Adjusting Expectations

Published by Thriving Erin on

Choosing Possibility Over Disappointment


My husband and I love to travel. Since we met six years ago we’ve travelled to thirty-one countries together. However, one of the trips we look forward to the most is the ski holiday we take each year. It’s typically our most expensive trip of the year, but for us, it’s worth it. We both grew up skiing and now that we live in the Middle East it’s our only week of “real winter” every year.


This year we booked our ski trip to Les Trois Vallees in the French Alps. We were there two years ago and absolutely loved it so decided to go back this year. Flights were booked, the apartment was paid for, the rental car was arranged and I had brand new skis I was really excited to try out. We arrived in Geneva last Saturday and made the drive into the mountains. As is typical when travelling, things didn’t go perfectly smoothly – the airline temporarily misplaced our luggage, the rental car company got our reservation mixed up with someone else’s, and there were delays on the road due to the yellow-jacket protesters, but that’s just part of traveling and we’ve learned how to adapt to those types of things. Though unplanned, they’re not necessarily unexpected.


The big complication struck on Sunday.


We were two runs into our first day of skiing, the skies were blue, the snow was surprisingly good, and I was loving the feel of my new skis. I was turning hard, really testing my new edges when spasms suddenly shot through the right side of my back. I managed to stop, but then couldn’t move. I have dealt with back pain for over ten years, but I have only had attacks that felt this debilitating a handful of times – even shifting my weight from one foot to the other was excruciating.


From that point we spent the next 90 minutes or so just getting down the mountain and back to our apartment. In previous years I would have traveled with strong pain medication, muscle relaxants, and a back brace. But these are all things I hadn’t used in over a year and so I didn’t pack them. It was very obvious at this point that the week was not going to look like the week we had expected to have.


This was a trip we had been looking forward to for months, especially having been there before, we had a clear vision and expectation of what the week would look like. We would have been well within our rights to wallow in self-pity, to rail against the unfairness of it all, to write the holiday off as a waste, or to play the “what-if” game. To be honest, we did give in to these urges for a bit. I sulked, I cried, and we considered packing everything up and going home. But then, we didn’t. We stayed. And you know what, we had a great week.


We had to be intentional to let our original expectations go. We expected to ski for five-and-a-half full days – we ended up skiing for two full and two half days. We expected to ski hard, Chris and I at the same level – I ended up skiing slower, cruising more casually while Chris had to stop and wait regularly. We had expected to spend our evenings going sledding, walking around the town, eating fondue, and playing games – we ended up spending our evenings lying in bed streaming curling on tv. If we had been unable to let those original expectations go, we would have been miserable making the adjustments we needed to, but as we reset our expectations we were able to find joy in the new normal.


The thing is that this didn’t happen by accident, it had to be intentional. Unfulfilled expectations can ruin our lives. They can make us bitter and resentful, and can cause us to miss things that would bring us joy. It can be especially dangerous when these expectations are unexpressed. We can sometimes feel dissatisfied without really knowing why. We compare people or situations to expectations we may not even realize we had developed. Whenever you feel disappointed or dissatisfied make sure you’re clear on what you were expecting and why. Like our recent ski trip, your expectations may not have been unrealistic, but with circumstances changing they may no longer be possible. Instead of hanging onto what could have been great, shift your expectation to focus on what can be great. Be intentional to shift your perspective to see new possibilities instead of unfulfilled expectations.



Categories: Musings


Ted Lemon · February 27, 2019 at 5:38 am

This sounds a bit like Andrea’s and my honeymoon, except for the expert skier part. We were both pretty used up from the wedding (who knew that weddings were so much work, right?). And so yes, we skied (Aspen!) but we also did a lot of lounging around. Which was really fun! Who knew that part of being a couple was just hanging out together, not doing anything in particular?

As for the generous feedback angle of this, this ends in a way that feels a bit like being lectured. I wonder if there is a previous example that you can use from your own experience that _shows_ how disappointed expectations can make us miserable? Ruin lives? Hopefully you don’t have a personal example of that, but if there’s a story you’re thinking of, you might want to point to it. The point isn’t to hold back on your conclusion, which I think is absolutely right on. It’s just that if you can draw on personal experience to paint the conclusion, it will sound less like lecturing and more like a good story we can learn from.

Tamara · February 27, 2019 at 3:50 am

I’m so sorry to hear about your injury, Erin! My best friend just tore her ACL skiing so your post caught my eye. The point you make about explicitly stating your expectation and disappointment is SO good. I’d never really thought about that, but I”m thinking now about all the ways I could use that…especially with my kids who get disappointed by things quite frequently. Thank you for mention it.
I was wondering…
Now that you had that experience, would you ever plan a vacation more similar to the one you ended up with in the future? Did you discover any hidden joys that you want to apply for next time of a more “toned down” vacation?
Great storytelling with a nice “life lesson” tied in. Thanks again!

Courtney · February 26, 2019 at 1:52 pm

I had to read this because I also love skiing and traveling! This comes at a great time for me, as I’m about to head to Europe with my partner for vacation. we’re having a hard time managing expectations and we haven’t even left yet! I enjoyed your post and insight into controlling what you were able to control. Your ability to quickly adapt to your new normal is a skill you both should be proud of! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Erica Walter · February 26, 2019 at 4:51 am

I love this post! The pictures you share, the suspense and tension created by all the near-misses before you had your back injury, and your actionable and really impactful lesson at the end are a wonderful storytelling arc. I am for sure going to apply what you teach here: when we let go of our expectation as circumstances outside our control change, we can make beautiful things out of less-than-beautiful challenges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *