Letting Go Of Expectations

If you read last week’s blog post, Frankie Says Relax, then you know Jane and I spent a week in North Carolina. We stayed in a small cottage on the beach. The opportunity came up unexpectedly at the beginning of August when a friend told me his beach house was available the last week of the month. Our schedules were open, so we jumped at the chance to get away, just the two of us. We didn’t know anything about the place we were staying, the beach, or the town of Oak Island. In other words, we went down without any expectations. All we knew was we wanted to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

We both agreed, aside from our three-week trip to Scotland for our 30th anniversary several years ago, this was probably the nicest vacation we’ve had. As we talked about it, we realized having no expectations was a wonderful thing. We woke up each day without pressure of being anywhere or having to do anything. Each day we got up, had leisurely mornings then decided what we wanted to do. Everything was new and fun.

Personal Expectations

This experience had me thinking a lot about expectations as I took my morning walk today. I don’t think we can ever fully rid ourselves of expectations, but it seems like the more we can push expectations to the side, the better off we are much of the time. I certainly believe that’s the case in personal life because so much disappointment crops up when our expectations are not met. Much of the time it’s because our expectations are unrealistic.

It also happens with the people in our lives. When people don’t do what we want, what we believe is right, what we think is best, it disappoints or hurts us. But not everyone holds the same values and priorities that we do. We saw this when our daughter chose not to go through her high school graduation ceremony. She never liked school and graduation meant nothing to her. Once we let go of the expectation of watching her walk across the stage we were fine and we still had a wonderful party to celebrate. I think for Abigail the party was more like an inmate celebrating release from prison.

Business Expectations

Of course, many of you are reading this thinking about business. We certainly can’t do without some expectations around business. Businesses come into existence to serve a purpose and in order to do that effectively vision statements, strategies, and goals are set. I’m a big proponent of all of those.

However, when things get more granular sometimes letting go of expectations can be a very good thing for businesses. As I reflected on my last three years of corporate life, when I ran a corporate university, I realized so much of the success my team enjoyed came about when I didn’t have expectations. Don’t get me wrong, I expected hard work and excellence, but I didn’t always have expectations around the details of projects.

Early on, just after taking over the Learning Director role, I recall talking with Katlynn about a new learning initiative. The details slipped my mind now, but I do remember telling her about the initiative and her asking what my expectations were. I told her I’d just given her my expectations. She asked how I saw it unfolding and I let her know I was leaving that up to her to her imagination and her creativity. I knew that she was more imaginative and creative than I was so I trusted she would come up with something far better than I would. I knew what we needed to do but not necessarily how best to go about doing it.

I think too often leaders don’t give enough freedom to the people they lead to use their skills and experience to get the job done in the best way possible. That’s why we usually put people in positions because they possess skills we don’t.


There will always be times when some people need more guidance than others. But as you lead and coach your team, if you’re doing it well they should grow in their capacity to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Hire the right people and give them freedom without your expectations and you might just be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was when I lead that small team in the corporate university. Jane and I were much happier at having let go of expectations of what we thought a vacation should be. I hope you’ll ponder this and give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Brian Ahearn

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An authorTEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His second book, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller in several categories.

Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 400,000 people around the world.

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