Thursday, March 4, 2010

Expectations: The Perfect Dream

Let's talk about expectations. What is it? How do we develop them? Are they realistic or not? And what happens when life doesn't meet our expectations, whatever they may be: relationships, job success, living standards, and so on. And should one hold any sort of expectations in life?

So lets jump right into this discussion with some definitions, so we really get a feel for what we are asking and talking about. And then, we will move deeper into this discussion.


One website defines Expectations as:
    1. The act of expecting.
    2. Eager anticipation: eyes shining with expectation.
  1. The state of being expected.
    1. Something expected: a result that did not live up to expectations.
    2. expectations Prospects, especially of success or gain.
  2. Statistics.
    1. The expected value of a random variable.
    2. The mean of a random variable.
The same website defines Success as:

  1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted: attributed their success in business to hard work.
    1. The gaining of fame or prosperity: an artist spoiled by success.
    2. The extent of such gain.
  2. One that is successful: The plan was a success.
And again, the same website (yeah I like this website), defines Competition as:

  1. The act of competing, as for profit or a prize; rivalry.
  2. A test of skill or ability; a contest: a skating competition.
  3. Rivalry between two or more businesses striving for the same customer or market.
  4. A competitor: The competition has cornered the market.
The same website defines an Ideal as:

  1. A conception of something in its absolute perfection.
  2. One that is regarded as a standard or model of perfection or excellence.
  3. An ultimate object of endeavor; a goal.
  4. An honorable or worthy principle or aim.
    1. Of, relating to, or embodying an ideal.
    2. Conforming to an ultimate form or standard of perfection or excellence.
  1. Considered the best of its kind.
  2. Completely or highly satisfactory: The location of the new house is ideal.
    1. Existing only in the mind; imaginary.
    2. Lacking practicality or the possibility of realization.
  3. Of, relating to, or consisting of ideas or mental images.
  4. Philosophy.
    1. Existing as an archetype or pattern, especially as a Platonic idea or perception.
    2. Of or relating to idealism.
The Building Of Expectations

From an early age we, as both male and female children, are bombarded with images of what the ideal man or woman is supposed to be, what relationships are supposed to be, what success truly is, how we must compete with others to achieve that success, and so on. Let's look at how, from our formative years when we are at our most impressionable, we are conditioned to have certain and specific expectations later in our lives, individually, through gender, and as a whole.

The things that we will be focusing on, are by far not the only influencing factors that should be considered. These are but a few of the more obvious ones which help to shape a person's perceptions of the world and how they will interact in it. So when you read this, try to think of other contributing factors which might add to certain and specific perceptions people carry with them through their journeys of life.
One comes to believe whatever one repeats to oneself sufficiently often, whether the statement be true of false. It comes to be dominating thought in one's mind.
~~Robert Collier
The Female

Young girls are often given toys that perpetuate a specific type of ideal for the developed woman, which tends to adhere to the back of their minds. Take Barbie, for instance. She is gorgeous, with her long shiny blond hair, blue eyes, buxom figure and perfect proportions. And girls, over many generations (because Barbie has been a mainstay on the market for kids for over 50 years) have played with her, enacting fantasy lives of relationships, dramas, and all kinds of other things, using her as the ideal they represent themselves with as they play.

Barbie even comes with her own built in boyfriend, who has existed, if not for quite as long as Barbie herself, for a long time, as well. His name is Ken and isn't he 'dreamy'? He's the perfect boyfriend, who is handsome (to an extreme) with his perfect features, muscles, and his devotion to Barbie. He is, to the girl who plays with this set of toys, an ideal for the man she will look for later in life, with the same attributes she associated with Ken when she played with him as a child.

We must not forget the fairy tale aspect of this, as well, with whimsical stories told by the likes of Disney, where in the virtuous and (always) beautiful maiden is being repressed and/or abused in some way, and then is rescued by a prince who is handsome and the epitome of chivalry and gentlemanly comportment.

Take Cinderella as an example. She is a fair maiden who is being oppressed and abused by her stepmother and her two step sisters. And the one who ends up saving her, rescuing her from her horrid existence, is a prince who takes her away to a castle and marries her. Its a rags to riches story that makes every young girl's heart throb and enables them to dream of their future relationships through the tinted window set forth by such fables.

Such iconic figures of beauty, romance, and perfection are all around us from models who walk the catwalk to beauty photos in magazines, and beyond. And all of these things help to shape the perceptions a young girl will carry into her adult life, into her adult relationships, and into other aspects of her life, as well. And despite what culture this is or what icons are used (speaking to culturally specific icons of the ideal female), it still plays a large part of building the perceptions of the child, which they will carry with them into adulthood.

The Male

Young boys are often given, as opposed to females who are given dolls to play with, guns and iconic figures which represent what is considered the ideal male figures. One example of this is GI Joe. This is a team of diverse men (and a few women thrown in for the heck of it), who are considered ideal soldiers in peek condition, who are highly trained to fight evil ~ that of Cobra, which is an evil organization bent on leaving chaos and destruction in there wake, wherever they go.

Then there are other iconic figures, from comic books (even older than Barbie), television shows and/or cartoons, and movies, such as Superman. Superman is the epitome of everything that is good. He's dubbed affectionately as 'The Boyscout' because of just how good he is. He's handsome, strong, brave, has superpowers, is successful, and is just an all around great guy who selflessly puts himself in harms way to save/help people who are in need.

Boys who play with the toys that are associated with these icons, enact scenarios in which they, as their iconic action figures, become superheros and save the day from certain destruction or overwhelming evil forces. And this helps set the tone for how they are expected to behave and what they are expected to achieve later in life.

On top of this, young boys, are exposed to all kinds of media ads about women: what true beauty is and looks like, what to find attractive in a mate, and what is considered ugly. Thin is better than fat, generally (at least through the media's perception of beauty). And there are many other superficial traits which are deemed as 'pretty' because of societal perceptions of beauty, as well as media ones.

All of these things play on the developing perceptions of a young boy as he is growing up. They shape what he thinks and feels toward those around him, later in life. They shape how he will behave toward others, as well. So it is extremely important to understand that these things quite literally help to shape the way men interact in society as a whole, along with how they will interact on a more personal level in their closer relationships.

Beyond Gender

Kids, from a young age into adolescence, are often taught that to succeed in life they must compete. Now this does not necessarily mean that they are encouraged to compete physically. There are all kinds of competitions which come in many forms: intellectual, physical (athletic), musical, and otherwise.

In the intellectual sphere this can be seen through grades. Perhaps they are encouraged to do well in school, and compete with others to make the honor roll. Perhaps this escalates into making all A's. And perhaps there is undue pressure placed upon the child and/or adolescent to achieve. There may even be guilt associated with it, if failure to live up to these expectations occurs, which pushes the child to work harder to achieve the goals set before them.

In the physical arena, what this means is that children/adolescents are encouraged to be physically active in some type of sport and compete. This could be anything from running, to gymnastics, to baseball, to football, to tennis to....well just about any other kind of physical sport that exists.

The point is, despite what venue the conditioning comes from, children are conditioned to perceive certain things as keys to being 'successful' through competition.

Ironically there are even people out there who offer suggestions, rules, and keys to success (sometimes for a price and sometimes not). They say that they have a way to make you successful, and for anyone, adolescent or adult, who does not feel as though they have achieved their goals in life, this might sound like a god send. And for some it might be, while for others its just another thing to try and fail at. Let's look at one such list of suggestions shall we? (note you can see the full sized image by clicking on the image itself)

Realistic Expectations Vs. Unrealistic Expectations

Now that we've looked at the definitions and discovered some of the ways certain expectations are developed within people, lets look at realistic expectations and unrealistic expectations. Because this discussion isn't to say that one shouldn't hold any expectations in life. More to the point, it is to discover what some viable expectations are compared to some that just aren't realistic.

The Prince Charming

Many adolescent and adult women hold certain expectations about their relationships. These expectations not even be consciously realized, either. But, what some are dreaming of (and I say some here), is a gallant knight on a white steed coming along to carry them away from their humdrum lives or to save them from the suffering, abuse or trauma that they are suffering in their lives. They want a savior.

Does this harken you back to the part of this discussion where we talked about fairy tales and Barbie? Interesting, isn't it?

The Perfect Body

Many adolescent and adult women desperately want the perfect body. They will even go to such extreme lengths as eating disorders, body modification through plastic surgery, and constant dieting (not specifically eating disorder related though). And this is based on what they perceive as beautiful, due to the media perception of beauty which is all around them.

Does this remind you, yet again, of our discussion about Barbie? Again, its interesting, don't you think?

The Perfect Man

Men have specific criteria they tend to live by, in order to feel as though they are good men, successful men, good lovers, good providers, a great catch (for women), good fathers, good protectors, and so on. These criteria might differ from individual male to individual male, but all men tend to possess this to some degree or another. It has been ingrained into them to the degree that they identify themselves with these ideals.
"The gyms you go to are crowded with guys trying to look like men, as if being a man means looking the way a sculptor or an art director says."
~~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 6
Perhaps, for a specific man, he was raised, from a young age, to believe real men didn't show emotion because they must be perceived as strong at all times. He was given toy guns to play soldier, cops/robbers, and other games with. He was given video games, comic books, magazines, and television programs which also reinforced the idea of being unemotional as a protector, which was equated with a 'real man'.

These ideas tend to carry over, as we've said throughout this discussion. Does this remind you of our discussion about G.I. Joe and Superman? Intriguing, isn't it?

The Ideal Woman: Through The Eyes Of A Man

Most of the time, what a man considers his ideal woman, at least at a superficial level, is beauty. This is because he tends to see magazines, videos (even the more risque videos and magazines), and other media publicity about what is truly beautiful in this world. Perhaps its a certain feature they find appealing. Perhaps its simply a big chest. All of these are possibilities. It isn't until later, that the male finds real commonality with a female, beyond the more superficial traits that attracted them in the first place.

Again, does this remind you about our discussion of what young boys are generally exposed to? Again, it is definitely intriguing.

Realistic Vs. Unrealistic

All of the above examples are, for the most part, unrealistic expectations of what they can expect in their lives. Does this say that it is unrealistic for everyone, though? No. There are always exceptions to the rule. The point here is to understand that those are few and far between, and hoping that you are that exception to the rule, blinds you to very real possibilities that come your way because you are effectively holding out for 'what could be'.

I met a very nice woman recently, who went on and on about twin flames. After a procession of failed relationships, and even several failed marriages, she dreamed of meeting the perfect man. He would be someone who completely understood her, even to the point that she did not even need to speak for him to understand her feelings and thoughts. He would also be someone who was her spiritual counterpart.

Now, do these things exist? Who am I to naysay their existence one way or another? Who am I to judge, really? But the chances of her finding that one person, out of 6 billion people, who is her spiritual counterpart and soulmate, are extremely low. And in holding onto that ideal, she has effectively passed up a number of men who would have been excellent matches for her. But because they did not fit her ideal, she shut them out and walked away from them without really giving them a chance.
“Time is swift, it races by; Opportunities are born and die... Still you wait and will not try - A bird with wings who dares not rise and fly.”
~~A. A. Milne
This is what I mean by realistic and unrealistic expectations. It is not a bad thing to hope and dream for someone who, as she describes it, is her twin flame. But it is also not realistic to cling so hard to that ideal that you pass up chance after chance at happiness because it does not fit the criteria you outlined for your happiness. Happiness can occur at the most random moments and in the strangest of places, if we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to it.

Earlier we discussed competition and success, and how conditioning can push us forward to achieve our goals. And this, taken at face value, is an extremely positive thing. It can bring on happiness and satisfaction with life. But what if that conditioning is carried to far?

What if a parent pushes their child to hard to make A honor roll? What if a parent pushes a child to hard to be a success in athletics? What if a parent pushes their vicarious and unfulfilled dreams onto their child, in the hopes of making them achieve what the parent was unable to do? What if a parent sees their child's success as their meal ticket (such as in show business or athletics)?
“It is important not to have the unrealistic expectation that we will find a magic key to help get rid of all suffering. It takes determination, patience, and more than one week.”
~~Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama quotes (Dalai Lama, b.1935)
This driving need for perfection, be it in relationships, sports, intellect, or whatever else you wish to apply it to, is extremely unrealistic. It does not say that one can not achieve greatness through hard work. That's been proven time and time again. But, sometimes, at what price?
"Dreaming is one thing, and working towards the dream is one thing, but working with expectations in mind is very self-defeating."
~~Michael Landon
Setting realistic goals, with the hopeful expectation of achieving those goals, is admirable. Living a life that makes you happy, whatever that may be, is a true blessing. Doing what you love, is a god send. And being who you truly are, and not what others want you to be because of their expectations of you or what you imagine you should be based on your own unrealistic expectations of yourself, is a thing to be fought for.

Dreams of perfection are wonderful things. And they are beautiful things to strive for. But somewhere in the middle, remember that you are there and you deserve happiness, even if you have not reached your ideal. And that you are, just as you are now, a special person. So, think about it.
“The best things in life are unexpected - because there were no expectations.”
~~Eli Khamarov

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