The Root Of All Heartache

Evil Image
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
William Shakespeare

We have expectations of what work should be and it’s not working.

The solution is simple to say, but extremely difficult to actually practice.  

If we want to rid ourselves of this problem, what we need to do is rid ourselves of expectations.

The fundamental problem with expectations is that they are subjective ideas of how the world ought to be.  

Think of the language that often gets used.  

My company should provide a better healthcare plan.  My boss should listen to all of my ideas.

The unpleasant truth we all need to face is that the world is rarely how we think it should be.  

This is true in everything from politics to restaurant service and everything in between.  The world will never be ideal, and we need to let go of the expectation it should be.

In practice, this means we need to come into work every day with a new mindset, a mindset of appreciation and curiosity. 

Instead of expecting anything, let’s be open to whatever happens. 

Let’s appreciate the opportunity and look for experiences to make a contribution. 

For better or for worse, there is always something to learn and a way to impact the world.

Putting this idea into practice can be really challenging, but in this guide you will find a few tips to get you started.



The first and most challenging step is to be aware of your emotions.  

Are your emotions indicating that there is a mismatched expectation present?

Some emotions to look out for: anger, disgust, upsettedness, disappointment, or contempt.  

Understand these feelings before being swept away by them.

Something to try:

  • If you feel any strong emotion, whether that be happiness, anger, or frustration, try to pause and take a deep breath.  
  • Ask yourself the question, why do I feel this way?

For example, if you’re very happy, it might be because you expected to do well in a presentation and you did.  Notice that your expectations were met.  Or perhaps you got a surprise raise.  Your expectation (that your salary would remain the same) was surpassed. On the other hand, perhaps you’re upset because a coworker didn’t get you information you needed.  She didn’t meet your expectation.

Regardless, note what happened.  

Your emotion is a reaction to your expectations.

As you identify your expectations, strive to rid yourself of them (again, this is easy to say, but hard to practice- but the more you practice the better you will get).  

An Example

Let’s say you have it rough - no job and no income.

Take pictures of your living situation, your clothes, what you eat - anything that highlights your condition.

If you are a person who takes action and has plans to get out of the situation at some point in the future, these pictures will prove invaluable.

When you finally find work, have an decent income, take pictures again of your living situation, your clothes, what you eat. These should be things you used to be dissatisfied with.

If your job was not what you expected then sit down and compare the pictures side by side.

Look at where you used to live or what you used to eat and if life is now better than it used to be, change your expectation into appreciation.

Sometimes we forget our previous conditions when we accomplish the things we want. Of course it’s not going to be just like we imagined when we accomplish our goals. But if we take the time to appreciate our hard work and actually have pictures to compare, the job of learning how to appreciate will get easier.

As often as possible, exchange your expectations for openness and curiosity.

For example, let’s say that you recently floated an idea casually by a coworker.  

It’s an idea you’re passionate about, but your coworker couldn’t seem to care less.

Instead of being frustrated that your expectation of your coworker being excited didn’t come to fruition, reflect on the exchange with openness.  

Did you catch your coworker at a bad time?

Is it possible your idea isn’t as noteworthy as you thought it was? 

If you’re still passionate about your idea, what are some other ways you could work at getting the support you desire?

By ridding ourselves of expectations, we see several benefits.  

First, with practice, it helps limit the negative emotions we often encounter at work.  

But perhaps even more important, we start reflecting on our work in a more meaningful way, hopefully providing a deeper insight into our own working lives. 



Step 1

How often are you aware of your emotions? 

How often are you swept by your feelings when expectations aren’t met?

When you felt a strong emotion, did taking a deep breath help?

Did asking yourself the question, why do I feel this way, help?

Did taking notes on your emotions in different situations help?


Step 2

How easily were you able to identify your expectations?

Did the picture exercise help?

What helped you exchange your expectations for openness and curiosity?


Step 3

Have you seen any benefits of ridding ourselves of expectations?

Can you give some examples? 

Have you been able to limit the negative emotions?

Do you reflect on our work in a more meaningful way?


Step 4

Has this new mindset provided deeper insight into your working life?


As always, identify what worked, eliminate what didn’t. Try to consistently use what works. Find new examples to test the value of your process. Test the outcome to ensure the system is repeatable. Keep the final version that delivers consistent results and requires the least amount of work.