A Seaman's Quest

One man's search for truth


The Mystery of Expectations


The pessimist believes that the future will be far worse than the past. The optimist believes that the future holds a promise not yet realized. All people believe that they are realists who see the future accurately.

Beliefs Determine Choices

What we believe about the future defines how we will live our lives. If I believe that bad things are in store, then I will live defensively. If I believe that fortune favors the bold I will choose a riskier path.

I have always had a vivid imagination when predicting the horrors yet to come. This has often given me a tendency toward playing it safe and a hesitancy to take risks. But there is also a desire to travel, learn, grow, and change the world. This is a posture requiring some risk. Each new experience comes with the risk of something unexpected happening.

Safety and Excitement

There is a daily tension between the familiar and the exciting. This is a tension that can not be resolved. It must be managed. I will not thrive if my entire life becomes about the next meal, health, money in the bank and entertainment. I will not survive if I am living for the next thrill and adrenaline rush.

Adapting to the current need requires awareness. We must accurately assess what is most needed based on what is happening at this moment. Times of great stress make us turn toward a safe place. This calls for a smaller life and a greater focus on security.

Other times require us to make bold moves and take risks to live the big life for which we are destined. Not embracing appropriate risks will limit our lives and remove the necessary excitement that we need. The key idea is to take reasonable risks based on the circumstances of life.

Times and Seasons

There is a time to attack and a time to retreat. Making mistakes about which to do, may have disastrous consequences. Missing an opportunity for a new adventure may thwart life goals that are fundamental to my destiny. Taking on more risk when I have no margin may cause me to crash and burn. Risk is the likelihood of a bad consequence happening.

Margin is required to absorb the unexpected events that might happen. When we have no margin, each unforeseen setback may have harmful consequences on our well-being. In times of health, we can take on more risk because we can absorb more setbacks without suffering permanent harm.

Creating Expectations

Each decision we make creates expectations: getting married or divorced, going to college or dropping out, taking a job or leaving it, buying or selling a house, choosing to have children or getting rid of them. Some decisions are huge that have ripples that profoundly change the course of the rest of your life. But every day we make at least 10 decisions that have a substantial impact on our well-being.

Each time we make a decision, we are expecting a certain outcome. We believe that if we act a certain way that our life will be improved. We never anticipate that the decision will create pain for us in the future or we wouldn't do it. We always believe that we are doing the right thing.

Incomplete Understanding

Every decision is made with incomplete understanding. We never can predict all of the consequences that will occur later on. We make a choice about what we think will happen and expect a specific outcome will result from the action.

There are so many unpredictable things that are built into daily life that what we expect is often wrong. Unmet expectations are part of the reality of being human. Our emotional health depends on how we manage the many disappointments of life.


You can make a list of all the important areas of your life. These are things that are vital to your identity. Marriage, Kids, Parents, Careers, Friendships, Community, Recognition, Finances, Justice, Acceptance ... the list is quite large. Now you can look at that list and mourn over all the ways that you have been disappointed.

Undoubtedly, you will have experienced numerous disappointments in every area on your list. Reality rarely lives up to our expectations. As a flaming idealist, this disappointment hits me harder than most people.


Dealing with unmet expectations will determine our mental health to a large extent. Disappointment is inevitable and we need a strategy for how to survive and thrive with it.

Our instinct is to focus on changing our reality. This works well as long as the situation is within our control. But the biggest challenges we face, are never something that we can control. Any valid coping strategy must start by accepting the reality that is.


Reality often does not meet the expectation, but if we can't change the circumstance then the expectation must be changed to adapt to what is true. We must trade what we wish to be true for the actual truth that we face.

Acceptance is the first step to overcoming disappointment. It reorients us to survive the circumstances that cause pain rather than trying to resolve a problem that can't be fixed. This allows us to focus on solutions that do not require us to resolve the circumstance directly but work to avoid the pain that is caused by it. This gives us new freedom to think creatively. Acceptance is a requirement for coping successfully with life's disappointments.