Expectations

Satisfaction on your mission trip (and vacations, OK I’ll be philosophical – life) could be determined by how well it meets or exceeds your expectations. At first I couldn’t help judging “This chicken meat is much richer than we have at home.” or “I’m sad that she grew up in a home with dirt floors and no windows”. Now I’m trying to observe, not comparing, not judging. It’s really hard and I’m not very good at it, but I believe it’s valuable.

Another aspect of judging and comparing is comparing this experience with the trip as you imagined it or with a past mission trip or vacation.

This is an enlightening piece I happened to hear on the radio before going to bed one night. A former Peace Corps volunteer was featured in a 5 minute segment on “The Story” on MPR. I thought what she read applied so well for our trip, for both first time travelers and return travelers. Each trip is unique. Being able to adjust your expectations is a key to enjoying and contributing to your trip. I e-mailed her and she sent me the text that she read, then also the excerpt from the Peace Corp Volunteer Manual that inspired her revelation.

From the volunteer’s letter on expectations….

“When faced with new situations, we create expectations of what we think might happens in order to manage the nervous feelings we have regarding the unknown.  These expectations help ease our anxiety before, (not that I personally was anxious… J), but as we actually arrive in the new situations, we must be able to separate what we thought would happen, to what actually is going on. If we don’t, we can get disappointed-not necessarily because we don’t like what is happening-but simply because it is different than we expected.  When this happens our next move must be to suppress any disappointment that we have felt, and see if the new situation can still be fulfilling/satisfying to us.” 

“This Isn’t What I Expected.”

(From A Few Minor Adjustments: A Handbook for Volunteers*)

….a brief word about expectations.  All Volunteers have them—and many are undone by them.  Expectations are normal and inevitable; they are our way of dealing with the unknown, which is inherently unsettling.

Indeed, they are our way of making the unknown into the known (albeit with the help of smoke and mirrors) and thereby eliminating our anxiety.  We naturally wonder about our Peace Corps experience-about the country, the job, the people-and whether we’re up to it.  We get all the information we can and begin to create an image of what it may be like.  The more we start to believe it it-until we forget altogether that this is only our notion of how things might be and become convinced that this in fact how things are.

All of which is immensely reassuring.  Now that we “know” how things are, we imagine ourselves in these circumstances and realize that we can cope (or that we can’t, at which point we do not pursue Peace Corps service any further).  From this point on, we no longer expect our Peace Corps experience to be a certain way, we depend on its being that way.  In short, this is no longer a vision of what our experience might be like; it’s a vision of what it had better be like.

Small wonder, then, that when we encounter the reality and it turns out not to be what we had imagined, we are deeply shaken.  Not so much because we don’t like what we find-in fact, we can barely see it-but because we don’t find what we expected.  Feeling anxious, threatened, and disappointed, we can’t really examine the situation we find for what it is.  Rather, we tend to reject it out of hand for what it is not.

This reaction may be natural enough under the circumstances, but we need to get beyond it.  We owe it to ourselves-and to Peace Corps and most especially the host country-to suppress our disappointment for a moment and consider whether the experience it now appears we’re going to have in this country and this job, different as it may be from what we expected, could still be satisfying and fulfilling.  If we can still make a contribution under these admittedly unforeseen conditions, does it really matter that much that we’ve been taken by surprise?

It’s quite true, of course, that our new circumstances—even when examined in tranquility—will still not be what we want.  But it’s always better to have rejected upon reflection rather than on impulse.

*Published by the Office of Special Services, Peace Corps, November 1991.

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