Belief about (or mental picture of) the future

Wishing with confidence of fulfillment

The feeling that something is about to happen

I don’t know about you, but I often think I must have been a great disappointment to my parents – my father in particular. I think he had great hopes for me, and expected me to follow in his footsteps into business. But I didn’t. Instead, I left school early without a proper qualification to my name, proceeded to undertake a series of dead end jobs, and inevitably kept borrowing money from him just so I could “stay afloat.”

I think he thought that because he came from a disadvantaged background, grew up during the second world war, and “made it” on his own, that I couldn’t fail to have a promising career ahead of me, given the chances I was getting (private school, plenty of money, extra coaching when I needed it). I would be great.

He probably thought I would be a businessman like him, only I would be greater. I would be a captain of industry; I would have thousands of people working for me; I would live in a big house with my pretty wife, and he could pop round and visit the grandchildren any time he wanted.

What a disappointment I must have been to him! In and out of work all the time, never holding down a steady job, always off travelling somewhere with no money. In his eyes I must have failed. Well, failed him and his expectations at least. He now has high expectations for my book; he hopes I get it published, and that I become a successful author, but of course that’s not what this book is about.

So why do parents have such high expectations of us? Why do they put so much pressure on us to do well at school? Are they just looking out for us? Do they just want us to be successful so we don’t have to struggle through life, like they had to? That is what we are here to find out.

I have often wished that I had asked my father why he had such high expectations of me, and I wonder whether fathers who have not become successful, also have high expectations for their children, or are they just happy to let them be? I often wonder whether it is their own status they are worrying about, (sorry for the cynicism) that deep in their mind they feel like they would lose status in the eyes of their peers, if they are successful and their children are not. How do you think my father would react when he was asked:
“So what’s young alan up to now?”
What would he say?
“Erm, Erm, well he’s kind of in between jobs now,” when actually what he really wanted to say was, “Well, actually, he’s lazy and ungrateful; he does nothing, and after all we did for him. He’s such a disappointment to me.”

But it’s not just successful parents who place these expectations on their children. Poor and uneducated families believe that the children will pull them out of the misery and poverty they find themselves in. “Oh, yes, our george. He’s a lawyer now you know; very successful…”
But what happens to the young mind when faced with the knowledge that he is not going to live up to these expectations? I knew I was never going to be a rocket scientist or win the nobel prize for physics, and I didn’t like school much.

I couldn’t really see the point of all the tests they kept making us do; probably because I wasn’t any good at them. I couldn’t tell my parents that; they were investing in my future (and spending lots of their hard earned cash on me) so I had to keep going. The problem was, everyone now had high expectations of me. Even my friends thought I was going to be successful – imagine their surprise when I dropped out of school!
I then did what any soon to be unsuccessful person does, I started hanging around with people who were not only less intelligent than I was, but who had no expectations of me – the hard drinking pub crowd. It was great. Suddenly I was free. No one had any expectations, except I would be able to drink at least eight pints each night with them. To them, I sounded intelligent and well spoken, and they kept asking me “What are you going to do alan? I’m sure you’re going to make a lot of money, not like us, we’re stuck in our jobs.”

And there it was. It had happened again; suddenly, even the “drop out” crowd I was hanging around with wanted me to make something of my life. So I did what any self-respecting drop out would do, I started hanging round with a new drop out crowd.

Years went by, and I still wasn’t living up to anyone’s expectations, least of all my own. You see, the more people told me I was going to be a success, the more I started believing it myself, and the more bitterly disappointed I became when I failed, yet again.


  1. A feeling of dissatisfaction that results when your expectations are not realised
  2. An act (or failure to act) that disappoints someone

I couldn’t believe it! Everything I tried, I failed at. When I first started a new job, I went into it like a rocket and was soon the golden boy. Everyone had high expectations! But time after time, I blew it; by arguing with the bosses, or turning up late. The truth is, I didn’t care.
I was a disappointment to my parents, my friends and everyone I met. I became depressed, wondering how I was going to find a way out of this cycle of expectation and disappointment?

Suddenly I knew; I needed to be my own boss. So I left my job – which was only temporary – and set out to start a computer company. I was pretty good at computers and I thought, “I’m going to make a success of this!”

It started well enough, and everyone had high expectations that this was the chance I needed to really prove myself. This was where I would become the success that everyone expected me to become; alas it was not to be. Within two months, I had run out of money. I couldn’t borrow anything from the banks, as by now I had a bad credit rating, and the only way I could get the money I needed, was to go crawling back to my father once again and borrow the money from him, but each time I did, I had to endure a lecture about what a disappointment I was…
“You’re useless, alan,” he would say (as he had said for most of my life by the way), “you can never get anything right, you really are a good for nothing.”
“Yes dad.”
“Do you know how much money you’ve cost me over the years with your silly schemes? Thousands. I don’t know why you don’t just buckle down and get on!”
“Neither do I dad.”
And he went on:
“Do you know what people would give to have had your chances in life? Hmm? Well, Do you?”
“No dad.”
“Let’s just say that there is a queue of people out there who would give anything to have a tenth of what you were given.”
“Yes dad.”
“I’m sick of supporting you, I’m sick of you coming with your hand out all the time, it’s time to grow up, for christ’s sake!”
“Yes dad.”
“Now, how much do you need?”

And that was the story of my own business, which as you will imagine, failed several months later. Needless to say, I ended up down the pub with a new group of friends, who had no expectations of me, except being able to drink eight pints. It was definitely a darn sight easier than trying to live up to my dads expectations.


  1. An act that fails
  2. An event that does not accomplish its intended purpose
  3. Lack of success
  4. A person with a record of failing; someone who loses consistently

So there I was, branded a failure; and that lived with me for most of my adult life, until recently, when I started to consider it more deeply. I realised that I wasn’t a failure myself, I was failing to live up to expectations. These weren’t my expectations of myself, these were somebody else’s: My parents! That’s it, I thought, “All these years you thought you were a failure, and there was no one to blame but the expectations!”

Think about it. If you are a low grade student in biology, and I expect you to become a surgeon, what do you think the chances are of it happening? Zero to ten percent?

Now it would be different if you set yourself a goal that said I am going to become a surgeon, but then you would study harder at biology at school. You’d have to be slightly silly to fail all your exams and still want to be a surgeon, that wouldn’t make any sense.

It was the same with me. My dad wanted me to become a captain of industry or at least an entrepreneur, but he was so blinded by his expectations, he failed to notice reality. Instead of encouraging me to do something a little closer to the standard of work I was putting out, he said “reach for the stars!” And as I didn’t want to become a captain of industry, I didn’t put any effort in, so had no chance of even leaving the earth’s atmosphere, let alone reaching the stars.

After I left school, I kept trying to please him by taking jobs I thought would impress him, but I wasn’t doing them for me, I was doing them for him; so when my enthusiasm waned several months into the job, I ended up doing something to get myself fired or just walking out.
But my dad wasn’t to blame, all he did was encourage me; it was the expectations and the gap between them and reality. I have never been a failure. If I really want to do something, I do it, and if I don’t, or don’t succeed at it, it doesn’t make me a failure (although people would see it like that). But who cares about other people? Unfortunately, we do, and we end up trying to please everybody, even if it makes us unhappy ourselves. So we try and try until we give up, or can’t go on, and we are branded failures. Thanks very much!

So, instead of creating expectations, maybe parents should just let their children be.

Let them be children, let them grow up, and when they want to do something they will do it. After all, it’s their life, not yours. What’s it got to do with you if they don’t want to be a scientist or a businessman?

Those are the things you wanted to be, not what your children want to be; so leave them alone! Let them work out their way in the world. All you are doing is setting yourself and your children up for potential disappointment later on in life, and then have them branded as failures.

Success is overrated anyway. As long as people are happy and content in their life, free from conflict and fear they will have a good life. It is not up to you to choose their path for them. “But I am only trying to guide them as any good parent would do” I hear one parent shout. But putting pressure on children to decide what they want to be when they finish school is about as far away from being a good parent as anyone could hope to be.

Let them BE.

Who cares if they end up working in a dead end job? That is only your view. If the child chooses it, then let him be. There is work to be done and people have to do it. We must not judge our children for the jobs or the path they have chosen. There is no right and wrong path, only a path; we must see that even if we don’t agree with their choices. We must end the cycle of expectations, disappointment and failure we are creating for our children and ourselves.

Who needs expectations? They are merely an expression of psychological becoming, which is a process of thought: Of wanting more than you already are, which in the end, causes conflict and unhappiness for all involved. Let’s all give up expecting, and we may find ourselves pleasantly surprised by the results. And even if we aren’t, well, it’s not the most important thing in the world, is it? Let it go. Please. We are doing so much damage to our children’s young minds.

And to young people, I say: If anyone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you can reply cleverly: “But, I already am!” And then watch their response. Have fun in life, and never let anyone tell you you are a disappointment or a failure, you were already so much more than that the day you were born.


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