On Comparing and Expectations

A friend recently shared on how much easier it is to win in life without comparison and expectations–which I totally get. But the idea triggered a bunch of thoughts on the topic which I have included here.

On the one hand, my friend is right that comparing and expectations are potentially harmful to relationships. However, like other benign things in life, there is another side to them from which we can all benefit.

The dark side-how comparing harms people

One reason that comparing is bad is because of a misunderstanding of the diverse nature of humans. Some people use comparing to try to create conformity. This leads to envy, jealousy, and strife. Whether or not the conformity is internally or externally imposed does not matter. The result is always the same.

  • Comparing riches is subjugating—freedom comes with contentedness in all situations
  • Comparing looks is vain—your will never look like anyone else but you
  • Comparing intelligence is thoughtless—your mind is your own, learn to use it to the best of your ability
  • Comparing physical ability is crippling—there is always someone better at cricket, or racquet ball, or water polo, or __________ (you fill it in)
  • Comparing earning power is impoverishing—no matter how much you earn, it will never be enough

At best, comparing in this way is an exercise in futility. At worst, it is a downward spiral that feeds the baser side of human nature and is a “lose/lose” situation.

The dark side-how expectations crush

The notable problem with expectations is when they come from selfishness. Usually, expectations on the behavior or achievements of another person are somehow linked to our own edification, magnification, or benefit. This is the cause of much pain and trouble in life.

Fathers may make this mistake with their children. Perhaps they have experienced enough failure without success and regret in their lives that they don’t want it for their kids. Or worse, they have experienced successes without failure and didn’t learn humility. Either way, fathers (and mothers!) are prone to putting mega demands on the ones that they love most–simply to stroke their own egos.

Spouses fall into this, too. You get married, make a life together, and what you didn’t realize is that your spouse would be so different from you. She doesn’t know what you need, he doesn’t treat you the way that you want treated. You expect him to know, but he doesn’t, and so you are both frustrated.

Leaders of all kinds, maybe especially spiritual leaders, fall into this pit. A degree of coalescing as human beings is desirable, but total conformity is queer in the extreme. That is why there will never be true utopian societies, and those that try find twisted, perverted versions of the ideal that they try to uphold. They end up trying to force people into the mold of the masses, which is why there are always riots and uprisings and civil war in the news.

Comparing as an ally

Comparing requires an open mind and heart; an understanding that diversity promotes goodness and balance in life. With such a perspective you can compare yourself to others to learn and to celebrate life.

If I compare myself to another person and find that I am doing poorly in an area of life in which I can improve, then this is to my advantage. I have a new opportunity to correct my course and improve myself. I often find that the person who is doing it better is very willing to share with me and help along the way.

Comparing to learn requires humility and an eye that can see someone do something better and want to emulate them. My daughter does this with figure skating. I find it fascinating to watch her watching other people with single-minded focus, and then she tries to do the stunt exactly like they did.

I try to find authors who are better than me–which is easy to do. And then I read their books over and over. I notice that I take on some of the attributes of whichever author I am reading. Great authors help me to improve in writing. Yet, when I read mediocre books I find that what comes out of my pen becomes averager than ever.

What is really being hinted at here is the biblical notion of discipleship, which is a powerful force that “turned the world upside-down” in the days of Christ and for generations afterwards. Rabbis took on followers who would emulate their whole life—from studying, to eating, to working, to teaching–the lot. Discipling is the original most powerful holistic training and development tool on earth.

Expectations as good friends

Expectations are powerful. The bright side of expectations is very potent stuff. There are two ways that expectations bring light, love, power, and life into the world—and can help us to win in any situation.

The 1st has to do with your view of yourself. Low expectations result in laziness and conforming to whatever mediocre standards surround you. High standards for yourself and your life are important. Without them you just sink into the mire of the status quo.

If you aren’t thrusting upwards then you are slipping down. If you aren’t shoving forwards you are sliding backwards.

If you aren’t moving mountains then they are squishing you into ineffectual jelly.

If you are writing a book and you expect it to reach many people and that it will influence their lives, but in fact your book is poorly written and has a weak message—what do you think will happen? Will the universe warp and reweave itself to support such a petty vision?

But if you expect that your book will be great because it has a world-changing message that needs heard, and then you tool yourself and discipline your book so that it is painstakingly well-written, and you refuse to release it to humanity until the content is awesome; then life will unfailingly align itself with your original expectation: that your book will reach many people and influence their lives.

The 2nd bright side to expectations has to do with your fellow sojourners. You should have high expectations for others. Not to lord over them, or to put pressure on them, or goad them into what you want them to do. But rather, to see them become all that they can in life.

In order to cultivate great expectations for your family and friends, you need to know who they are. To know who they are, you need to spend time with them. Spending time develops trust. Trust opens doors. Doors to speak into their lives. Doors to share the expectations that you have for them.

Pain free wake-up calls

When others have great expectations for me I feel encouraged, bolstered, emboldened. I want to keep going. I want to win. It fortifies my fledgling sense that I can get the job done.

A friend recently did this for me. I was speaking of some future day when I will be further along with my dreams. But my friend stopped me. He observed real things in my life and family in the present that he shared with me.  Finally he said, “Dustin, you already are successful.” It was a painless kind of wake-up call! And it has helped me change what I expect from myself.

Your expectations of another can help shape their world. They can change history.

Why not tip the scales in favor of greatness? Use comparison and expectations as allies and friends. See the brighter side in and for others.

Have you got something better to do?

Do you have a story of comparisons and expectations that built you up? Who are the people in your life that have made a big difference? What were their expectations for you?

About the Author

Dustin White


  1. Sothea

    Great written. I’m excited you wrote on this topic.

    • Hey, great to hear from you Sothea! Thank you for posting that blurb on FB about comparing and expectations. It helped stimulate the cascade of thought.
      And thanks for always being an encouragement, for having great expectations for me!

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