The anxiety of expectations

When expecting…we dream about a future self.

We set up goals, we set up expectations and take actions towards achieving these “great future self” validations. Depending on our efforts, on the way we seize the opportunities, sometimes we meet these great expectations of ourselves. And yes, it feels great! But what happens when we get stuck on the way? What does it happen with the image of ourselves if we fail our own goals? Is it true that there are more things/ways to explore in order to make ourselves satisfied with own predictions?

Well, what does it take to be satisfied with ourselves? Satisfaction with ourselves does not require us to succeed in every area of endeavour. We are not always humiliated by failing at things; we are humiliated only if we first invest our pride and sense of worth in a given achievement, and then do not reach it. Our goals determine what we will interpret as a triumph and what must count as a failure.

John had invested his pride in being a professor of economics at Harvard, had invested his pride in being a prominent economist. Therefore, if other knew more economics than he did, he would, he admitted, feel envy and shame. However, because he had never set himself the task of learning ancient Greek, that someone  could translate the whole of the Symposium whereas he struggled with the opening line was a matter of no concern.

With no attempt there can be no failure and with no failure no humiliation. So our self-esteem in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities.


John’s equation illustrates how every rise in our levels of expectation entails a rise in the dangers of humiliation. What we understand to be normal is critical in determining our chances of happiness. This equation also guides us at two manoeuvres for raising our self-esteem:

a) we may try to achieve more

b) we may reduce the number of things we want to achieve.

We might be tempted to go for the second option, and we might hear ourselves saying: “Thank GOD, those illusions are gone” because at the end, everything added to the self is a burden as well as a pride.

Unfortunately for our self-esteem, societies of the West world are not known for their conduciveness to the surrender of pretensions, to the acceptance of age or fat, let alone poverty and obscurity. The Western world is driven, ego focused, always wanting more challenges, more pretentions. We are urged to invest ourselves in activities and belongings that our predecessors would have not thought of.

Back to our character John, by greatly increasing our pretentions, higher and higher, for our society to render the adequate self-esteem becomes almost impossible to secure.

But what is the danger of disappointed expectation then? Is to erode the faith in a new world, a new us. Those who can believe that what happens on earth is but a brief prelude to an external existence will offset any tendency to envy the thought that the success of others is a momentary phenomenon against the backdrop of an eternal life.

But when a belief in a next world is interpreted as childish and scientifically impossible opiate, the pressure to succeed and fulfill oneself will inevitably be inflamed by the awareness that there is only a single and frighteningly brief opportunity to do so. Earthly achievements can no longer be seen as an overture to what one may realize in another world, they are the sum total of all one will ever be.

At the end, the price we have paid for expecting to be so much more than our ancestors is a perpetual anxiety that we are far from being all we might be.

Beside the long and draining fight against our ancestors and because of the nature of our economy, another evident feature of expectations anxiety is uncertainty.  

We contemplate the future in the knowledge that we may be thwarted by colleagues or competitors, we may find we lack the talents to fulfill our chosen goals or we may steer into an inauspicious current in the swells of the market place – any failure being compounded by the possible success of peers.

Our self-image becomes a dependent variable; depends on talent, depends on luck, depends on an employer, on profit, on global economy.

Solution to anxiety?

Well, insight and self-knowledge.

The more we rely our opinions on other people, the more addicted we become and less alive eventually.

“We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people when we acquire an adequate knowledge of the superficial and futile nature of their thoughts, of the narrowness of their views, of the paltriness of their sentiments, of the perversity of their opinions and of the number of their errors…We shall then see that whoever attaches a lot of value to the opinions of others pays them too much honour” Arthur Schopenhauer, leading model in philosophical misanthropy.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s