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Unmet Expectations Minus Real Reality Equals What?

August 23, 2021

We live in a success-driven world that generally believes and endorses an awkward value. That awkward value is success. Everyone will be impressed if we are the king of the hill, top dog, number one, or the sage on the stage. We strive to be or have the ‘latest, the greatest, the biggest, the best,’ which means success. That success, size, and the resulting admiration validate our effort, prove our significance, making us happy.    

Here’s an example. A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Aussie farmer, and they get to talking. The Aussie shows off his big wheat field, and the Texan says, "Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large as this in Texas.” Then they walk around the ranch a little more, and the Aussie shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, “We have longhorns that are at least twice as large as your cows.”

The conversation has almost died when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. “And what are those?” The Aussie replies with an incredulous look, “Don’t you have any grasshoppers in Texas?” 

Lesson: Having been to Australia over 30+ times, I've learned never to try to outdo an Aussie verbally. 

We live in a culture where “failure” (either our opinion or others') can disqualify us for the future we are meant to have. Have you noticed who is on the front cover of the national magazines or who is on television? Those people, entities, or things are the 'the latest, the greatest, the biggest, the best.' 

But what about that 95% of the business owners, pastors, influencers, dreamers, leaders, and regular people who never quite realize their dreams, visions, hopes, goals, or desires? What about the people who are doing the best they can with what they have but still have a sizeable gap between where they thought they would be at this time in their lives and where they are now in status, career path, or finances?  

Most people hate the gap between what they expected and where they are. Why? Our culture has adopted the ‘size or success equals happiness’ lie. We idolize and emulate the 5% who somehow arrive on the front page of the magazine. Here’s the reality: Not everyone can be the President of the United States, the CEO of a major company, or the next American Idol.  

Remember the worldly equation that makes us happy or unhappy. Happiness equals expectations minus reality. So when the reality of someone's life is better than they had expected, they're happy. But when the truth turns out to be worse than the expectations, they're unhappy. Then they get depressed. They get frustrated or mad, start pretending or blaming. Then they give up. Their mantra can become, "Whether right or wrong, I didn't get want I wanted."

Al Ells of Clergy Care says, “While most men would think of depression as a woman’s problem, it’s a man’s problem because 82% of all men suffer from depression." Why? The gap between their expectations and reality, between where they are and where they thought they would be.  Remember, his work usually determines a man's outlook and significance. And many women are experiencing the exact ‘unrealistic expectations minus real reality' depression as they pursue their careers.

Here’s the problem. Depression produces deadness. What’s deadness? It’s when it’s hard to get emotionally going again. It’s when we don’t want to put up with the garbage anymore. It’s hard to find one’s vision, passion, or joy. It’s when we feel what we do “doesn’t or didn’t make a difference.” It’s when we say, “I don’t care.” We struggle with focus. We can’t get above water anymore like we used to. We feel tired, irritable, depleted, frustrated, disorientated, fearful, threatened, disconnected, isolated. We are screaming for life and energy but can’t get to it. 

What do many people do then? They either give up or give in or act out. They try to stimulate or awaken their area of deadness. People ‘medicate’ to soften their hurt or areas of deadness. The result? How about divorce, adultery, pornography, drugs, alcohol, anger, becoming a control addict (putting up walls based on the fear of losing more), over-eating, or over-buying? Most people will do anything to get away from the ‘deadness’ or pain that they feel.

And where does all of the above come from? Aiming for the wrong, elusive misbelief: "My happiness and significance depends on my expectations being realized (or fantasized) in the way I expected they would be." That's not living; that's performing. It's a game of trivial pursuit. I have a Bible verse for those of us battling with this issue. “The Lord has much more to give you than this.” 2 Chronicles 25:9. 

Next week, how can we come to terms with the gap between our expectations and reality? Let’s get back into the game of life. It's one thing to be wounded or lost on the battlefield. It's another to be captured by the enemy or surrendered to the enemy. Let's turn our emotional mess into a message. We might even get that Texan back on his horse again!

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com