When I was younger, something my Dad always told me was to “expect the worst, and hope for the best,” in effort to tame my expectations. Despite this sentiment, I have lived most of my life very attached to my high expectations of situations, others, and myself. “This is going to be the best vacation ever, it’s going to be sunny every day!”; “My partner should be home, waiting for me to get there and hear about my day.”; “I need to have everything organized and ready before my friends come to visit.” And then, much to my surprise, the vacation would turn out to be cloudy every day, my partner would not be waiting for me when I got home, and I would not be able to have everything organized by the time my friends visited. Ideally, when things wouldn’t turn out as I expect, I’d be accepting of it and say “oh well, that’s alright.” However, the reality is that I am overcome with anger that reality did not match up with my expectations, and then ensues a large, humbling dose of disappointment.
And all the while, my attachment to the expectations of what should or will be took me completely out of the present moment. Had I not been attached to my expectations, perhaps I would have noticed that the cloudiness during my vacation actually offered opportunity for me to connect more with family, or how now that my partner isn’t home, I have some quiet time to myself so I can settle in before he and I connect, or that actually, my friends love me even when I don’t have everything together. I have missed out on a lot of opportunities for connection and joy simply because my expectations took me out of the present moment. The awareness of this was my wake up call to making a change in my life; a change towards less expectation and more presence.
But it also got me wondering – what am I perceiving as the usefulness of my expectations? Surely if I am continuing to create these expectations, I have a reason. After exploring this question, I have found that creating expectations is a great way to deal with the unknown and feelings of being out of control, because those things are scary and unpredictable. Maybe if I can create an image and a story of what something or someone will be like, then I won’t have to sit in the discomfort of not knowing. Or maybe the expectations I placed on myself as a child kept me safe (i.e. If I did not show up as the caretaker of my family, then I would never get love or connection). So now, when in relationship, I place high expectations on myself to be a “good” caretaker, or else I fear I won’t be loved or I’ll be rejected. These are all reasonable arguments for keeping expectations, except for the fact that they are based on illusions. An illusion that I can control and predict the future, and an illusion that I need to take care of someone just to be loved. And I don’t know about you, but living from illusion seems to create a lot more discomfort than being present and accepting what is.
There is a lot of energy that goes into living up to expectations, whether they are your own or others’. Because on the other side of them is when we don’t live up to those expectations, which, in essence, is the big bad beast of modern society: failure. Think about how often in our world we are told it is not ok to fail. Let’s think just about our school system: If you fail a test or class, you may not be able to move to the next grade or get into a good college. Then, if you don’t go to a good college, then you won’t get a good job, then you won’t be able to support yourself or a family, and your life is doomed.
Woah, deep breath. That is such an intense pressure to be “good”…of course we are afraid to fail! However, again we are living from an illusion that if we fail, we will never be successful, as well as the illusion that there is a universal definition of “good” and “success”. These illusions can lead to us working very hard to shift ourselves into what we perceive is acceptable, and when we do this, we lose touch with our authenticity. We begin to subscribe to a conventional, compliant way of being, simply to avoid failure, rather than a dynamic, authentic way of being that actually leads to a more fulfilling life.
So, what have I learned so far in my exploration of expectations? (1) They take me out of the present moment and limit my opportunities for joy and connection, (2) They are based on illusions, not reality, and (3) My fear of failing to live up to them encourages me to be inauthentic and disconnected from myself. Now that I know this, I’m making a commitment to temper my expectations. This is not a simple, snap-your-fingers type of feat, it takes practice and requires unlearning. It begins with building my awareness of when I am living from expectation or fear of failure, and then continues with making a choice to choose presence and sitting in my fear. That can get uncomfortable of course, as change normally is, so it also involves allowing myself to feel the discomfort as I shift this pattern. But it’s not all without a purpose. I am choosing temporary discomfort so that I may open myself up to long-lasting joy, connection, and authenticity.
I encourage you to reflect on your relationship or experience with expectations. Notice what expectations you place on others or on the world. Are they true? Or are they based on illusion and fear? Notice where you may be living from an expectations you are placing on yourself, or perhaps others have placed on you. How can shifting your relationship to expectations make space for more joy, connection, and authenticity? For now, rather than “expecting the worst, and hoping for the best”, I choose to be present.