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Paul Hayden

Expectations Minus Reality Equals ______?

May 23, 2022

We live in a success-driven world that generally endorses the awkward value of ‘size equals impact.’ Everyone is impressed if we achieve the king of the hill, number one, or the sage on the stage status. That success, size, or influence validates our effort and significance.  

Here's an example. A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Aussie farmer and gets 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."

Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Aussie shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, "We have longhorns 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?" Having been to Australia over 20 times, I've learned never to try to outdo an Aussie. 

Our culture demands success. We live in a culture where "failure" (either our opinion or others') disqualifies us. Have you noticed who is on the front cover of the national magazines? 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 those near the end of their careers, doing the best they can but still have a sizeable gap between where they thought they would be and where they are now in terms of status and their career path or finances? 

Most people loathe the gap between what they expected and where they are. Why? Size equals impact. We idolize and emulate the five percent who somehow arrive on the magazine's front page. Here’s reality. Not everyone will be the President of the United States, the CEO of a major company, or the next American Idol.  

Remember the worldly formula that makes us happy or unhappy: Happiness = Expectations – Reality. When the reality of someone's life is more than what they had expected, they're happy. But when their reality turns out to be less than their expectations, they're unhappy. Then they get depressed.  

Al Ells of Leaders that Last says, “While most men would think of depression as a woman’s problem, it’s a man’s problem. 82% of all men suffer from depression.” Why? The gap between their expectations and their current reality. Remember, most men measure their significance by their success at work. 

Depression produces ‘deadness.’ What’s ‘deadness?’ It’s when it’s hard to get emotionally going again. It’s hard to find 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 can feel tired, irritable, depleted, frustrated, disorientated, fearful, threatened, disconnected, and isolated. We are screaming for life but can't get to it. 

What do many people do then? They either give up or give in. They try to stimulate the area of their 'deadness.' They act out. Acting out is when infidelity can arise. Other people medicate to soften the hurt. 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. They'll do anything to avoid the 'deadness' and pain.

Here’s a Scripture verse for those afflicted with the ‘expectations minus reality’ syndrome. “The Lord has much more to give you than this.” (2 Chronicles 25:9) So, how can we come to terms with the gap between our expectations and reality? How can we be at peace with ourselves and others again? 

First, get back into everyday life. It's one thing to be wounded or lost on the battlefield. It's another to be captured by the enemy or surrender to the enemy. Turn the mess into a message. 

Second, leave the definition of real success to God. Don't allow our shame-based, self-driven society to determine the definition of success. God's definition of success is peace with yourself, your family, and others, whether in business, community, or church.

"Godliness is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment." (I Tim. 6:6) Peace brings release. We aren’t running a race against others for trivial pursuits and unrealistic dreams. We are running a race where the finish line is contentment. Peace with yourself and God leads to peace with others. God does His work and allows us to participate. That's real success when accompanied by contentment.

Third, find a shared vision with God and yourself. It's okay to have big, hairy audacious goals, but don't let those goals define you. Give it your all but remember, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Don’t confuse who you are with what you do or did. Goals give direction, and dreams give motivation, but if you don't reach where you expected to be, that's okay. 

Ultimately, our perspective needs to be, “I am wrong in my definition of success; I've tried my hardest, lived my life faithfully, and things didn't quite turn out the way I thought they would. So I’m not going to spend the rest of my life asking ‘why?’ or beating myself or others up.” That’s winning the race of life. 

Today's takeaway: Be careful how you talk to yourself because you are listening, and it could be costing you dearly.

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