How Your High Expectations Are Holding You Back

Usually when we think about expectations holding us back, our minds immediately jump to low expectations, don’t they? A fish will only grow as large as its tank allows, and all that.

And the sentiment is completely true — if our goals are small, our accomplishments follow suit. It’s only math. But there’s another side of the problem, one that’s less discussed: the problem of high expectations.

If comparison is the thief of joy, expectation is joy’s murderer.

My husband established himself as a thoughtful gift giver right out of the gate. Valentine’s Day fell just three weeks after we made our relationship official, and in that small amount of time he somehow managed to secure a first American edition of my favorite book — The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe — which he wrapped in brown paper and twine to match the parcels Mr. Tumnus carries when he meets Lucy in the Wood.

He didn’t stop there, either. After treating me to a nice (and for broke college students, expensive) dinner at a local Italian place, he arranged for us to view Casablanca, one of my favorite films of all time, at a historic theater in downtown Birmingham.

My geeky little heart flew straight to Heaven.

But as time went on, my appreciation for his gift-giving prowess faded under the weight of skewered expectations. Because you see, when it came to the “traditional” boyfriend/fiancé/husband gifts, he isn’t so inclined. I can count on one hand the times he has given me flowers, and on one finger the times he’s given me flowers without being henpecked into it.

This lack of floral disposition bothered me, especially since I worked in an office with women whose husbands often sent dozens of long-stemmed red roses for everyone to admire. My husband was a kind, intelligent, thoughtful man — why couldn’t he have a natural inclination to send me roses, too? I didn’t even really like roses that much, but that seemed beside the point.

Before my eyes, this seed of minor irritation blossomed into a bouquet of full-blown bitterness. My incessant resentful nagging culminated in a lovely (overpriced) mixed arrangement of flowers, delivered in a quaint wicker basket on our first wedding anniversary.

The flowers were beautiful and I adored them, but something was missing. They lacked the warm fuzziness that usually accompanied his gifts, because they weren’t a token of affection. They were a negotiation tactic, offered by my emotionally exhausted husband in hopes of my approval. They were a white flag of surrender.

That day, I decided I would never nag my husband into buying me anything again. That day, I decided to be grateful for the things he chose to give me instead.

Because the truth is, I don’t even like flowers that much.

Sure, they’re nice, but they don’t do anything. They sit there, a momentary and extremely mortal decoration, and then they shrivel up and die.

My husband is a practical man. He wants to give me pretty things that aren’t just pretty. He wants to give me things I can use and enjoy for a long time. When he’s shopping for me he places special orders online, or makes several trips to multiple stores that are out of his way. The effort alone would mean so much more than a half-hearted, hen-pecked purchase of something neither of us really wanted. And the thing is, like I said in the beginning, he’s a fantastic gift giver.

He brought my flowers last Valentine’s Day. He paid nothing for them because they were leftover from a work-related promotion, and they were falling apart because he had to shove them in a box so he could bring them home on his motorcycle. Those are my favorite flowers.

Constantly re-evaluate your priorities. Have your expectations taken you higher than you were ever meant to travel? Have they been established in the wrong coordinates altogether? Whatever the answer may be, don’t let them prevent you from experiencing an even greater joy.

This piece originally appeared on Miscellany by O.