Managing Great Expectations

If there’s something good about to happen to my family, chances are solid, like, around 95%, that my kids know nothing about it. They’re going along in their daily lives and BAM! Disneyland or KAPOW! Ice cream sundaes. I try to always catch them off guard. Always. Why all the secrecy?

Do I love surprises?


Do I also not want to see the looks on my kids’ faces if I tell them something seriously rad is gonna go down and then, after weeks of anticipation, Disneyland runs out of batteries or all the ice cream goes on strike?


So I keep their expectations low and then shock them with awesomeness. But, I’ve run into a problem with this line of thinking. I’ve noticed recently that I’ve started to set low expectations for life, for the world, for the people I love.

Too often I find myself assuming the worst, stressing out because I’m sure something bad is going to happen and then feeling mild relief when the ceiling doesn’t cave in.

This is a sucky way to live.

So, I’ve decided to start managing my expectations a different way. I want to see what will happen if I expect everything to be amazing.

I gave this a try recently and it was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time.

It was a crazy day. The kids left for school at 8am and we ran from school to activity to activity, not getting them back home until after what sane people would consider bedtime.

Our bathroom fan had been broken for a few weeks and “It’s past time to fix it,” said the mildew. I bought a fan over a week earlier, looked up instructions on YouTube, investigated the attic, and then gave up, sure the job would be a nightmare. I have a huge fear of attics. They have rats. And itchy insulation. And spiders. And dark mysterious corners. And the possibility of crashing through the sheetrock if you take one wrong step.

But if I was in a new training mode to expect everything to go well, to expect great things, then why not go for it?

I decided that I would install the fan triumphantly and it would be my greatest YouTube School of HandyWomanry coup. I gathered all the necessary tools, got Wanda set up playing in the room below the opening, hauled some huge boards up the ladder to give me a more stable work surface, and flipped the circuit breakers.

And then I dropped the ceiling panel on the ground and broke off a big chunk. I persisted. I expected to be successful. And then I found that the people who installed the original fans were idiots and that the joists in my attic were too small and the fan hole was in the wrong place and the wiring was crazy and there was no humanly possible way for me to do the repair.

So I left all the tools in the attic, vacuumed the chunks of drywall and insulation from the floor, washed the cobwebs and insulation from my hair and body and closed up shop for the day. But, we were one hour and a ton of information closer to fixing the problem, and I didn’t stress about it, and I was so proud of myself for trying, only possible because I expected the best and went through with a plan.

Then I needed to kill an hour while Laylee was at ballet so I took the kids to Costco, as usual, but I decided beforehand that we were going to have the most fun ever. And guess what? We did.

That night we planned to attend a church meeting that I wasn’t jazzed about, so I decided to get jazzed about it, to assume it would be fun and informational and a great experience for me and the kids. And guess what? It was pretty awesome.

Previously, I had no real interest in the subject matter, but they made it come alive in an engaging way. Old men singing campfire songs and people launching rockets and riding a zipline in the conference center where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings. Need I say more?

I would rather spend my entire life expecting to be delighted, only to be disappointed every once in a while, than live in a constant state of impending doom, only to be periodically surprised by goodness.

My goodness to doom ratio needs to grow much higher than it currently is. I think it takes practice, but it’s a fun skill to spend time cultivating.

Magoo says, “Mom?”

I think, “I wonder what amazing thing he’s going to tell me. Let me prepare to soak up his cuteness,” instead of my usual, “What’s wrong NOW?!”

Dan says, “I have something to tell you when I get home.”

I think, “Oooo. I love surprises,” instead of, “Did he lose his job, or did he get laid off? Where will live? How long will the Macaroni supplies hold?”

What do you expect from your life?

I spend about 95% of my life anticipating what will happen, expecting things to happen, and maybe 3% having things actually happen. 2% of my life is spent sleeping. So, if I am expecting sadness and doom, then I will be spending about 95% of my life living in a place of fear and anxiety and 3% or less experiencing joy. I say 3% or less because maybe a fraction of one percent of the things that happen in my life are actually doom-filled things. Most of my experiences are really good.

But, if I decide to expect joy, friendship, love, and fun, then I’ll spend the majority of my life dwelling in that place. And, oops, every once in a while unexpected doom will descend and I’ll deal with it.

Zombie Apocalypse on the horizon? Surprise me. I’ll store munitions and jello just in case, but I’ll assume I’ll never have to use them and, in the meantime, I’ll be looking for fluffy bunnies and marshmallow peeps to come moaning down the street. They’re much more fun to contemplate.

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4 Responses to Managing Great Expectations

  1. Megan says:

    Thank you for this post–it’s perfect. I am a doom and gloomer, too, and need to change my ways!

  2. Jill says:

    I’ve been thinking the same things around my house, too! Especially when one of the kiddos approaches. It’s an instant “what’s wrong.” I have decided that we need to be more positive, and then by expecting positive we will experience positive. We are working on appropriate responses, too. My younger son has a melt-down anytime something doesn’t go his way. It getting beyond ridiculous. I like to think that we can control th happiness in our lives. Great post.

    BTW, the 100 years of Scouting WAS amazing. I was sad that I didn’t take the tickets that were offered to me. My son and I (or my hubby and my son) would have had a great time seeing it in person. We merely watched it on BYU TV. School night. Did you get to go to the Conference Center, or did you watch from your Stake Center? Either way, wow.

  3. Catherine says:

    Love this, Kathryn! I have been trying to do the same thing with my three boys, and it makes all the difference. I want them to KNOW how much I love them, in a way that is deep and penetrating, to the very center of their little souls, so that when they are older and teenaged and not sure how they feel about us or God or their faith or whatever, at least they will KNOW how much my husband and I love them! I want them to know it so thoroughly, it would be impossible for them to doubt it. But how can they know that if I treat them with indifference or exasperation? I have a ways to go (a long ways, some days!) but this is so important and I am trying.

    Thank you for your insightful words and thoughts. You are truly a gifted writer!

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