Lowering your expectations and being cool about it


I wrote this several weeks ago on my Day One journal. When I wrote it I was kind of reflecting on what had happened and what I had learned from the experience. I didn’t really have the intention of sharing it here, but after reading it a couple of times I thought it would be a nice thing to share. I rewrote a couple of sentences and added the links, but it’s mainly the same thing.

Today I was making a cake for my son. His birthday is still several days ahead but we’ll be celebrating it at his school tomorrow, so there had to be a cake. It’s his first birthday celebration and I was really looking forward to doing something, not extraordinary, but at least special enough so that we could tell him in the future. I know he’ll probably don’t care much about it, but I think if you’re a parent that cares, you’ll probably want to do something for the kid regardless of what he thinks.

The thing is I had made a cake a week or two ago and it turned out great. So I decided I would make his cake instead of buying one. As meticulous as I can be at times, I decided I would perform an experiment and make a smaller cake two days before the “great event” so I could see if the cake I was planning on making had any chances. Well, I made the cake yesterday and it turned out OK. It wasn’t the best cake in the world, but at least everyone here at home liked it, including my son, so that was superb.

Now the part about lowering your expectations. I had made two cakes within a time lapse of two weeks and I was feeling quite confident that I could make a third one and it would turn out ok; big mistake! Don’t ever fall for that one. I sure as hell will try not to. Just because things have turned out ok it doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, or turn out differently to what you’re expecting. It’s a typical example of Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

So, I prepared everything today and I was all geared up with my kitchen utensils and the ingredients. I started to make the cake and everything was going swell. I even took extra time when beating the eggs so the sweet mixture of sugar and eggs would be as creamy as hell. When I was done with the cake mixture I poured it into the baking pan and put it in the oven.

While waiting for the cake to be done I started cutting out my son’s name in a paper I had printed so that I could put his name on the cake. A sort of stencil with powdered sugar. I thought it would look cool–it did!

Regardless of the preparations I had made, it turned out that I took out the cake too early from the oven and when I tried to remove it from the pan the cake was a total mess. For some reason I got real angry and was quite upset with myself. I thought I had everything under control, and just the day before I had made a similar cake. Why did this one go wrong? Only until I settled down I realized my mistake. And what’s more important, I also understood that this wasn’t an issue to be upset about. I could go back to the supermarket buy again the ingredients and make the cake again1. If not, I could’ve have bought another cake as well. And everything would be ok.

What really got me upset, was that I was really looking forward to making the cake for my son. Because it didn’t turn out how I wanted, doesn’t change anything about my feelings and the original intention I had.

What’s interesting about this story is that just this week I had listened to Merlin Mann talking about recalibrating your expectations on his back to work podcast. The title of the episode was “Expectation Zero”, and the episode summary was

This week, Dan and Merlin talk more about struggling with expectations. Everybody’s expectations. Including yours.

Why it’s worth recalibrating your own expectations, managing others’ expectations, and accepting the impossibility of knowing—let alone meeting—the expectations of the entire world.

The important part about recalibrating one’s expectations is to avoid that feeling of frustration and angst by making smart choices and consciously knowing that we can fail and things can go wrong, whether they depend solely on us or on others. If we don’t do anything about it, then we could be prone to unhappiness2.

Now what did I learn from this incident. I really, really want (need) to be cool at situations like this. And sometimes I can get really frustrated when things don’t turn out the way I want, especially when I’ve prepared everything ahead of time. Why can’t I change? I have to change. I think I’ll have to recalibrate my expectations to a situation similar to the experiment I did the day before. If the cake I made yesterday would’ve turned out badly I wouldn’t have cared that much because I had set my state of mind previously to a state where I could handle failure without much difficulty. Why didn’t I do that today? We should always leave room for failure, more often than not it will knock at our door and we should acknowledge it. In doing so, we recalibrate our expectations to more realistic outcomes, and probably (most certainly) be more happy.

  1. If you’re wondering… yes, the picture in the post corresponds to the second cake I made.

  2. This actually reminds me of a blog post I read the other day about wanting your kids to fail.


2 thoughts on “Lowering your expectations and being cool about it

  1. I learned that lesson a while ago, not in a parent son way but facing some challenges and watching some people being always uneasy with themselves as they were trying hard but not being happy with the achievements they already had.

    • I can see where you’re going with this. Being frustrated by the little things is quite immature, however reflecting upon them proves that we can learn and grow up. But seeing this in others and watching them not evolve, instead sort of going in circles is depressing. What do you usually do when the “little things” get to you?

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