How Your Expectations Can Hold You Back and Keep You Unhappy

Sad Face

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportions to my expectations.” ~Anonymous

I used to be quite the model student. I thrived at university and seemed to be meeting all the expectations of our milestone-society.

Having chosen a Business Masters at a well-established university in the Netherlands, I was being schooled for a corporate career in a multinational firm, which I thought was what I wanted for myself.

I was led to believe that a shiny-bright future was waiting for me as soon as I acquired this magical piece of paper, and who doesn’t want that? I never even gave it a second thought and just pushed myself through my studies as best as I could.

Sure, being a financially challenged student and having to pay for my own education had its struggles, but it also had its charming moments. Besides, studying came easily to me. The achievement gave me a purpose and a great sense of self-worth.

I couldn’t wait to graduate and finally start ‘real life.’ I was eager to be able to make good money, and I imagined myself happy, together with my boyfriend, living that grown-up life with all the perks that come with it.

Little did I know what was waiting for me. There was this something called an economic crisis and, although I’d put my resume online, my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook with companies begging me to work for them. Quite the opposite, actually.

I was receiving rejection after rejection, unable to get a job that was suitable for my education, and I ended up working at a coffee store for minimum wage.

I’d get up every morning at 4am to serve cappuccinos to people who were on their way to university or their grown-up jobs. I had to face those strangers covered in milk foam, feeling like I had “underachiever” written on my forehead. I felt like an absolute failure.

When I got home from work, cranky and sleep-deprived, I searched for jobs I could apply for. I would catch myself, while I was desperately applying for the jobs I’d spent so much time studying for, feeling resentment toward those jobs at the same time.

They all seemed either boring or extremely stressful, didn’t sit with my moral practices, and, above all, seemed so meaningless to me. I started to realize that getting into this corporate treadmill would set me up for a life that would make me downright unhappy and empty.

So there I was, finally graduated, my income barely covering my rent, with a big fat student loan debt and absolutely no clue what I actually wanted to do in life. Shortly thereafter, I got physically sick and, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, my relationship ended, leaving me on my own, devastated, clueless, and broke.

There it was: the ever-widening gap between my expectations and reality. To say that I was dissatisfied would be a massive understatement. It is safe to say that I was having a full-blown mental breakdown.

My entire self-worth was dependent on achievement and the love of someone else, yet now I had none of that left to cling to. I absolutely loathed myself and felt ashamed of where I was in life, convinced that there had to be something terribly wrong with me.

So how do you even begin to deal with that? I can tell you what definitely does not help (because I tried them all):

  • Spending your days at home scrolling through Facebook and comparing yourself to everyone who seems to have his or her life together.
  • Watching Netflix while binging on chocolate and pretending that the reality doesn’t exist.
  • Indulging in alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes only to wake up feeling like absolute crap.
  • Spending hours on end dwelling on the situation, overthinking and analyzing it over and over, wondering “Why me?’
  • Being too hard on yourself for not being where you want to be, talking negatively to yourself, and feeling worthless because of it.
  • Throwing yourself in the arms of the next man (or woman) who is clearly not the right partner for you, hoping he (or she) will fix you, or at least ease the pain. This leads down the path of even more drama and very ugly break ups.

These kinds of activities may lead you to think you are helping yourself, as it does bring momentary relief, but you only end up causing more damage.

I got stuck in a deep, dark depression and I had no clue how to get out of it. I spent hours lying on the floor crying my eyes out, praying for this to be over.

I decided that working on myself was the only potential course of action to get out of this mess. I started reading piles of books about personal development, I got back to my yoga practice, and I started to turn inward and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

I followed a mindfulness course and would sit down for at least thirty minutes in silence every day to practice my mindfulness meditation. It’s what turned my whole world around.

Not right away, but slowly and steadily, my mindset and perspective began to shift and, with that, my outside world changed too.

By practicing mindfulness I learned to accept what is instead of resenting and fighting it. I stopped judging both my situation and myself, which helped me to stop beating myself up over not being where I wanted to be.

It gave me the strength to let go of all my long-held expectations (many of which weren’t mine to begin with) and just be present with whatever there is now.

Before my mindfulness journey, the idea of accepting and not judging the situation sounded like defeat to me, like being passive . In university I was programmed to compete, to analyze, to strive… everything but accept.

Though it might seem like the easier way out, fully accepting the present can be quite a challenge. Yet it is the only way to move forward.

That’s the paradox, which can be sometimes hard to grasp. Only by accepting A are we able to move to B, and only by practicing this day by day did I start to experience and understand that.

That’s when you start to enjoy the journey and stop wishing you were at your end goal already. It doesn’t suddenly make the gap between what you have and what you want disappear, but it does allow you to regain your happiness.

It also creates space in your head. Space that’s no longer absorbed by negative emotions and hostile thoughts. When you learn to let go of your expectations, a big open road suddenly unfolds right in front of you. One full of new possibilities, ready and waiting for you to create your own path.

They say that every difficult experience holds a blessing within, which is so true when I look back at my situation now.

I can clearly see how this dark period in my life was a necessity for me to grow into the person that I really am. To start living the life I always wanted and pursue happiness instead of social status or material wealth.

I have now found my sweet spot and live a healthy and happy life driven by passion and love. When you trade expectations for acceptance miracles will truly happen.

Sad face image via Shutterstock

About Nadja van Osch

Nadja is a mindfulness coach, yogi, beach lover and owner of Originally from Holland, she now lives her life in Bali with her man and cat. She is blessed to share the gift of Mindfulness with others online and offline, to help them find their happiness and passion in life. Connect with her on Instagram to see what she is up to @mindfulbali.

See a typo or inaccuracy? Please contact us so we can fix it!