We all love to have expectations set, whether we set them ourselves or someone else sets them for us. We create calendars so that we can start each day with an expectation of our schedule. Some of us view our pay stubs online before payday in order to know what to expect in our checking account. We may even set traffic alerts on our phones so that we know if we should expect a longer commute. These are all things I personally do myself. It helps to feel in control while so many other parts of our lives are uncontrollable.

But what happens when our expectations are set on the wrong things, specifically our financial expectations? What happens when we create expectations based on someone else’s life or perhaps we even set our expectations based on what other people tell us they should be? This is when we start focusing on “keeping up with the Jones’s” rather than focusing on our own personal goals. We start living a life that society expects of us rather than living the life we want for ourselves.

My Past Expectations

In the past, I had set my financial expectations on the wrong things. I would hear nuggets of info here and there and then take action before really adjusting it to my personal situation. I would do things like pay as much as I could to debt payoff and have zero focus on savings. There was a time when I was paying extra on my mortgage when I still had higher-interest debt that seemed to get bigger. These expectations led me to create goals that I didn’t really want to achieve, but were what I thought society expected of me. So what happened when I failed to achieve these artificial goals? Exactly what I would expect…complete and utter disappointment. I told myself that since I failed at my goals, I myself was a failure.

The truth is, I was not a failure at all. I set myself up for disappointment because I listened to the outside world instead of myself. When it comes to setting and working on personal goals, the only expectations you should have are the ones YOU set for YOURSELF. Why? Because this allows you to set yourself up for your own future success. It is great to get advice, but it is important to use that advice to make your own decisions, not to have it be the end all be all.

Hitting the Debt Paydown Expectation

A few years ago, I set an expectation for myself to pay off thousands of dollars in debt in a year. I had read many stories of couples who achieved more in the same amount of time. My outlook was that if they could do it, my wife and I could do it as well. When the year was up and we looked back, we found that we had reduced our debt by about $200. When I compared our starting debt to our debt at the end of the year, my heart sank. I thought to myself, how could we have worked so hard to achieve so little? I closed the laptop and dwelled on this for a few days, feeling more and more disappointed.

After all of my moping around and kicking myself, I began to realize all of the other things that I had failed to factor in. During the year, I had taken advantage of balance transfer offers that reduced the interest I paid each month. I was able to keep from getting MORE in debt as 401k loans were being paid on. Another factor that I forgot about was the extra money being put toward our mortgage during a time when home prices were rising (double the effort on gaining equity 🙂 ). I also realized that although I set a goal, I never set a plan. My disappointment of not achieving a goal that was set on poor expectations faded away. Rather than focusing on the negative, I refocused on the positive.

Lesson Learned

This experience taught me a great lesson. I learned that I should not set specific financial goals based on what I hear from others, but rather set goals based on where I want to see myself in the future. It also taught me that many times, an end goal is just simply not enough. A plan is needed to get there, otherwise I am just wandering. The tricky thing is that I know I cannot set goals that are too easy. This leads me to feeling like I could have done more and that I underestimated myself.

It’s ok to set a goal that is a bit out of reach. After all, this can push you to do more than you ever thought possible. If you never push yourself outside of your comfort zone, how do you truly grow? The key is to make sure that your goals are set on your terms, not society’s.

Another thing that this has taught me is that, as Antoine de Saint Exupéry says, “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. During that year where I was working toward paying off thousands of dollars, I did not have a plan in place. I also had no idea what I would have done if financial disaster arose. I had no emergency plan or emergency fund. Again, I was plowing through with incorrect expectations. The disappointment was inevitable.

Looking Forward

It is amazing to me how both achievements and disappointments can change our lives. Having had this experience, I know that going forward I need to change my outlook on my goals. I need to set goals that are difficult, but not absolutely impossible. I need to push myself to a level that I have never been in order to grow.

With this new outlook, I am excited for what is yet to come. I know that if I push myself to my limits and then a little bit beyond, I can achieve so much more. I need to make sure that I focus on everything that is going on around me and not just have tunnel vision on one particular thing. Doing so will allow me to realize other accomplishments I am achieving and may not even realize.

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