Expectation v Reality

In many walks of life, we are constantly having to find the balance between expectation and reality.  I find, in my field of work, I am always having to manage my customers’ expectations against what I know will be the reality.


But what do we mean by expectations v reality?  Why is it important within the context of this blog?  Why, as outdoor leaders and instructors, do we have to be aware of it?

Firstly, lets define the two words –


In the case of uncertainty, expectation is an event that is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centred on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment.


Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is only imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown.

Our expectations can get the better of us when we expect more than what is realistic in a given situation. We might expect our jobs to be idealized versions we had as children, or even our lives to match up to what we see on Instagram. Our expectations can create significant stress when they don’t match up to reality.

Our expectations for our lives may be unrealistic and skewed based on what we think others have. Our perspective of what others have is limited; they do not have the lives we perceive. (Elizabeth Scott, MS)

A classic example of expectation v’s reality is taken from a Trip Advisor Review:

Expectation –

I agreed to go up Snowdon as part of a group raising money for cancer research. Well I thought it would be quite tough and not being especially fit or young expected it to be a hard 3 1/2 hour trek up a not too steep hillside.

Reality –

Boy was I wrong. It took the less fit of us 4 1/2 hours up the ‘easy’ route in absolutely appalling weather. The safety up the mountain seems nonexistent, i.e. no signs, no fences against sheer drops and even no notices posting conditions at the top.

Comments like this are very common on Trip Advisor (although some do appear to be fake).  The reality is that, when it comes to outdoor adventures, what people think will happen and what actually happens are totally different.


A prime source of this ‘fake reality’ which fuels expectations is social media (Twitter, Facebook & Instagram).  We are all guilty (unintentionally) of posting amazing pictures from stunning summits without showing the purgatory of the route to the summits.  To the casual bystander it ‘looks easy’.

in 2017 I was attending the Top of The Gorge Festival as part of the Ordnance Survey team in my role as an OS GetOutside Champion.  Myself and several of my colleagues were approached by a woman who believed that we were all professional adventurers and so did not represent the grassroots adventurer.

Her misconception came about because of the ‘slick’ photos we all put up on social media every day, giving the impression that this was all that we did.  After some discussion I promised to publish some piccies of me at work sat behind a desk to show the reality of my life!

A current trend, with Instagram in particular, is showing photographs of young, and slender women in leggings, crop tops and trainers on top of some amazing summits, predominantly in Europe and America.  This gives the expectation of – if she can do it so can I.  The reality is – that behind the photographer is the road that they used to drive up.


So where am I heading?

Whilst we do not have a responsibility to manage our ‘viewers’ expectations, we must be aware that we are having an impact on people’s lives and we do fuel their expectations of how easy/difficult a particular activity is.

If you are ‘talking’ about a particular route, try to make it as clear as possible, how difficult or easy it is.  However, you must consider the ‘average’ person.  I find Snowdon easy, but others will struggle on the easiest path.

We cannot criticise people for thinking that certain mountains in the UK are easy when we provide car parks and lovely footpaths to start the walk.  A good example is the Miners Track, a well-made, fully assessible path winding through beautiful scenery.  Then you start the scramble to the Pyg Track.  That tranquil scene has now changed to that of a real mountain.

We went to encourage people in the great outdoors, but we must be honest with them and tell them what to really expect.  Yes, show them the stunning summit picture but also show the reality of getting there.

When planning a ‘meet up’ be realistic and brutally honest.  Make it clear whether it is an assessible walk and the level of suitability for wheelchairs and pushchairs.  If we actively manage people’s expectations, then the reality will become more enjoyable and they will come again.


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