Expectations vs. Reality

Expectations vs. Reality

Written by Emilie

Topics: Goals

There’s a scene in the film (500) Days of Summer where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character goes to Zooey Dechanel’s party in the hopes of winning her back. It’s done in split-screen, with ‘expectations’ marked on the left and ‘reality’ on the right.

As the scene progresses, we get to see the night Tom imagined in his head alongside the heart-wrenching reality of the evening. At first there are just minor distinctions in detail, but very quickly the two scenarios begin playing out in radically different ways.

While the ‘reality’ version would no doubt be painful to watch on its own, the juxtaposition with Tom’s expectations adds a whole new layer of meaning to the scene.

We All Have Expectations

It’s healthy to daydream and fantasize about the future. Learning to appreciate the present and be grateful for what you have is important, but so is dreaming about bigger and better things.

You want to feel as though you’re moving toward that next level of achievement in all areas of your life. Without this feeling of challenge and growth, we stagnate and become depressed. In fact, one of the symptoms of depression is precisely this: not wanting anything.

Asking yourself not to dream or expect anything goes against human nature. It’s unhealthy and completely unrealistic.

Dreams as Seeds of Innovation

Dreams, ideas and visions are the antecedents of creation. Every great achievement in history began with a dream. It was often a bizarre dream too, one that the status quo considered ludicrous at the time, like the earth being round or racial equality.

I’m not trying to equate racial equality with romantic love here… My point is merely that it all begins with having a clear picture of what you want.

Without a vision, it’s impossible to focus your action properly. The idea in your head will no doubt evolve as you take action and get feedback, but if you don’t live by design, you’ll end up taking whatever life gives you.

So what happens when our reality doesn’t match up with the blueprint in our heads? Are we doomed to be forever disappointed?

Not necessarily. Having dreams is good and healthy. What’s not healthy is having passive dreams.

Basing Success on Someone Else’s Approval

When success is based on another person’s approval, we set ourselves up to fail.

Take my goal of becoming a television writer, for example, and notice how I define success: Success is not selling a show. Success for me is developing a series idea, writing a script and pitching it to as many production companies as possible. It’s almost entirely based on action that I take. It’s within my control.

Yes, it will require a bit of ‘external approval’ in terms of getting meetings. But it’s consistent focused action that will lead to these opportunities. I’m not simply waiting around for my lucky break.

Opportunities Come to Those who Act

Sometimes we need other people. In fact, trying to do everything on your own is a sure recipe for failure.

Certainly when it comes to relationships (to get back to my 500 Days example), we absolutely need other people’s approval… Well, one other person’s approval that is.

However, we still must take whatever proactive steps we can.

Waiting around for your dreams to manifest on their own might work out if you’re extremely lucky. But it’s more likely that nothing will change and that you’ll stay exactly where you are.

In other words, perhaps Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have made his intentions clear to Zooey Dechanel, instead of silently hoping that she might decide to throw some love his way.

Empower Yourself

If by some chance you catch a lucky break and succeed in attaining a passive dream, you will be in a constant state of fear. It will feel as though your dream can just as easily be taken away. After all, you were never really in control; good things simply happened to you.

Expect great things, but empower yourself and take responsibility for turning them into reality. Don’t sit around passively waiting for your dreams to unfold or you will end up disappointed, running down staircases in tears…


  1. Lach says:

    Interesting thoughts about “lucky breaks”, Emilie. So, by your expectation, the harder you have to work for something, the more secure it must be? Let me ask you this: do you have to wait for reality to validate your expectations before you know they’re going to happen?

  2. Emilie says:

    Hi Lach,

    I’m not sure if hard work leads to more security, but I do think that we generally appreciate that which we work hard for more than that which comes easy.

    I think waiting for reality to validate your expectations would sort of undermine the whole point of dreaming. Doing the extraordinary really begins with a pure, unadulterated vision… Almost blind faith.

    I think you really need to believe in your heart that something is going to happen before you can make it a reality (but then you must do something about it).

    Interesting… What do you think?

  3. Trever Clark says:

    Might have to actually give that movie a chance!

    I’m big on fantasizing and daydreaming. Oftentimes, when I use daydreams to motivate myself, I find that the outcome of my work is nothing like I imagined. Quite often it’s actually better!

    • Emilie says:

      So true Trever. I have also found that things often turn out differently than I imagined. Often what I learn and experience is more valuable than anything I could have dreamed up.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Angela says:

    I like the parts about taking action and needing to rely on others to make dreams come true. For most of my life I would constantly dream, but I think in the back of my mind I was hoping fate would come along and magically hand me tools to make my dreams come to reality if I was truly worthy of attaining those dreams. I’m learning more and more that every little obstacle doesn’t mean it’s a sign to give up, and that I need to sometimes rely on others for a push, a pep talk, or to help me out some other way before I can get closer to making my dreams come true. I’ve just always been so independent and afraid to rely on others, thinking if I do then it’s admitting I’m weak and worthless on my own.

  5. Emilie says:

    Hi Angela,

    I know exactly what you mean. Up until recently, I used to hope for my dreams to magically manifest as well.

    I’m also quite independent and in the past I’ve had to push myself to reach out. But it gets easier with practice. What’s cool is when you realize how much value you can get sometimes simply by asking. Often all it takes is an email or a phone call and people are quite happy to help in whatever way they can.

  6. Peter J says:

    I think i got to a point a few years back where i seriously would not ever dream about achieving anything, i didn’t expect anything from life – and as you said, that did leave me in a state of depression. Glad that i found blogging though :P

    Now when i come up with a new idea i just get on and do it. I don’t need that approval from my parents, school or friends, i just get on and do what i feel is right, because that’s what’s truly matters. Having a dream and then not acting on it because you’re afraid that others won’t approve is just wrong.

  7. Nick Laborde says:

    I haven’t seen that movie but the first thing that poped in my head was a scene from “Swingers”.


    Anyway, that’s not my point.

    I totally agree with you in that passive dreams are just that, passive. At the end of the day it always comes down to what you actually do. It might not be the right thing, but it’s action, which is key.

    As they say “wish (or dream) in one hand and you know what in the other and see which one fills up first”

    Thomas Edison failed 1,000’s of times before he got the lightbulb right. He maintained his dream even though the reality at the time was fighting him.

    He figured out 1,000’s of ways that it didn’t work which lead to the way that it did.

    I’m sure he expected it to work even though reality told him thousands of times it wouldn’t.

    Also, luck is for losers. Being unlucky is just a self imposed excuse to suck.

    • Emilie says:

      Absolutely. It’s like that saying goes: “if you want to succeed, try failing more”. The more action you take, the closer you will come to realizing your dreams. But taking no action is a surefire way of failing.

      And you’re right, luck (or the lack thereof) is totally excuse language. It’s pretty infuriating when someone tells me I’m ‘so lucky’ that I’m not working a real job. Luck has nothing to do with it. Such garbage.

      Thanks for the comment Nick!

  8. ayngelina says:

    My challenge is that I never have expectations, I just take what comes along and am grateful for it. But it’s one of the things I’m working on this year as goals and expectations go hand in hand.

    • Emilie says:

      Awesome goal, Ayngelina!

      And yeah, it’s scary at first to even allow yourself to have expectations because there is that risk that you’ll get disappointed if they don’t work out. But that’s where action comes into play. Once you start taking responsibility for fulfilling your expectations yourself, it feels really empowering.

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