Too often we confuse our expectations with our aspirations. You may know it as expecting too much. Career dissatisfaction results from a misalignment of these two factors. To stay on track, you need to only understand the difference and ask a few questions. In this article, I’ll tell you what they are.

I recently asked MBA grads to tell me how the degree has met their expectations. I wanted to know specifically what they sought and where the expectations came from.

What are your expectations? You think of one, now. Quick. Just any one…

The first response from the graduates was a resounding NO. There was no money or opportunities after graduation.

Where you are after graduation tells you something about where you belong. This respondent apparently became disgruntled because he didn’t achieve his aspirations, which were out of alignment with his expectations.

When I graduated and walked across the stage during the ceremony, I was handed a piece of paper. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a check. I wasn’t disappointed. I expected that. I’m just glad it wasn’t a bill.

I aspired to make more money. That was certainly one of the reasons I chose to get an MBA. With only a MSEE, I would be doomed to be in engineering forever. I wanted to be able to move over to management later in my career. I would either have to slowly build my experience if I stayed in my existing company or jump ship to a new one to get more money immediately.

So you’d think, now that I have two master’s degrees, I’d have it all figured out. But I don’t. The problem always becomes that once I reach a goal, I create a new one. These are my aspirations. They keep driving me to bigger and better things. I never seem to be content.

Now if I want to maintain this drive, I can’t go confusing aspirations with expectations. Aspirations are in the future (i.e. you aren’t there yet). It’s where you want to go. Expectations are much closer to the here and now. If I do things now but expect the rewards that I want in the future, I’ll get disappointed quickly.

Test this out. Go to a local gas station and buy a lottery ticket. You will WIN. If you do, remember I told you to buy the ticket.

I struggle with expectations a lot myself. Like most others, I can define the things I want. I want more money. I want to be CEO. I want to work whenever I feel like it.

When I look at my expectations, I have to ground them. The MBA by itself wouldn’t get me money. Remember, they only gave me a piece of paper with my name on it. My manager didn’t run to HR to give me a big raise either. So, no one would give me the money I hoped for.

My expectation of more money wasn’t filled. Did I ever answer the question of who would fill it? Ahhhh. I didn’t do anything but hope that someone would see what I had done and reward me for it. Bad move on my part.

Another question I failed to answer was “why would someone pay me more money?” Most performance based systems require us to set goals, accomplish them and reap a small reward. Of course, these goals are usually in line with the company’s goals, not our own. This alignment is crucial if you want the company to notice your accomplishment.

The trick is to expectations is to fully think them through. List what you want. Then, ask who, why, how and when. I never got passed creating my list of what I wanted. Of course, I don’t do that now.

So. There it is. How to be happier in your career. Learn what to expect. Always aspire.

What have you found to be useful in keeping your aspirations at an arm’s length?

Author's Bio: 

Todd Rhoad, MSEE, MBA is Director at BT Consulting, a career consulting firm in Altanta. He is also the author of Blitz The Ladder and can be reached at