Project Practitioners > Expectations Are The Enemy

Expectations Are The Enemy

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Do you want to guarantee disappoint? Start to expect things. Expect people to act a certain way. Expect teams to produce a certain quantity. Expect plans to go well. The moment you start to expect is the moment you let disappointment creep into your situation.

Happiness equals reality divided by expectations or events minus expectations. In either case, the lower the expectations you have, the greater happiness. Expectations put an ideal scenario in place. You are going to the dog park. All dogs will get along and be nice. You leave the dog park — a nice, normal expectation.

All of a sudden, one of the dogs snaps and starts a raucous. No person or dog is injured, but the stir has everyone up in arms. Their expectation of a nice, normal day at the dog park got flipped on its head, and now everything is ruined.

The same can be said for your project or deliveries. You expect quotes to pour in once you request proposals. You expect to choose the best one of the bunch. You expect that the contractor or vendor has the expertise to live up to the pricing provided. Those expectations can derail your self-esteem and the project fairly quickly.

If your expectations are not met, and no secondary plans are made, chaos will ensue. Here are a few more ways expectations tend to hurt individuals.



Perfect is not always a reality. The production line does not create as many widgets as calculated. The soil is not as stable as the borings say. The team member that is scheduled to present gets sick the day of the speech. A word is misspelled in that presentation.

All of these areas where someone can expect perfection is bound to be fooled. Your calculations look great on paper. Your execution can be outstanding. Yet, perfection is often out of reach. The human element nearly eliminates perfection as an option.

The human nature of a lack of perfectionism does not stop a manager from expecting perfection. He or she will quote a case study stating perfect production is possible, and here’s how. They will spout off statistics on perpetual motion as if it exists. To expect perfect is to invite insanity.

Be better off by anticipating faults. Your system is great but can always be tweaked or improved. Strive for perfect but realize it is often unattainable. At least, do not expect perfection.



Stop comparing your chapter 3 to someone else’s chapter 23. Someone else is leading a team of 20 at age 35 so why shouldn’t you be the same? Replace those numbers as you see fit, but the point remains. The person you are often comparing yourself to is on a different chapter than you.

Also, their blueprint is not necessarily your blueprint. You may have similar backgrounds, education, status, and so on, yet who cares? He or she has something you want or think you need. Expecting to get there drives you to the brink of insanity. He or she is farther ahead, and you cannot figure out why.

If you cannot get out of the comparison game, start within yourself. How are you better today than yesterday? How can what you are doing today improve your tomorrow? Compare your page 1 to page 10. Yes, they should be different, but is that what you expected?

Maybe you being an entry-level project manager is not what you expected after a decade of working in management and getting educated in the profession. That expectation breeds jealousy. You want what you cannot have because you are comparing yourself to your colleagues. Stay within yourself.



Winning is not everything. Comparing your ‘losing’ efforts to someone else’s ‘winning’ effort may look very similar. The difference is slight and often a combination of more than effort and talent. If you expect to win everything, good luck never competing. And if you do compete, good luck dealing with the catastrophic taste of defeat you set yourself up for.

Not every quote is a winner. Not every plan is great. Not every team member deserves an award. The achievement is a physical gift stating you are what you already knew you were.

Take jiu jitsu as an example. You are given a blue, purple, brown, or black belt at some point if you stick with it. You are handed that belt, not because they expect you to be a blue belt at one point, but because you already are a blue belt.

The trophy is not the goal. It symbolizes what you already are. You put in the ten years of effort, and they give you the gold watch. The gold watch is not handed out at the beginning of your career as they expect you to be there ten years.



In any happiness formula you research, lowering expectations always increases happiness. Whether you divide or subtract expectations, lowering is the goal. Perfect is not possible. The moment you let go of that perfect expectation, mistakes become learning lessons, and wins become frosting.

If you want to compare, start within yourself. Be better today than who you were yesterday. Even going through the motions is better than not doing anything. Your chapters are different. Your page 121 is not the same as everyone else’s. In some circumstances, you are an example to others of what to be. Now comparing seems weird, right?

The physical rewards and achievements should be unexpected. When you start to expect a purple belt, those 3-6 months leading up to the eventual promotion is slow instead of enjoyable. If you receive a promotion when you do not expect it, that feeling is vastly different than getting an achievement when you are assuming it.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

The comments to this entry are closed.

©Copyright 2000-2017 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
About us   Site Map   View current sponsorship opportunities (PDF)
Contact us for more information or e-mail
Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

Stay Connected
Get our latest content delivered to your inbox, every other week. New case studies, articles, templates, online courses, and more. Check out our Newsletter Archive for past issues. Sign Up Now

Follow Us!
Linked In Facebook Twitter RSS Feeds

Got a Question?
Drop us an email or call us toll free:
7am-5pm Pacific
Monday - Friday
We'd love to talk to you.

Learn more about ProjectConnections and who writes our content. Want to learn more? Compare our membership levels.