Ambitiously Expect?

Recently read a great blog on managing expectations for a happy reality from the legendary Morgan Housel which can be found here:

The tl;dr on the link above is simply captured in this quote:

The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. If you have unrealistic expectations you’re going to be miserable your whole life. You want to have reasonable expectations and take life’s results good and bad as they happen with a certain amount of stoicism.

And like I do for all good pieces of literature I read (hoping some of you do this to this blog if it falls into that category 😛) I sent it to some of my friends. It was well received but triggered a discussion around managing ambition with expectations.

If expectations are low, won’t ambition also take a hit? And if ambition takes a hit, won’t we restrain ourselves from reaching our true potential and living our best lives?

Ambition and Expectation are like those identical who are all the same but for the scar on the forehead. The similarity is stark, but you only need to look closely for one more moment to realise that they are indeed different.

An old saying goes, “If you want to be disappointed, have expectations.” And while there’s a lot of truth to that statement, I think it’s important to understand the difference between having high expectations and being ambitious.

Expectations are those pesky things we all have. You know, those little voices in our heads that tell us we should be doing more, or better, or that we’re not good enough. They can be incredibly frustrating and make us feel like failures. Then there are also expectations that we place on other people/things. But here’s the thing: expectations are often based on other people’s opinions of us and not our own opinion of ourselves.


  • Expectation of family to do good finacially or academically (Expecting to get all As)
  • Expectation to beat expectations
  • Expecting too much of a famed cuisine and finding it bland
  • Expecting the stock market to go up everyday

Ambition is different. Ambition is driven by our own desires and goals. It’s what motivates us to keep reaching for more, even when it seems impossible. Ambition is what allows us to see past our current circumstances and envision a better future for ourselves. And because it comes from within, ambition is always under our control- no one can take it away from us unless we let them. Ambition makes you put in the effort every day, not thinking about the result.

So how can we manage our expectations in order to live happier lives?

First, it’s essential to check our motivation for wanting something. If our only reason for doing something is because we think someone else expects us to do it, then it might not be worth pursuing.

Second, we need to make sure our expectations are realistic and achievable. We’re much more likely to feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments if they’re within reach. Finally, even when things don’t go according to plan ,we shouldn’t beat ourselves too much. It’s okay to strive for excellence without expecting perfection.

If you are a skilled cricketer, You can either expect to hit every ball for six, or you can work on your skill to hit most balls for six. In both the scenarios the feelings are very different. In the first one, every time you miss a six, you feel like a loser. You feel like you haven’t done enough. In the other one every time you hit you feel more confident of hitting the next one as well. The times you miss, you take a lesson and strive to be better

Now, onto your question – can managing expectations lead to a happier life? In my opinion, yes! When our expectations are realistic, and in line with what’s possible, we’re less likely to be disappointed or feel like failures when things don’t go as planned. And when we’re not constantly beating ourselves up over unmet expectations, I believe it frees us to focus on enjoying life more fully.

Of course, having low expectations can also lead to a lack of motivation or drive – why bother trying if you don’t expect much from yourself? But I think this is where ambition comes in. As long as you have ambitious goals that inspire you (regardless of whether they seem achievable at first glance), low expectations won’t stand in your way of reaching your potential and living your best life.

The only thought to live by that I have found happiness is that You are not owed anything, and You do not owe anything. If you don’t expect a happy birthday message, when you get it, you’ll feel wonderful. If you don’t expect an offer, when you get it, you’ll feel wonderful. If you don’t expect a pay raise (work to your max potential irrespective), when you get it, you’ll feel wonderful. If you don’t expect an admit (work your best on your application) when you get it, you’ll feel wonderful. If you don’t expect yourself to win (play to the best of your ability) when you reach the finals, you’ll feel wonderful.

The ability to feel wonderful is within us. And it doesn’t need to lower our ambition to be the best. Just needs us to not think that we are owed something.


SST View All →

A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.

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