Expectations: Lessons Learned from Frozen Food Boxes

I often buy frozen “dinners” because it’s easier than cooking for just one person. They keep well in the freezer, there are seemingly hundreds of choices, and many of them are actually not too bad for us in terms of nutrition.

How do I choose which to buy?

Well, usually based on the type of food I’m looking for – meat or no meat – but also by looking at the cardboard box cover.

What do I mean? Well, when I see several large pieces of chicken or five meatballs on the cover, that’s what I expect inside. I’m likely to choose that one over its competitor if all else appears equal like price and/or past experience with taste, or if the competitors’ covers don’t show as much good stuff.

If you’re not a meat eater, you might choose depending on the size and quantity of the veggies you see. Five big mushrooms? Huge broccoli pieces? Mmmmmm.

So, we take our choices home, throw all but one in the freezer, and rip open the cardboard box. Can’t see much through the plastic wrap, so into the micro it goes! Timer on! Waiting. Bell rings! Open door, tear off cover … and see what?

Sad to say, sometimes the reality doesn’t match the expectations that come from that cover photo.

Only four meatballs, not five. Chicken pieces the size of my baby fingernail. Two small pieces of mushrooms when the picture shows six or seven whole ones.

Now, this isn’t the end of the world as we know it. We adjust our expectations or buy from the competition – or decide to cook our own. We make decisions based on the path that gets us the best outcome.

“So, Susan,” I can hear you saying, “what’s this got to do with my business?”

Um. Everything?

Do we always remember how powerful first impressions are? Not just the INSTANT ones that Melissa Hughes, Ph.D., wrote about in her recent article, but others that gather steam as we show our stuff?

Do we live up to the expectations we set up?

Do we:

  1. Ever say we can turn a project around in X number of days, and then fail to do so without having a decent reason?
  2. Promise to fix everything in the project perfectly, ensure the client never has another issue like it … or fail to respond when something doesn’t go well?
  3. Set reasonable expectations of both parties based on our history with many others, taking into account what went right and what might not have … and why?
  4. Say we’re available every morning from 9-12 or on weekends, but not actually?

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not perfect, nor do I expect anyone else to be. But I do realize that how others see me, how they experience working with me, and whether  they recommend me to others depends largely on how their experiences live up to their expectations based on what I promised.

Yes, as Dennis Merritt Jones mentioned in his recent article, “life is lumpy.” Stuff happens. But when it keeps happening and we don’t or can’t routinely keep our promises, likely enough our clients will move on to other folks who seem more reliable. And they might not be shy about saying why …

I’ve learned over the years to see how I’ve expressed myself, how my clients did or didn’t understand what I said, what they’ve appreciated, and what they might not have. What I did right, what I could have done differently, and what lessons I learned.

And with the internet and all the possibilities of finding others – thousands of others – who do what we do, we really need to be on our game at all times.

All in all, I’d rather be known for keeping my promises than not.

How about you? Have you been on either side of expectations whose realities surprised you?


Susan Rooks
Susan Rooks
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented. In April 2022, Susan became the Managing Editor of the Florida Specifier, a bi-monthly trade publication covering Florida’s diverse environmental industry. And although the focus is on Florida’s issues, many of these same challenges are found elsewhere around the world, so the readership isn’t limited to just Floridians or those interested in that state. But in all these endeavors, Susan’s only goal is to help everyone look and sound as smart as they are.

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  1. Excellent analogy! The lesson? Stay away from frozen dinners!

    Seriously, what’s the old saw? “Under promise and over deliver”? It doesn’t take much to lose a client – or a prospective client – compared to the effort and expense of finding them. It’s like a dating service – which I’ve never had to use, thankfully, but I’ve heard the stories – where you meet the person for the first time and you think “Wha? You don’t look or sound anything like your profile.”