The bestselling author returns with his biggest book yet in which he teaches us the secret to living a happier life: get rid of as many expectations as possible — of ourselves, our future, our relationships, our career and our family. Expectations are the secret software, running on the hardware of our minds, controlling our emotions, decisions, and actions. How? Think about your life. How much of the sadness you feel derives from what you think should have happened — than with what actually happened? Think about your career. How much of the discontent you feel comes from your belief about where you’d be at this point — than with the progress you’ve actually made? Think about your relationships...
Publisher: William Morrow (May 4, 2021) Pages: 288 pages ISBN-10: 0063031175 ISBN-13: 978-0063031173 ASIN: B08CXVSR8D
DeVon Franklin is a media multi-hyphenate. An award-winning producer, a New York Times best-selling author and a renowned motivational speaker he is followed by millions around the world for inspiring content, encouragement, and advice. On Air with Ryan Seacrest calls him a self-help master, and Oprah calls him a different kind of spiritual teacher for our time. DeVon is a produced of hit inspirational films like Breakthrough and Miracles from Heaven. He is also the author of multiple bestselling books, such as The Success Commandments and The Wait, which he cowrote with his wife, Meagan Good. He sits on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he’s a graduate of the University of Southern California. DeVon lives in Los Angeles with Meagan.
To every caged bird . . . it’s your time to break free
Are You Living Free?
When I discover who I am, I will be free.
You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
As I write this, in the summer of 2020, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Isolation, loneliness, and despair are exploding. Our lives have forever been impacted in ways beyond our control. Jobs, businesses, homes, lives, and livelihoods are being lost. At the same time, there’s a groundswell against the systemic racism and inequality at the foundation of our country. Tensions are at a fever pitch as this call for greater compassion and equity grows to a deafening level. The obvious paths forward have been interrupted. Debts are rising. Disappointments are mounting. Hope is waning. We are losing our sense of self and where we fit in the world. Dreams are dashed. Hearts are troubled. This is not what we expected.
And yet, these issues are not completely new. Our current troubles are only exacerbating what we were already feeling—anxious, exhausted, stressed, and disconnected from ourselves and the people we care about the most. Before our normal lives were halted, most of us were doing too much, and paying for it, as we tried to live up to the cultural ideal that everybody should be grinding. Then, we felt like we had to be too busy in order to be successful. Now, we’re caught somewhere in the middle, unsure where to go from here, or how to rebuild.
You may be wondering: How do I survive? How do I make it through? How do I live the life I feel destined to live, in the face of so many factors seemingly out of my control? You are not alone; I’ve pondered the exact same questions. I’ve sought answers, in the name of greater personal freedom and happiness, and I’ve made some startling discoveries. Even before the pandemic began, I had a realization about the key to getting the most out of life, and now, as our world has been turned upside down, this discovery has proven even more urgent.
Here’s what I have come to know: unmanaged expectations lead to an unhappy life.
This is the true secret that no one is talking about. One of the reasons why we have so much difficulty isn’t life itself—it’s what we have expected from life up until now, and how upset we have been when our expectations did not come to pass.
The people who seek advice from me almost always complain about how miserable they are because of something that hasn’t happened yet. That’s one of the main problems with expectations: they keep us from living in the present, enjoying the process, and appreciating what we do have. Instead, we obsess over what we don’t have. We’re too busy focusing on what we expect to receive, whether it has any basis in reality or not. Or we’re too hung up on the pain of past disappointment.
Our focus goes to where it shouldn’t be—on other people and situations outside of ourselves. That distracts us from taking full accountability for our own choices and contentment. Instead of maximizing the time that does exist (the present), we outsource our happiness, satisfaction, and peace to a time that doesn’t yet exist (the future): Oh, when I get this job, or, When this promotion happens, or, When I get married . . . then I’ll be happy. News flash: if you’re not happy now, you won’t be happy then.
The Expectation Revelation
You may not even be aware that you’re not reacting to the actual events of your life. Instead, you’re reacting to your expectations of what you thought should’ve happened, what didn’t happen, or what could’ve happened. Let’s be honest—if this is you (and hey, I was guilty of this too), then here’s a hard truth. As of right now, you aren’t in control… your expectations are running your life. Maybe even ruining your life.
Gallup’s annual “Global Emotions” report for 2019 once again found America to be among the most stressed-out countries in the world: 55 percent of those polled had felt stressed out during the day, and the global average was still high at 35 percent. (And this was before the pandemic!)
How many people’s lives have been misspent or wasted because they’re living according to the expectations of their parents, their friends, their church, their spouse, or anyone else, instead of what they feel called to do in their heart? Too many. Maybe you know deep down, as you read this, that you’ve fallen into this trap too. Don’t worry; I’m here to help you. By the time you finish this book, you will be living according to the life you’ve been called to live—not the expectations anyone else has put on you.
For me, it all came into focus when I examined my own life and the areas in which I sometimes struggled, and asked myself if my expectations were contributing to my unhappiness. I looked at anywhere I was experiencing some discontent, such as certain aspects of my career, certain areas of my marriage, or personal goals I hadn’t achieved yet. I asked myself the question: What is the source of my unhappiness? This analysis was incredibly powerful—it was like sliding on a pair of glasses. I immediately realized I was being burdened by extraneous expectations, and I wasn’t even aware of many of them. As I reflected on all of this, I understood it wasn’t an issue of me not doing enough, or not being good enough, or not receiving enough. My expectations—of myself, of other people, of circumstances, of situations—were not managed or set. And so, my expectations were weighing me down.
Next, I applied this lens to the people who’d been coming to me for help with their lives and careers. I saw that they had unrealistic ideas about that promotion they wanted, or about how their hard work would be rewarded in comparison to their peers. Or they’d been dating someone for years, and they had the unrealistic idea about this person changing. Their disappointment when these things didn’t come to pass as they’d hoped was eating them up inside—it was preventing them from seeing the aspects of their life they did like and could control.
And then I looked around me at our country, and why we’re in the shape we’re in. Maybe we haven’t set our expectations properly. By that I don’t mean that we shouldn’t rely on certain protections and assistance from our government. We should—but sometimes when we have an expectation, we may absolve ourselves of the responsibility to make sure it gets done. Maybe we need to stop automatically expecting our elected officials to do their jobs. Instead, we must hold them accountable and become the change we want to see.
Are You Living Free?
Living free—isn’t that what we all want, really? To be free. Free from the burdens and stress of trying to live up to, or down to, what others expect from us. Free from the prison of negative thoughts and self-talk that keeps us feeling trapped. Free from the anxiety that we aren’t going to succeed. For you, living free may seem so far from your current reality that you’re not sure it’s even possible, or what it could entail, for that matter.
TO LIVE FREE MEANS YOU ARE NOT UNDER THE MENTAL, PHYSICAL, OR EMOTIONAL CONTROL OF ANYONE OR ANYTHING. YOU LIVE ACCORDING TO THE EXPECTATIONS YOU CHOOSE.
For too long, you’ve been giving your power away to people, circumstances, and situations. It’s time to take your power back, which you do by making the commitment to live free.
Living free is about taking on fewer burdens; having fewer obstacles that block your joy; thinking clearly; feeling happier; worrying a lot less (or not at all) about what other people think of you; and being fully content to be yourself (not who everyone expects you to be).
Of course, for each individual, freedom will be a different experience. You get to define what living free looks like for you, and it is always a wonderful blessing when you do. Now that I’ve given you a taste of the greater freedom that’s waiting for you, imagine for yourself:
- How would it feel if I were really free?
- Would my life be anything like the one I am living today?
- Who would I be if I chose to be my true self?
Well, prepare to live out your answers to these questions, starting right now. To live free, you need to cast off as many expectations as possible and to set those that remain. This process will help you become crystal clear on your expectations and better at managing them properly. You will see a tremendous improvement in all areas of your life.
After assessing and possibly letting go of the illusions and false goals that have been contributing to your dissatisfaction, you can properly set your expectations and live more in a time of less. Setting expectations simply requires asking yourself two critical questions, which you’ll learn more about in the pages that follow:
- Is it a realistic or unrealistic expectation?
- Is it a spoken or unspoken expectation?
I will teach you how to understand what’s realistic versus unrealistic, and what’s the difference between a spoken and an unspoken request. Yes, this process will require some tough conversations with yourself, and quite possibly with the people closest to you. But the benefits are immediate and great.
This journey will help you become clear about who you really are (not who you’re expected to be), what you really value, and what you truly want out of your life, which will allow you to live the life you actually choose for yourself, in the here and now.
As I’ve applied these truths in my own life, they have made a radical difference in my stress level, happiness, and overall disposition. They’ve helped me become more flexible and accepting of changes in my life that previously would have been upsetting.
I’ve discovered that once your expectations are set properly, the stage is set for the life you’ve always wanted—and deserved. My deepest prayer is that this book will be very healing for you. I pray it will lead you toward a freer, more contented, more grateful you. And not in some far-off future, but right here and now, right inside of you, where your happiness has been waiting for you all along.
Set Yourself Free
There are four main areas in your life where expectations come into play:
- PERSONAL: Your expectations of yourself
- CULTURAL: Your expectations of your culture and the culture’s expectations of you
- RELATIONAL: Your expectations of others and others’ expectations of you
- PROFESSIONAL: Your expectations of your career and your job’s expectations of you
To live more freely, you’ll have to gain control in all of these areas. To do so, you must evaluate each and every one of your expectations and determine where it came from. If it doesn’t serve you, you must let it go. By doing so, you will release yourself from its grip. Do this again, and again, and again, until you’re left with only the expectations of your choosing. Then, any expectations you do keep must be set carefully; make sure these expectations are realistic and communicate them to anyone else who might need to agree to meet them. Then and only then will your expectations be set properly.
This, right here, is the secret to a happier life! And it works.
The problem is, if we’ve never stopped to analyze where our expectations come from, or how they’ve been playing out in our lives, they have probably led us to make some compromised choices. Possibly for the first time ever you will get real with yourself by asking:
- Is my job the one I really wanted?
- Is this relationship the right one?
- Do I live where I really want to live?
- Honestly, is this the life I truly want to be living?
This can be difficult. If you have the courage to be truthful with yourself, the answers to these questions can be extremely painful. As can the recognition that you could be living in ways you don’t really like or value, trying to make someone else happy, or trying to live up to some version of yourself that is far different than who God created you to be. You might find yourself realizing: Oh, no, this is not where I want to be, who I want to be, how I want to be living.
Once I began understanding the true impact of expectations, it rocked me to my core and brought me to tears. There was so much in my life I’d expected to happen that didn’t; I’d expected so many things from other people that I shouldn’t have expected. Can you relate? I reached the point where I had to ask myself a question, which I want you to ask yourself now: If this isn’t the life of my conscious choosing, how do I find one that is?
If you can’t answer that question right away, don’t be discouraged—that’s what the work in this book is meant to help you discover. There is so much more contentment waiting for you. By finally setting your own expectations and shedding the rest, your life will open up. You really do create your own happiness, and if you try to outsource it to anyone or anything else, you will always be dissatisfied.
Setting your expectations for yourself is a whole new approach to life, one that allows you to be more carefree and less burdened. Through the examples and exercises in these pages, you’ll learn how to do this for yourself. In the end, you’ll be more grateful for what you have. You’ll possess more hope. You’ll have reassessed what’s important to you, and your reality will be rebuilt, better than ever before. It’s time to live free. Are you ready?
The Dangers of Expectations
You are your own worst enemy. If you can learn to stop expecting impossible perfection, in yourself and others, you may find the happiness that has always eluded you.
Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.
Expectations are weights. They can weigh us down physically. They can weigh us down mentally. They can weigh us down spiritually. They put our focus too much on where it shouldn’t be—on the past, on the future, and on other people—and distract us from accepting accountability for our own happiness and choices, in the here and now. When we take on too many of them, they make our lives harder—and can actually push our goals further away.
Too many expectations can crush you. That’s why they can be so dangerous. Before you can fly, you’ve got to shed; part of the process of setting expectations is letting go of many of those you’ve taken on throughout your life, including those you were unaware of up until now.
In this section, we’re going to open by discussing personal expectations, how and why they can be detrimental, and all of the powerful shifts you can make in your life by properly setting them. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of the process, let’s examine their origins. According to Ben Silliman, family life specialist at the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, we usually pick up our expectations unintentionally, unconsciously, and most often in our childhood. This is why it’s so important to stop and identify our expectations and where they originated. He points to three main sources:
- FAMILY : Parent/grandparent models, attitudes among relatives, siblings
- SOCIETY : Friends, neighborhood, school/church, TV/media
- PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND PREFERENCES : Hurts, events, and hopes
To Silliman’s list I would add our career or professional life as a potential source of the expectations we carry. Each of these sources influences us to different degrees. But we all have taken on the expectations of our race, gender, economic status, religious background, family, social group, or workplace, to name a few.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes from identifying with certain groups and their expectations, which can range from what we’re supposed to wear to where we’re supposed to go, the music we’re supposed to listen to, and the core foundations of who we are, such as the beliefs we’re supposed to hold or the ways we’re supposed to behave.
This would be pressure enough if each of us identified with only one group, but most of us fall into several different ones, all of which come with their own expectations. For example, I’m a Black man, a Christian, a son, a brother, a husband, and a friend. I’m an author. I’m a Hollywood producer. I’m in the public eye. Believe me, I know how many expectations these various roles can put upon a single person. I am well aware that many people believe I’m supposed to think and act as they feel I should, based on the groups with which I identify.
Here’s the rub: if you or I don’t live up to certain expectations, we’re going to be vilified, judged, and probably shunned—not for holding any beliefs that are negative, or in any way despicable, but for having beliefs that may not line up with what some people within our various groups believe. So we often, without realizing it, conform to what’s expected of us, even if it’s not what we want to do, out of fear of what will happen if we don’t. How can this possibly be a sane way to live? It’s not. It can be overwhelming, demoralizing, draining, and downright disruptive to our well-being. And yet, for most of us, this is how it’s always been.
Have you ever stopped to think about what expectations are being put on you by others or by the groups you identify with? If you have never thought about this, now is the time.
For example, if you’re a man, you’re supposed to think this way. If you’re a woman, you’re supposed to think that way. If you’re religious, you’re supposed to do this, but not that. If you’re young, you’re supposed to like this. If you’re successful, you’re supposed to drive this car. If you’re a social media influencer, you’re supposed to have this number of followers. Sound familiar? There is a significant cost to unconsciously conforming to such expectations.
I know I’ve conformed to what’s been expected of me before, and I resented it. You may be doing it right now. But I ask you: Is it worth it? Going along with what’s expected, rather than standing up for your right to live as you see fit, and how God has ordained for you to live, might seem easier in the moment, but it comes with a heavy price. We cannot do this long-term without suffering negative effects—from resentment on one end to self-destructive behaviors on the other.
It can affect anyone and everyone. As pop music sensation Demi Lovato has publicly expressed in interviews, the pressure she felt to maintain a certain level of physical perfection was so intense that it eventually compelled her to act out in a very dangerous way. Her unhappiness became so great that it caused her to accidentally overdose after six years of sobriety. As she described her life on The Ellen Show in March 2020, others controlled every aspect of her behavior, but the rules were particularly strict around food, especially before photo shoots. She felt powerless and miserable. Plus, she was given no support for the eating disorder with which she was already struggling. After all, being a certain shape was one of the expectations that came along with her role as a pop star. This perfect storm of anxiety and misery eventually became too much for her:
I lived a life for the past six years that I felt like wasn’t my own… My life, I just felt, was so—and I hate to use this word—but I feel like it was controlled by so many people around me. . . . I was stuck in this unhappy position. Here I am sober, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m six years sober, but I’m miserable. I’m even more miserable than I was when I was drinking. Why am I sober?”
When Lovato first tried to warn her team that she was in danger of relapsing, she was told that she was “being very selfish,” that she “would ruin things, not just for you, but for us as well.” So not only did she feel like she had no healthier path to freedom, but she also felt abandoned, which activated her childhood trauma, contributing to her decision to use again. Following her first relapse, she came clean in her 2018 song “Sober.” A month after it was released, she had an even more serious episode: she was found unconscious in her home and treated with Narcan, which is typically used in cases of opioid overdoses. She was rushed to the hospital and required to stay there for several days, until her condition stabilized enough for her to seek addiction treatment.
When Lovato thankfully survived her ordeal and emerged from three months at a live-in rehab facility, she was clear that the changes she needed to make in her life went far beyond addressing her addiction and eating disorder. She fired her management team and hired a new manager—someone as she said in an interview with Bustle magazine, supported her desire to put the focus back on her music, not on her body.
I applaud Demi for her courage, not only to seek the treatment she needed but also to release herself from the unhealthy expectations of others. She came to realize they didn’t match who she wanted to be. She took control of setting her own expectations—about her body, her artistry, and her happiness—and her life is now better for it.
I applaud you, in advance, for your courage in committing to do this work. Are there unhealthy habits you’ve taken on? I guarantee they are probably related to the pressures you are feeling from an expectation you don’t want to or feel you can’t meet. As long as you only try to change the behavior, without looking at what lies beneath it, you will have a hard time healing yourself. In fact, you may conquer one bad habit only to take up another. That’s exactly how detrimental it can be to live with the burden of others’ expectations.
- What unhealthy habits have been keeping me from living my best life?
- Am I acting out in this way because I feel pressure to live up to my own, or someone else’s, unrealistic expectations?
- Has the pressure of these expectations caused me to retreat into a fantasy about my future, rather than putting my focus on what I have and can achieve in the here and now?
- What steps can I take to release these expectations and be healthier and more present?
We have to give ourselves permission to be free—letting go of any and all expectations that we did not set for ourselves and do not agree with and instead allowing ourselves to think and live how we choose, not how others have chosen for us to live. We also have to allow ourselves to be imperfect. At whatever stage of our journey we’re on, finding unconditional self-love and acceptance is the first step toward the confidence that will allow us to be our best selves.