3.6 A Life of Expectations

Most people can point to a moment in time where they experienced their biggest failure and their greatest success. Expectations lead us to each of these points at opposite ends of the scale. A person needs to cycle through expectations in order to start the process over. Because we must complete a cycle to start a new one, success is typically credited to failure. Great success can come from great tragedy. Since every extreme high is followed by an extreme low, failure will be attributed to great success. Great tragedy is born out of great triumphs.

The following is a typical life of a normal person growing up in the United States. This decision tree formed by expectations is just to illustrate how these cycles impact a person’s life outcomes. Since the life of an average person will encompass thousands of small decisions, we will just focus on the large ones in this example.


An average American married couple decides to start a family.

This simple statement actually holds large expectations in itself. Typical American communities expect a couple to be married before starting a family. The couple starting the family already has expectations about what type of child they will have and how they will raise this child. Expecting parents typically discuss how their parenting will differ from their peers and their parents. New parents usually set expectations on height, hair color, intellect, appearance, weight, eye color, sex, career, religion, behavior and even their future grandchildren.

The new parents expect their child will be healthy and larger than normal since one of the parents is extremely tall. Both parents have blue eyes and brown hair and they expect their child will have the same. The expecting parents are both college educated intellectuals.


Thirty-six weeks later their baby is born prematurely. The new parents have a boy with blue eyes and black hair. Since he is born premature he is only 5 lbs 4 ounces but still healthy. They name him Matthew.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: The baby is born healthy and with blue eyes.

Missed Expectations: The baby is born premature and therefore smaller than normal newborns. He is also born with black hair.

Impact: The hair color expectation is really of no consequence. A premature baby carries a heavy impact on expectations. Although the couple’s premature baby is born healthy the term “premature” carries expectations. Studies have shown that parents who have premature births are more likely to have anxiety over their child’s health in the beginning. This stress from a social expectation of premature babies will likely lower the parent’s expectations of the child’s health. The anxiety and stress the parents experience are just signs of their expectations being lowered.

Early Childhood

Both of Matthew’s parents did very well in school as children so they expect he will do the same. Since he is born prematurely, they do not expect Matthew to excel at sports, because they have lowered his health expectations.
Matthew takes his first steps at 13 months. As an infant he eats well and has very few illnesses. Matthew speaks his first word at 21 months. Matthew learns to ride a bike at age 3.

By the age of 6 is at least 3 inches taller than his classmates and is the best player on his soccer team. Matthew’s first grade teacher determines he has a learning disability.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew is athletic, healthy and larger than average.

Missed Expectations: Matthew has not developed academically as his parents expect him to.

Impact: Matthew’s parent’s anxiety over his health is relieved and they start to raise expectations about his physical development. Matthew’s intellectual expectations come into question. His parents take the anxiety over his health and transfer it to his learning disability. This transference of expectations is a best case scenario. If Matthew is a sickly child along with the learning disability, the stress and anxiety would be more intense from their expectations being lowered even further for their child’s future. From birth to early childhood Matthew’s parent have gone from expecting their child will be a frail intellectual child to an athletic below average student.

Late Childhood

Matthew’s parents were not popular with other children during their late childhoods, so they expect he will be the same. They expect that Matthew will continue to excel at sports. Since Matthew is diagnosed with a learning disability his parents expect he will struggle in school.

Matthew becomes very popular among his classmates. This popularity follows him through high school. Matthew receives help for his learning disability and manages to bring his grades to above average.

Matthew’s student workload is reduced because his parents do not want him to be overwhelmed. The reduced workload left Matthew a lot of free time.

Matthew played soccer in his freshman and sophomore years of high school but chose to quit his junior year to focus more on his social life.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew is able to conquer his disability and excel in what academics he is exposed to.

Missed Expectations: Matthew gives up on athletics. Matthew is very popular and outgoing.

: Matthew’s parents still remain hesitant with his learning disability resulting in not challenging him. Although Matthew meets and exceeds these current expectations, the impact from the original expectation still weighs on his parents. Since they still have a lowered expectations and they never really raised his athletic ones because it is not an original expectation, Matthew lacks motivation.

Young Adulthood

Matthew’s parents both attended 4 year colleges, but since they have lowered their education expectations they expect he will attend a community college first. Both Matthew’s parent hold jobs in white collar professions so therefore they expect that he will work at a desk job.

Matthew enrolls in community college after high school, his first year he focuses on general studies and his ever growing social life. After seeing his peers focus on their futures, he starts to evaluate his interests. After great thought, he decides he has a real interest in law enforcement. For Matthew’s second year of community college he changes his major to Criminal Justice.

He receives his associate’s degree in Criminal Justice and immediately enrolls in the police academy. After completing the police academy he gets a job with his local police department.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew pursued and completes his secondary education.

Missed Expectations: Matthew chose a career that does not involve a desk.

Impact: Matthew’s parents expectations continue to fall. Although a police officer’s career is very respectable, his parent expected he would occupy a desk rather than a police car. Their lowered expectation of Matthew has taken his interest in law enforcement to what his qualifications could permit him to do. Matthew’s peers start to influence his education and career expectations.

Beginning Career Adulthood

Matthew’s parents reach a bottom of what they expect for his career and intellectual progress. Since Matthew’s parents are married and live in the suburbs they expect Matthew to meet someone and settle down in the town he grew up in.
After 2 years on the police force, Matthew decides his real interest is in the court room as a prosecutor. He decides to leave the police force and go back to school to be an attorney.

Matthew completes his bachelors and law degree at a local state school. While in school one of his professors convinces him he should move to the city and gain his experience there.

Matthew gets a job in the prosecutor’s office in the city. Because Matthew is very interested in law enforcement, he excels quickly in his career at the prosecutor’s office. Many long hours and his devoted dedication to his career takes its toll on Matthew’s love life.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew exceeds his parent’s career and education expectations.

Missed Expectations: Matthew moves to the city and remains single.

Impact: Matthew’s parent’s expectations begin to rise. Since Matthew’s parent’s value intellectual expectations greatly they quickly move from reluctant to euphoric. Their lowered expectations on his relationship and residence are clouded by their quickly euphoric feelings towards his success. Matthew’s career expectations are influenced by his peers and his leadership.

Early Mid Adulthood

Matthew’s parent’s expectations increase with every success he has at work. They have visions of him one day being the prosecutor. Their relationship and residence expectations are reduced but again clouded by their inclination towards academics over lifestyle.

Matthew loses more and more of his motivation as he discovers the politics of the prosecutor’s office. As Matthew’s drive diminishes his feeling of loneliness starts to take control. Matthew spends less time at the office and more time at social events. Matthew meets Cindy at a local charity event. Immediately Matthew’s focus shifts almost entirely from work to Cindy. After 2 years of dating they get engaged and married a year later.

Both Matthew and Cindy want children and feel the city is no place for a child. Cindy is also an attorney, but feels that having a family is more important than her career at this moment. Conveniently the prosecutor’s position becomes available in his home town and he and Cindy decide to move to the suburbs and have a family.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew married Cindy and moves back home to the suburbs.

Missed Expectations: Matthew choses his personal life over his career.

Impact: Matthew’s parent’s career expectations fall off of a cliff. They are happy he has met Cindy and is moving home to start a family. But they still have a hard time letting go of their visions of him as the prosecutor, in the big city. All of these emotions come out in conversations with Matthew as they congratulate him on his marriage but question his decision on leaving the city in the same sentence.

Mid Adulthood

Matthew’s parent’s influences over him are replaced primarily by Cindy. Although his parents retain a good part of influence over his expectations, Cindy holds the lions share. Cindy expects to start a family with Matthew. Cindy also expects Matthew to support their new family financially. She also expects him to be a good father and be there for them. Matthew’s parents expect him to pursue a political career locally.

Matthew settles into his new career as the local prosecutor. He takes what motivation he has left for criminal justice and excels at his new position.

Matthew and Cindy immediately start trying to have a child. Since they are unable to conceive immediately Cindy starts practicing law locally in the meantime.

Unable to have a baby immediately Matthew gets reinvigorated on his career outlook. He begins to pursue political avenues in his town by running for town councilman and winning. Matthew starts working long hours and Cindy picks up more and more local clients.

Soon after Matthew takes his political seat, Cindy gets pregnant. After conception, Cindy refocuses on her family aspirations and leaves her newly started law practice.

Matthew is influenced by Cindy to step down from his political position when the baby is born to ensure he is around for their child.

Matthew and Cindy start to make a list of expectations for their expected child. Matthew and Cindy have a healthy 7lbs 2 ounce baby girl after 9 months.

Within 2 years they have another child. This time they have a boy. Matthew is home most nights by 5 PM and Cindy settles into her new role as a stay at home mother.

Soon Cindy starts to miss her old career as a successful attorney. Matthew grows bored of his career as the town prosecutor. Even though his political career time was short he feels that politics is his true calling.

Matthew resigns his career as the prosecutor and runs for town mayor and wins. Since the Mayoral role is a part time job, this allows Cindy to go back to work. Matthew becomes the primary caregiver of their children until they leave the house.
Cindy establishes a large successful practice in the area. She continues to support the family until retirement. Matthew continues to be reelected until he decides to retire with Cindy.

Met or Exceeded Expectations: Matthew is an actively participating father throughout his children’s childhood. Matthew pursues and exceeds his parent’s political expectations. He starts a family and resided locally.

Missed Expectations: Matthew does not support the family financially.

Impact: Cindy’s primary expectation for Matthew is to start a family. Matthew exceeds Cindy’s parental expectation. Matthew is able to meet and exceed his parent’s primary expectations as well as Cindy’s. Matthew and Cindy continue the cycle of expectations with their children.

The above scenario may seem unrealistic to some, but the premise is accurate. Matthew’s pursuits in life were born out of expectations. He was able to exceed expectations as soon as they were lowered by those who influenced them. He missed expectations as soon as they had peaked. His life was lived within the expectations that had been set for him.

The expectations influence on our pursuits in life lead us from one success to failure to another success. From birth, our map is already drawn, whether we end up on the east side or the west is of no matter, we still will remain on the map. Our need to stay on this life map is controlled by our normal attributes. As we will see in the following, “Normal” human beings are followers of abnormal people.

4.0 Why Groups Do What they Do

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