What to Do When Your Expectations Do Not = Reality

First, what causes stress? The answer I heard coming out of my mouth yesterday during a post-mortem meeting was: “Reality didn’t reflect my expectations.” 

It’s a simple, yet true statement that summarizes nearly all the stress I have. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it’s because my anticipated outcome conflicts with the way things really turned out, or my ideal state conflicts with reality. 

I wish I had… I don’t want… If only… Why can’t… (and, of course, the classic) Am I the only sane person here?

When I feel stressed, overwhelmed, or any other uncomfortable feeling, it’s because there’s a part of me who wants my version of reality to still be true. That’s why I said: “Reality didn’t reflect my expectations,” because, from my selfish ego-driven point of view, it’s reality’s fault.  If reality would have listened to me, everything would be fine. 

Which is, of course, completely naïve, because reality changes constantly due to reasons that are both in and out of our control. And sometimes, even when it’s in our control, it’s an “unknown” unknown, and we are completely blindsided by something we didn’t know was going to alter our work. 

Here’s my revolutionary realization for the week: Never EXPECT your version of reality to work out exactly as you planned. Instead, expect that you will need to revise your plans. Instead of spending your energy and willpower on things you can’t control (like the event that caused you to change your expectations), transfer that same energy to focus on how you are going to adapt your plan to the current (real) reality. 

Previously, I’ve shared some questions I ask myself to gain focus, increase productivity, and improve life engagement (mindfulness). I’d like to add another question to the list. When my expectations are not reality, I’ll pause and ask: Am I reacting out of frustration or responding with a new solution?


More than luck,




Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.wilt@sustainableevolution.com and on Twitter @andrewjwilt

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