Expectations vs. Reality

In Life Skills by Rebecca FeickertLeave a Comment

Julian looked down at his shoes and struggled to compose his face. This was unbelievable. Twenty days on campus and he was already injured. He arrived feeling strong and prepared to compete at the collegiate level. He attacked every strength and conditioning session, eager to solidify his place as a leader among the other freshmen. But then his shin splints started flaring up again, and now the doctor was saying recovery could take up to six months. By then, the season will have started and he’ll be way behind! And how is he supposed to bond with the other guys when he’s on the sidelines while they go through tough practices together? Oh, and he’s really dreading telling his dad. On moving day, Julian’s dad told him that the first month sets the tone for all of college. He won’t take this news well.

College has a certain mystique to it. Your entire life, you have seen college portrayed in movies and on TV. You may have heard stories from older friends or siblings. During your college decision process, you may have had conversations with college coaches and visited different campuses. This information forms the foundations of what you expect of the college experience and for yourself as a college student. In this chapter, we’ll breakdown how you can successful manage your expectations with reality to ensure you get the most out of your college experience.

This is why your mindset coming into college is so important. Like any high-achiever, it is safe to assume that you hold yourself to a high standard.  You may have already identified some things that you want to accomplish during your first month, semester, or year. Maybe you hope to be on the Dean’s List or be active in a student club. Maybe you hope to earn a starting spot on your team or build strong friendships with your teammates. Whatever your goals, there is an important formula you need to know:

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

This formula is simple, but powerful. It means that your level of satisfaction is directly related not only to what happens, but also what you expected to happen. The higher you set your expectations, the harder it will be for reality to meet them. As an example, imagine your perfect birthday. When you wake up, your family has made you breakfast with all your favorite foods. Every friend comes to your birthday party or sends you a video wishing you a happy birthday. You spend all day with the people you love most, and don’t have to worry about homework, chores, or anything else. You get a bunch of gifts, and each one is exactly what you wanted.

Now imagine that after weeks of envisioning your perfect birthday, your real birthday happens. Your dad is excited for you, but your mom is away on a work trip. You still have to go to school, and your birthday breakfast is super rushed because your little brother takes forever to get ready. Popeye’s is out of chicken sandwiches again, and that’s all you wanted for lunch. A close friend forgets your birthday entirely. And the one thing you really wanted for a birthday present, you don’t get. You still had a birthday party. Nearly everyone remembered and celebrated your birthday, and you got gifts. You had a great birthday, but not compared to the perfect birthday you built up in your mind. Your happiness is low because reality couldn’t match up to your expectations.

Now that you understand the formula Happiness = Reality – Expectations, think about what expectations you have for college and for yourself. Putting your thoughts into words will make it easier for you to reflect. Next, review what you’ve written and identify cases where your expectations may be inflated and specific parts of your college transition that you may struggle with. Refer back to your notes regularly during your transition to college. When you feel disappointed, compare reality to your expectations. How is what happened different than what you expected to happen? Knowing what you know now, were your expectations realistic?  How can you adjust your expectations and improve from here?

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