skip to main content

Unrealistic Expectations

“Expectations are resentments just waiting to happen.”


            Small business owners and entrepreneurs are people who generally believe in themselves.  We set high expectations for ourselves with the belief we will always meet them.  As a general rule, small business owners and entrepreneurs do not see failing to meet expectations in ourselves as a setback.  We just start over.

Problems begin, however, when we set expectations in other people, and they fail to meet those expectations.

Unrealistic Expectations

The problem of expectation occurs when we expect something to happen without good reasons for that expectation.   When I simply expect someone to succeed based only on the rationale that I want them to succeed, then I’m setting myself up for disappointment.

As an example to demonstrate how expectations work, assume you want a cup of coffee.  You can’t make a cup of coffee just by thinking it into existence.

You have to take the necessary steps to make it happen. You have to grind the beans, put the coffee and water in a coffee maker, and push the button. Just expecting a cup of coffee to appear is delusional.

This scenario is the same when our expectations involve other people. Most of us are sane enough to realize that expecting a cup of coffee to materialize from our thoughts is unrealistic. Yet many of us at some point have mistakenly believed that expecting other people to behave the way we want will actually make them behave that way.

What happens is when we make unrealistic expectations, and they are not fulfilled, we automatically develop a resentment.  We become either angry, anxious, sad or feel shame—none of which is beneficial to our business.

Business Application

Unrealistic expectations occur in business both by the employee and employer.

Frequently, new employees come into a business full of hope and promise.  Maybe they did not understand everything that was discussed in the interview, and maybe the interviewer painted a rosier picture of company life than existed.  Nonetheless, employees frequently develop resentments because of unrealistic expectations of their new company.

Employers frequently have unrealistic expectations of employees.  Bosses become disappointed when unrealistic deadlines are not met, the quality of work is considered insufficient, and sales quotas are unmet, even though none of these expectations were discussed and agreed to.


In nearly all cases of unrealistic expectations, the root of the problem is lack of communication or miscommunication.  Better two-way communications resolve much of the issues created by unrealistic expectations

But, since we are all human and creating unrealistic expectations is part of our nature, here are several tactics to apply that should help avoid or mitigate our natural tendencies of setting unrealistic expectations.

  1. Catch your unrealistic expectations with curiosity and humor. Learn to see when expectations are unintentionally set.  Acknowledge and apologize for setting unrealistic expectations and find humor in how unrealistic they were.
  2. Reflect on the effects of your expectations. Did you need to set any expectations in the first place?  For example, was your expectations of a high-quality product, necessary or even reasonable?
  3. Practice compassion. Don’t be too hard on yourself for setting unrealistic expectations and then they do not materialize.  Forgive yourself and learn from the experience.

The Bible

Probably the greatest unrealistic expectation is for a Christian to believe that by believing in Christ, life would get easier.   It does get easier, but not in the way many wants.  Becoming a believer does not mean you know all the answers, your problems disappear, and everyone is happy.

All things work together for good for those that love God and are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28).

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1).

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3).

“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).

These verses do sound like life will become easy, but in the context of the Bible, they are not about how our individual lives will be at any given instance.  Christians will go through trials, Christians are also sinners, and Christians are human.

God’s plan for us covers a long time, actually for an eternity.  What we do have is a God to lean on for help, advice, and comfort, and that is all we really need to expect.

Setting unrealistic expectations for others and yourself is natural.  Improve your communication skills, be humble, always forgive others and yourself, and most importantly, know what God expects of you.  That is all you really can expect.