Expectations vs Reality and How it Can Cause You Stress

When you were a five-year-old, what did you expect your life to be like today? My guess is you expected to have your fantasy job while being married and living in the biggest house on the nicest street.

Because that’s what we are taught to expect when we’re young, right? All those TV shows and movies tell us that as long as you want something bad enough, you can be anything you want, do whatever you like and have it all.

Life expectations can be a great basis to set your goals and trajectory for your life. But only if your expectations are realistic. And I hate to break it to you, but unless you’re a robot reading this article, studies show you probably aren’t great at predicting the future. 

Left unchecked, great expectations can lead to mental anguish, including unnecessary stress.

When the chasm between expectations vs reality grows too wide, you become susceptible to the gut-wrenchingly painful anxiety of perfectionism.

Expectations vs Reality: The perfectionism trap 

Perfectionism is a branch of anxiety that occurs when you expect more of yourself than is capable, leading to feelings of inadequacy, procrastination, stress, and severe burnout. 

Can you imagine how painful it is to live your life never living up to the unrealistic expectations you hold for yourself? You might have a fantastic family, be making a comfortable living, and have a lovely roof over your head, but if it doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s easy to disregard the things you have and stress over the things you don’t.

The origin of great life expectations

Expectations exist all around us, and they often influence the expectations we create for ourselves. 

Growing up, our parents have expectations for us to behave a certain way, get good grades at school, help out around the house,…be a “good” kid.

At school, teachers expect us to do as we’re told, never questioning their authority, constantly bowing to their will, getting the best test marks possible.

We expect our partners always to know the right thing to say at the right time.

Society puts us in boxes of expectation. Mothers are always expected to be gentle and nurturing, never angry, never getting anything wrong. Bosses are expected to know all the answers. Celebrities are expected to forfeit their privacy in exchange for their career. Scientists are expected to be able to solve all the world’s problems.

So, you see, life expectations are EVERYWHERE. We have expectations in a relationship, expectations at school, expectations at works, and even expectations of others. And the weight of being expected to be someone or do something that doesn’t align with who you are causes an internal battle that ends in an extremely stressful life.

Worse still, with the rise of social media, we’re made to believe all these extreme expectations are realistic. 


Because social media allows you to post a snapshot of your day, curated to tell the exact narrative of your life you want others to believe.

And along with these lifelong expectations, we begin to internalise them, so they become expectations we impose on ourselves. As a result, the line between what is realistically achievable and living up to expectations becomes blurred. 


Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, comparison did 

Imagine a world where media didn’t exist, and you had nothing to compare your life to. Do you think you would have as high expectations as you do now? 

Comparison is one of the biggest causes of unrealistic expectations causing severe stress.

We see others happy, and we want to know how to replicate their happiness. They make it look so easy, so naturally, we expect to replicate their success and create unrealistic expectations to do so. 

What we never imagine is all the failures that the person has had. The fact they never share when they are feeling self-doubt. Or when they are crying because they can’t take it anymore. 

Life is unexpected, and you can’t predict what the future holds for you, no matter what you do. So you just have to try your best and be true to yourself.

The question then is, how do we combat these unrealistic expectations so we can live a life full of joy and free of comparison?

The art of “good enough.”

Often, we put too much pressure on ourselves to match the expectations that are imposed on us. This means we stress over small details that most people wouldn’t even notice. 

For example, have you ever sent an email at work and spent 10 minutes scrutinising every single character to make sure it was perfect before sending it to avoid an awkward typo?

Or have you painstakingly spent hours preparing the perfect dish for your partner’s family, resting the weight of whether they’ll like you on the success of the food? 

The only way to beat unrealistic expectations and perfectionism is by managing your expectations and learning to accept being good enough.

This doesn’t mean you can’t aim your goals high, but it does mean knowing when enough is enough and not stressing about being perfect. 

Because as humans, we’re imperfect. We are flawed. And that’s ok. Rather than try and hide this like a sinful secret, embrace your imperfection and put more value in your happiness and what you think of yourself than trying to match up to unreachable expectations. 

You’ll find that once you can accept yourself for your imperfections, life gets a whole lot easier, and stress is reduced ten-fold. Because good enough is attainable. Good enough allows you to succeed. And succeeding will send your self-esteem skyrocketing!

You are enough; you have enough

The other way to combat unrealistic expectations is to practice gratitude.

Unrealistic expectations tend to come from a sense of feeling something is missing. There’s a missing puzzle piece that once you find it, your life will magically mend itself and become the perfect vision you always had for yourself. 

Except that puzzle piece doesn’t exist. And raising your expectations looking for it is a recipe for misery.

Instead, practice being thankful for everything you have in your life and how far you’ve come. 

Be thankful for the journeys you’ve been on and the lessons you’ve learned on the way.

Because, my friend, your unrealistic expectations are holding you back from the life you love.

So, I urge you to write down one unrealistic expectation you have in your life right now and decide how you’re going to make it realistic to your circumstances and start striving for that instead.

And watch how your life begins to change before your very eyes. 

You are enough

Expectation vs Reality Quotes

  • “So learn one thing, that to expect is bad and that the world is not here to fulfill your expectations.” - Osho
  • “You know how you let yourself think that everything will be alright if you can only go to certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it's not that simple.” - Richard Adams, Watership Down
  • “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” - Donald Miller
  • “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” - Stephen R. Covey
  • “It doesn't matter what you expected, but you must accept what reality offers to you at the end.” - Mwanandeke Kindembo
  • “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” - Alexander Pope
  • “You’ll never be enough for those whose expectations and perceptions of you are stagnant.” - Kristin Michelle Elizabeth
  • “More and more it's deliciousness I want but all the time there's less of it.” - Deborah Landau
  • “If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.” - Sylvia Plath

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