Non-Zero Expectations

Having expectations isn't wrong.

I recall a trip that until that point had been pretty boring, and being asked by someone how I was liking it.

I thought the trip sucked, and I said that.

But that didn’t go down so well, and I remember getting treated to some pearls of wisdom.

That you shouldn’t have expectations going into anything, or you’ll be disappointed and end up being frustrated and miserable – so learn to have zero expectations.

I never said I was frustrated; I just said I thought the trip sucked – which was a fact, because I did think it had sucked so far – but I don’t think the distinction got through.

This a particularly annoying cliché that sounds profound and gets bandied about a lot.

“No expectations, no disappointment”.

I wrote about hype, that disappointment occurs when expectations exceed reality.

The logic is simple : IF Expectations > Reality then Disappointment = 1

A shield against disappointment then, is to come in with no expectations – because if you set expectations very low, then reality will usually exceed them.

It’s just simple math – the probability of exceeding a low number is more than that of exceeding a high number.

No expectations is a gross simplification of a stoic idea, Premeditatio malorum – the pre-meditation of evils, anticipating in advance how things could go wrong.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation… nor do all things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned—and above all, he reckoned that something could block his plans.”


Pre-emptively thinking of ‘evils’ is not the same as having no expectations.

While having no expectations saves you from disappointment, because you in some ways ‘expect’ disappointment, it comes with some dangers that I pointed out before.

One is that it kills growth – if you think you know to expect, you’re not going to learn anything new.

And that it makes you jaded – there’s no point trying anything if you don’t expect anything to come of it.

Having expectations can be a good thing.

Having Expectations

‘Zero expectation’ isn’t just harmful, it’s also an impossibility, and therefore to preach it is hypocrisy or delusion.

Why would I do anything if I didn’t expect something from it?

You might like studying math for itself, without caring about whether it fetches you a good grade – but there’s still an expectation that the process of studying will be rewarding in some way.

If there were no expectations from anything, you would randomly choose from whatever options were before you, because they were all equivalent – you expected nothing from any of them.

Which is completely contrary to what actually happens – people exercise choice, they aren’t slotted randomly into situations.

It’s like taking a list of careers – automotive engineers, sweepers, lawyers, software developers, shopkeepers and so on – and assigning humans randomly to each.

Whereas, it’s the other way around – the humans, for whatever individual reasons, or rather, for whatever individual expectations – choose the careers. It might be money or passion or work-life balance or anything, but it’s still an expectation.


Zero expectation is also a comfortable fiction to paper over inequalities or differences.

Because if you pretend there’s no expectation from any choice, it follows that all choices are equal – they all equate to zero expectations.

Which is something that feels very good to hear, and especially to tell others – that every choice is equal.

Or more precisely, no choice is ‘worse’.

I have to pick some group to make a point, so I’ll pick jugglers.

I’m sure a lot of people would object if someone said an entrepreneur or a doctor is ‘better’ than a juggler. Let’s ignore that we don’t know better at what, but even then, this won’t go down well.

But if you hadn’t yet become anything, can you really say you aren’t sure which is a better thing to become (note the future tense, different from the present tense ‘is‘) – a doctor or a juggler? Are you actually facing a difficulty choosing between these two?

Hypocrisy is when your actions differ from your words, and this seems to fit the bill – the person who’d never admit that once choice is better than the other would himself never make the choice that he argues is not really worse.

There’s a triggered response to this that completely misses the point so I might as well pre-empt it, though I know it’ll still surface.

Are you saying that doctors and entrepreneurs are better people than jugglers?

No, of course not.

First of all, the statement isn’t even about the person – it’s about the vocation, the choice (options for which aren’t even available to a lot of people because of reasons like poverty).

It’s not even implying putting down some choices. No one deserves to be disrespected for what they do, but every choice doesn’t merit equal respect either. Just like poverty v/s inequality – no one deserves to be poor, but equal wealth isn’t a solution either.

Secondly, better could mean anything – better monetarily – which is certainly true, given how the economy rewards these professions.

Or better if you prefer one kind of work over the other, or better socially if you want others to validate your choices – you could come up with any criteria.

So it really comes down to this: depending on what you value, some choices are better for you than others.

Which means that, firstly – not every choice is equal, and secondly – that this hierarchy might vary for individuals depending on what mattered to them.

Choices Matter

If not every choice is the same, it follows then that it does matter what you do.

It’s nice to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it well.

But there is a difference between Ramanujan and a bus ticket collector. Series matter, and bus tickets don’t.

If I had to put the recipe for genius into one sentence, that might be it: to have a disinterested obsession with something that matters.

Paul Graham

Paul Graham touches on a similar point in this essay. It’s highly unlikely the best ticket collector in the world could ever have the same impact as a Ramanujan.

In fact, the best of bus ticket collectors wouldn’t perhaps come close in impactful work to a below average mathematician or software engineer.

Which is why you need not just interest and dedication, but interest and dedication in something that matters.

Of course, there’s a difference between value and impact, and if collecting bus tickets makes you happy, and you’re not interested in other stuff, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go for it – that’s your choice.

Being and Feeling

There’s a subtle difference between being and feeling.

It’s the difference between I am sad (or I am feeling sad) and I am feeling sadness.

The first is a statement about me – I am a person who is (at the moment) characterized by the state of sadness.

The second is a statement about an emotional state that I can recognize – I can sense the feeling of sadness somewhere within me. Like looking at yourself from a distance as an impartial observer.

And it’s really up to me how much importance I give this emotional state.

I can let it be the dominating factor in determining my current state – which is what the first statement does.

Or I can just acknowledge it and relegate it to the back beyond, not giving it more importance than it deserves, not letting it take over me.

I’ll go back to the example I began with.

When I said that I thought the trip sucked, I meant it.

But it doesn’t follow at all that I have to feel frustrated or miserable, it’s just one temporary part of my life, not the determining factor of my state.


How does this relate to expectations?

Because of the fallacy of zero expectations, that it was a mistake to expect something from the trip.

That you should pretend every single thing that happens to you exceeds your expectations.

I think that’s bullshit.

This idea of zero expectation is simply having no standards.

If you have no standards, everything will meet them.

Which is selling yourself short – because there’s always an opportunity cost, something else you could be doing.

And if you always pretend that everything meets your expectations, you’ll never stop to consider if this is really the best choice, or even if it’s a good choice.

“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

John Stuart Mill

The context of Mill’s quote was different, but I think it applies here too.

You’ll always be easily satisfied if you either genuinely have zero expectations, or if you succeed in pretending that you do by suppressing your expectations and thus your disappointment.

Whereas the first step to dissatisfaction is authenticity.

First acknowledging that you have some expectations, then that you haven’t met them yet – and then assessing whether you’re on the way towards meeting them.

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.”


Zero expectation is not the same as Amor Fati either.

Amor Fati is to love everything that happens to you – you willed it, after all.

Zero expectation is to love anything that might happen to you – because you have no standards, so anything is fine.

Amor Fati isn’t that you reduce your expectation to zero – thus everything exceeds expectations, and therefore you might ‘love’ everything.

It’s instead that you don’t resent anything that happens to you, you ‘will’ it.

If it doesn’t meet expectations, you don’t let it define you – love it for what it is, a stepping stone toward the next stage. But to be a next stage, there has to be some expectation, else why not simply remain where you are?

Failed Expectations

Everyone’s heard the story of Achilles, a story I’ve always liked.

Faced with two choices, one easy, one not – to continue living as he was, growing old and eventually being forgotten – or to die a hero, fighting at Troy – he chose the second.

Put like that, it looks like a lesson in the virtue of suffering – that you have to suffer to achieve anything great, you can’t have it easy.

Imagine another soldier though, who went off to Troy to fight – he faced the same suffering, without even the certainty that he’d get anything for it – he might well die and be forgotten.

This is risk – doing something without any certainty of the outcome.

I think that’s one of the greatest ‘sufferings ‘ – if you knew you’d succeed you could grin and bear it, but the possibility that everything will come to naught is one of the hardest things to fight (related to Nishkama Yoga).

And it’s also an indispensable part of anything worthwhile – no risk, no reward. I can’t think of any worthy achievement that’s risk-free.

If you have zero expectations, there’s no risk – because your standards are non-existent, so no situation can be described as a failure.

It’s like someone scoring zero on a test and saying he lived up to his non-existent expectations.

Expectation opens you up to risk – because now there are standards to meet.

You can set the standards or expectations for yourself – whether you studied well, whether you fought well – rather than on the outcome – whether you scored top marks or whether you found glory in Troy.

I think that’s the difference between Nishkama Yoga and ‘zero expectations’. That there are expectations, but the expectations are to do with you, and not the outcome.

There’s more to the story of Achilles, though.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus runs into Achilles in the underworld.

“But you, Achilles,
there’s not a man in the world more blest than you—
there never has been, never will be one.
Time was, when you were alive, we Argives
honored you as a god, and now down here, I see,
you lord it over the dead in all your power.
So grieve no more at dying, great Achilles.”

I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”

The Odyssey

So here you have someone who chose to burn bright rather than burn long, who went to Troy seeking glory, knowing well that the price he had to pay was death.

Achilles, whom Odysseus calls ‘blessed in life, blessed in death’. On Earth a hero, in the underworld a lord.

And now he would have given up all his glory to trade places with any one of those he left behind.

Far from a story of glory, Achilles’ tale seems to be one of something else.

This is a different kind of risk – not that you’ll fail to make it, but that you will succeed and it’ll turn out not to have been worth it, not what you thought it would be.

This is another extreme.

It isn’t the extreme of unrealistic ambition – if your goals were too ambitious, you wouldn’t have achieved them in the first place.

It’s about unrealistic expectations – of pinning too much of yourself on something.

Thinking that achieving it would dramatically change everything – perhaps nothing can ever live up to such high expectations. Disappointment then is inevitable.

I’ve all the more admiration for Achilles for this, though. Such authenticity takes a lot of courage because you open yourself up to ridicule – after all, you made that choice, and now you’re the one cribbing about it? What were you thinking when you chose it?

Yet the truth is that you couldn’t know until you actually did it, until you’ve lived it (or in Achilles’ case, died).

The rest is just how you imagine it’d be when you make it, which is never the case, because you can never know reality from the outside.


There will always be some risk.

If you have zero expectation, you risk selling yourself short, achieving less than you could, because you don’t expect anything more than what you’re already doing.

Having expectations opens you up to two different kinds of risks.

One is that you might not make it, and then it feels like everything was for nothing. But if it matters enough, trying and failing might be preferable to not trying at all.

The second is that you make it, and you find that it wasn’t what you thought it would be – you expected more. Which is again not the end of the world, because you can set your sights on something else now, a new peak.

Whatever happens, it’s up to you how much you let it get to you.



The zero expectation concept is real .as my friend went on the trip and came back and said it was bad. one should not expect anything, then you will enjoy more but as u said without expecting there will be no charm of doing it

Sweta Tripathi

The best line of this article was “Interest and dedication is important but it should be on something that matters ”
Well I believe that expectations suck when we start crafting a delicious dreamy scenario before doing the work itself eg: I decided that I will become a cricketer so instead of working I start to daydream that ” ohhh I am the star , here I scored a century wow what a life everyone admires my style of playing ” and when you go to the ground you feel it sucks you don’t enjoy it and when you play you get scolded by your coach so you start feeling anxious and demotivated.

Expectations are important for all kinds of relationships say it friendship , workmanship or romantic relationship because here if you don’t expect you suffer eg: you are in relationship with a person and that person treats you like a stranger ,stays nonchalant towards your love and you continue to be with that person by saying you don’t expect but you know what here because of this attitude you end up settling with a wrong person . So setting standards are important via this only one could get the best in their life ….

The funniest line of this article was : scoring zero in the test and saying you lived up to your non-existence expectations 😂


Pratyush sir… I started writing recently, amd i am shocked i wrote the same concept 2 days ago in my notebook…
The concept that the hardest part of life is … Uncertainty .. when you work towards your goal , you go through suffering , struggle and pain, to achieve your goal, but in that journey you are not even sure that would you be successful or fail…”” Uncertainty”” is the hardest part… Bearing the pain of struggle in the process of working towards your goal being uncertain would you achieve it or not…
Sometimes the chances of success are less then 5%… Sometimes you are not even 5 % sure that you would success…
then what to do.. its simple… If something is important enough you do it even if the odds are not in our favour, and the probable outcome is failure. But if it really matters to you, if you want your goal so desperately , then its worth try to achieve it, its worth doing the work ,evwn of the success chances are 1% . Because its the thing that really matters to you,… So you are willing to pay the price even after not being sure would you get the thing or not for which you paid the price..
Its like that you only had 5000 rs and that is all you have and you paid this money to buy a thing you like in the shop of life .. but you are not even sure whether shopkeeper would give it or not .. even after paying the money… You lost the money and the thing was already not yours … You lost both

I think its the hardest battle to fight…. Suffering with uncertainty of success..

Hoping a reply from you sir…

Sweta Tripathi

Hey Ronak , your shopkeeper interpretation was really amazing you should keep writing 👍

and related to uncertainty , nothing is certain in this life not even your life so once you decide to play keep playing until you reach the finishing end such questions whether you took the right or wrong decision will only cause stagnation just keep in mind what you are doing really matters to you or not, that’s the only thing that should occupy the space of your brain and try to tame those fears by continuosly repeating why this is important for you … Sometimes unnecessary fears become the part of our habit which does nothing except for delaying our travel hours towards the desired goal …whether you lose or win that does not matter what matters is what you gained from your toil , like if I am preparing for UPSC incase I failed I will not become a civil servant but what I will gain will be discipline, time management skill and a great insight of my country …. You never lose you always win just change your attitude and don’t listen to the people’s definition of success that will just sow another seed of self doubt within you ….

I hope you didn’t mind my reply as you asked from sir but you wrote so well I couldn’t stop myself …


Thanks sweta , i really appreciate your reply.
And you are right about attitude… Its the fact that even if your are the best of the best,there is always a chance of failure.. but that doesn’t mean that we should not even try… Because actually you are never standing still in life.. either you move foreward or you move backward. Life is like an escalator moving backward .. if you are standing still on this escalator called life ,you are automatically going back in life, in order to move forward there is only one way -“keep going”.
And yes … If you left your house with a goal to reach at a desired destination, and in the journey towards your destination you are never sure that would you ever reach there or not… This is called uncertainty… But think like this if you stayed at home (where you are right now in life) you are going to stuck there forever, but if you left for a destination , maybe its a possibility you never reach there, but maybe you reach some even better place than that…. And if not better , at least you will reach somewhere in life you never stucked at home (same place as before)
Like if someone is preparing for upsc examination.. there is uncertainty would he/she clear it or not, but its worth give 1 or 2 years of your life to it its not a big deal, if this ias post really matters to you.. because maybe you failed to clear it, but you learned how to work hard for a goal, and in future when you do something else, this experience would help you , maybe you end up getting something better career than this, or at least you would do good in career , because you are a hustler..
Another example is if you like a person, but you think you are not the person he/she would like, you think you dont deserve him/her… But its worth try to get her/him in your life even if the success is not sure,. In order to be that person you would focus on your career, personality, nature, behaviour and many things, in this process you are growing and improving.. now there can be 2 scenario,
1st she is impressed by you and you succeeded
2nd case: she is not impressed by you…. But now because you improved yourself a lot in the past 1 year in order to impress that girl … And failed to impress her… But now you are more better version than previous year version of yourself, so maybe you end up getting even a better person than her …. Because you improved yourself .

So better try than cry.. and keep going… This “keep going and reach somewhere better than the place you started” attitude makes you to override fear and turn to hope.
This change fear into hope.

And thanks for reply.😊


Yes you are right.

Prachi shankar

In a nutshell, it’s all about choosing the games u want to play, with element of uncertainty (integral to every single game), an expectation & assessment of risk involved.
Giving your all, embracing the outcome as it ; ‘Amor Fati’

Irrespective of the outcome, the game doesn’t end there. You keep on choosing different games/peak till your last breath.
This uncertainty is a suffering yet the thing that makes it all interesting.

All this reminds me the gist of “The Alchemist”.The treasure was always with you but to realise it, you had to undertake a journey, just like the protagonist did in the story.

Do tell, if your interpretation differs.

Also do you believe in idea of any ultimate reality/greater purpose either predestined or self defined/discovered ?

Loveleen Mishra

I found this article little difficult to comprehend.

Also, how were you introduced to philosophers like Nietzsche, Marcus Aurelius etc.? And how do you comprehend their writings. I had to read Nietzsche for one of my assignment on ‘Paracosm’ and I had a hard time understanding his ideas. How can one understand such complex writing?

On another note, I read your blog on Kafkaesque. It was very intriguing. I have never read Kafka in my life. I started reading “The trial” after your blog. I also read Kafka’s letter to his father. As someone who comes from the world of child development, reading the impact of Kafka’s childhood & particularly his father on his writing was interesting for me.

Lastly, have you ever read work of Sigmund Freud?


Regarding feeling frustrated/miserable –
How is “temporary part of life” different from that particular “state “of mind ( for brief period of time- temporary) ? What’s the difference ? Seems synonymous..


There are few people in my life, whom I can’t avoid (at least for now). They make fun of me whenever they get a chance, even for some of my past actions. They themselves didn’t achieve something worth mentioning. So I don’t understand why they criticize me. I always wanted to ask them what right they have to comment or make fun about my life (possibly in a rude and harsh way). But again something stops me from doing so and I will start to consider this as an impulsive decision and end up saying nothing to them.
This cycle goes on…..
If they are strangers I would have simply avoid them. If I rebuke them now, i’m sure they wont bother me further and also our relationship will deteriorate.
Is it better to stay calm and tolerate them or should I rebuke them ? if any of you have been in such situation or if you have any suggestions or solutions please mention them

ashish sahu

You started preparation in Feb end how were you able to complete bulky book so quickly .. Like spectrum you said you dont like timetable..did you alloted time lets say 7-8 days ??