Expat expectations. From within ourselves and from others. From people we love and people we don’t really know. The way we are supposed to be. Meeting standards. Huge pressure.
As human beings, we function naturally with expectations. We wait and hope for something to happen, and this something should be in the way we imagined, dreamed and hoped.
“I don’t have to do anything”
In Vienna, I learned a lot of things. One of them that I’m most grateful for is this phrase: “Ich muss gar nicht” (I don’t have to do anything). You often listen to it as a somewhat ill-mannered response to the other who demands something.
For example: “you have to give this older person a seat”, “you have to speak more clearly”, “you have to study”, “you have to get a job”. The reflex answer is “I don’t have to do anything”.
I LOVE this phrase, and it became a significant part of my life. It comes to me as a reflex when I hear “you have to…”. And regardless of whether or not I do it, repeating that phrase, aloud or just for me, is infinitely liberating.
It is not your responsibility to meet other’s expectations. Who measures how realistic and reasonable expectations are?
That, of course, is valid too for the people you are expecting something from. Who says that your expectations are reasonable for your counterpart? You? Your friends? Society?
What are expectations?
They are assumptions and beliefs of what “should be”. Of what we want to be/see/share of ourselves and our environment. They are based mostly on our learning, both social and individual, and what our cultural environment dictates us. Even if we don’t want it or we try to rebel against it, we have them internalized, and it’s very, very difficult to get rid of them.
The problem starts when the expectations we have and that we have fed with hope and anticipation do not match with the reality we encounter. Then we begin to suffer, to lament, to punish ourselves, to blame the whole world.
The phrases that include “should” are loaded with tremendous pressure, as I mentioned in a paragraph above. This pressure to meet expectations, whether on ourselves or others, is counterproductive and can produce feelings of anger, disappointment, guilt and even shame because it is unreal to think that we can meet the expectations of others and vice versa. Sooner or later, we are going to fail. Because we are human and because we don’t have control of everything that happens. Also, people change. Furthermore, expectations change too!
Expat Expectations are a thing
Throughout my personal and professional experience with expats, one of the most common words is frustration. The frustration of arriving in a new country and not being able to achieve all of what we hoped to achieve or, even worse, what we believed others expected us to achieve.
When we have troubles fulfilling the objectives we set ourselves when migrating, we fall into a spiral of anger, frustration and sadness. This spiral’s intensity frequently corresponds to the level of expectations that we had set to achieve some of those goals.
However, those expectations that hurt the most when not accomplished are the ones we put on people: your partner, family, friends, colleagues.
Simply said: the more we expected, the more frustrated and sad we are if those people don’t live up to our expectations.
Are Expat Expectations somewhat useful?
According to my perspective, they are quite harmful and not useful. Yet, we are so conditioned to have expectations, that it is better to find the positive side, right?
They can help us to imagine scenarios before some goal that we want to reach and to establish different ways of action in case the original plan does not work as we want. To dream, to get excited, even to be creative.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to stop the impulse to fulfill everything we expect and is expected from us. Moving only according to internal and external expectations is exhausting, drains us of energy and sooner or later causes stress and knocks us down because it is impossible!
How can you hack expat-expectations? Three rules to bear in mind
1.- Don’t assume the other knows what you want.
We tend to take for granted that people close to us “should” (oh no, that word again!) know us.
“If he knows me, he’ll know I’d like to have breakfast in bed today.”
“If my mom loves me, she should call me more often.”, etc. You get the point.
Express what you want. Not with riddles, puzzles or scavenger hunts. So simple and straight forward as possible. Especially when you have a language barrier, even if it’s minimal, it is your responsibility as the sender, that the recipient understands precisely what you want to say.
Related to the latter. But this is more global.
If you think that someone is expecting something from you, ask:
- Do you want something in particular?
- Do you expect (gasp) something from me? If you do, what?
- Can I do that?
- Why do you want me to do/achieve that?
The goal is to provide you with peace of mind and information, so you can start a negotiation of expectations.
Be proactive and ask, don’t imagine that the other has expectations from you. A LOT of what you think that the others are expecting is only in your head.
You can save yourself a lot of anxiety, anger and sadness if you just ask.
3.- Accept it and try again
Even if I tell you to try not to have expectations, it is almost impossible not to have them. And if you couldn’t follow the rule 1 or 2, then 3 is a great option. Your expectations were not met. Allow yourself to feel sad and disappointed about it.
Then move on. Try again. With new strategies you will learn from mistakes.
Always ask yourself what you want. And try to use rule 1 and 2 as much as you can with your loved ones, and above all, with yourself.
Don’t punish yourself when things don’t go as planned. Learn from it. And embrace failure as the beginning of future success.
It is difficult, but you can pay attention to what you really want and need and no longer adapt your actions to what others expect from you.
By understanding and differentiating expectations, we also take away their relevance and influence, it helps us to understand and accept, to be more flexible and empathetic. We permit ourselves to be the way we want to be and allow the ones we love the freedom to be the way they really are. And that’s a beautiful relief.
So, for now, repeat “I don’t have to do anything”, “I don’t have to do anything”. And say goodbye to the damaging expat expectations.
Do get in touch with me if you need help to navigate the challenges of your international life, I’m here for you. You are not alone!
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