal stories could be told in this same manner. Each thing that comes your way is given its status, as blessing or tragedy, by your expectations. So, the next time you’re pissed off, envious, sad, or even elated, check in with what you expected and remember, you are entitled to nothing.

Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis