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Letting Go of Expectations

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Editor’s Note

I loved this article. Don't miss this one. Enjoy. P.S. Read it without any expectations. :)

Things turn out the best for people who make the best of the way things turn out. ~John Wooden

Right around the time I reached middle school, when the presence and opinion of my friends trumped that of anyone else in my life at the time, birthdays started to represent something more than just a day I might get all the things my parents refused to buy me the rest of the year.

Birthdays suddenly became the one day that I expected to have an outpouring of love and adoration, the one day that my presence in the world could actually be validated.

Yes, friends and family could shower me with love on any of the other 364 days of the year, but if they didn’t do it on that one day, that simply meant they didn’t care.

Now that’s a lot of expectation for so many people in such a short amount of time, and I can say that a lot of my birthdays ended in tears for the phone calls I didn’t get or the cards I didn’t receive.

Age certainly helped tone down the lofty expectations I had, but they never fully disappeared.

A few years ago, I was living in a small desert town in California, miles from any decent restaurants and void of any suitable places to spend a birthday. I was disappointed with the day from the moment I opened my eyes.

My well-meaning boyfriend — who has always insisted we not place any importance on his own birthday — left me to decide if we would drive the 60+ miles to go out to eat that night or we would just make dinner at home.

I decided on the latter, blaming the distance with a heavy sigh and a mopey demeanor. He went to work preparing my favorite meal, spending a ridiculous amount of time slicing and frying potatoes for fries that were far better than those found at any restaurant. He even uncorked a bottle of wine we were saving for a special occasion.

Yet, all I could think about was the fact that it was just us, sans our friends and family, and no pomp and circumstance to ring in my 23rd year.

The heavy baggage of expectations I had been carrying with me for years had given me tunnel vision, robbing me of the simple joy and undeniable love that was present in that moment.

If I hadn’t approached the day with a preconceived notion of how it should be, I would have had nothing to compare it to and I could have fully appreciated how things unfolded.

Expectations are tricky that way. The vast majority of the time — unless we are miraculously able to craft our expectations to match reality — they leave an aftertaste of lack, no matter how abundant the present moment actually is.

If we allow expectations to determine the happiness we feel in regards to a certain situation, the chances that we will be satisfied are slim.

I do know that there are some expectations that have provided me with guidance in my life — the expectations I hold for others when it comes to how they treat me, and the expectations I hold for myself when it comes to doing things to the best of my ability.

It’s the expectations that look for validation and happiness in outside events and circumstances that don’t serve me well — the expectations that lead me to search for meaning anywhere other than within myself.

Today I see birthdays very differently — they are a time for inner reflection, my own individual ending and beginning. Instead of calculating the number of birthday messages I receive, I pour my energy into celebrating where I’ve been and where I’ll go in the next year.

Here are five tips for embracing What Is and releasing your own expectations, wherever they tend to congregate.

Tip #1 – Practice Gratitude

Gratitude has a way of awakening us to the present moment in the most positive way possible and, chances are, if you’re thinking about what is, you have less room to think about what isn’t.

If you find yourself reflecting on unmet expectations, turn your energy to recognizing all the things — no matter the size — that are positive about the situation or the circumstances.

Tip #2 – Be Open to the Possibilities

In all reality, if things always happened the way we hoped or expected, life would be utterly predictable and completely unexciting. The possibilities are endless, but if we are resistant to letting life unfold as it is meant to, we tend to paint unexpected occurrences in a negative light.

Let it go. Holding on to expectations goes against life’s flow and can make your reality unbearable when it doesn’t need to be.

Tip #3 – Laugh It Off

When I was younger, a day trip I took with my family when we were vacationing in Italy turned disastrous when my parents decided we should park our rental car and take the subway in order to “really experience the culture.”

What should have taken an hour ended up taking nearly five after our train was delayed then cancelled and we were shuttled to another station only to find out we would have to take a bus to our final destination.

We were expecting a magical day strolling the streets of Florence, but instead we ended up creating a hilarious memory we still share at family gatherings. Our expectations were pummeled, but laughter made it an oddly enjoyable experience.

Tip #4 – Communicate Expectations

I believe that one of the biggest culprits of unmet expectations is putting pressure on others to do certain things or act in a certain way without their knowledge.

We place meaning on things that other people may not know we find meaningful and we test them based on what they do or don’t do. Basically we set them up for failure and allow ourselves to base our satisfaction on whether or not they have met our expectations.

So if you need or want something, let others know. This will do wonders in preventing the pain of unmet expectations.

Tip #5 – Daily Celebrations

Often times we place a great deal of importance on holidays and birthdays because we see them as one of the few days out of the year that we can really enjoy ourselves. Then, when they don’t go as planned, we feel as if we have to wait for another special occasion to roll around before we can have fun again.

In truth, if we turned more events into celebrations and gave ourselves permission on a regular basis to have fun, there wouldn’t be so much pressure to have our expectations met on these specific days.

Let loose and celebrate the simple fact that you’re alive. Spontaneity makes it virtually impossible for expectations to form.

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About the author

Kayla Albert is freelance writer intent on living life deliberately. You can follow her at Confessions of a Perfectionist. If there's a writing project you'd like for her to tackle, visit her website at kaylaalbert.com

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7 thoughts on Letting Go of Expectations

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Kayla! Expectations are tricky and it’s difficult to find a balance between them. It’s scary too because they have a power over the outcome of our emotions and responses. Too little expectations and your life wouldn’t exactly be a land of opportunity. Too much and you can easily drown yourself in pity while you should be having fun. I love the idea of daily celebrations! :)

  2. Kayla, this is just what I needed to hear today. This really resonates with me and my hobby of running. I spent the majority of last year trying to break 4 hours in a marathon, and it didn’t happen. I was so focused on that expectation, that I didn’t enjoy the process. I will keep this list handy, near my training schedule, to remember what it really should be all about.

  3. I would say this is 90% true, at least in my life. I would have to agree that I have let go of putting any expectations on others. Today I only put them on myself, and found that to work best in my life.

    The part you talked about you boyfriend cooking dinner and you not embracing the simple joy from it was chok full of wisdom :)

  4. Baz

    Thank you for this, Kayla. It’s a nice read. So much of the world seems to run implicitly on expectations and it’s about time they were given the attention they deserve :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your insights on expectations. They are very inspiring! I totally agree that having expectations will destroy the joy of whatever we experiencing at the present moment. Expecting that reality be a certain way will tend to be a source of frustration most especially because reality does not really care and change according to what we want or believe. And it so true that when we are wanting something from people, let’s tell them so since no one can really read minds. By expressing what we want, we stand a better chance of perhaps getting what we are wanting.
    One wedding anniversary, I was so expecting to get a surprise present from my husband thinking that he would already know what kind of a surprise I wanted. Yes he surprised me with a bouquet of red roses…but I was expecting a ring that i have wanted so badly! So right there, I made the 2 errors in one sitting! I assumed that he could read my mind and I set my expectations too high! I totally missed the simple joy of that anniversary experience simply because of those high expectations and wrong assumptions. Learned my lesson the hard way.
    Moving forward, I bring my expectations down to zero because I’m finding that when I have no expectations, I am so appreciative of whatever I am experiencing at the present moment no matter how small in simplest way possible.

  6. Hi Kayla,

    Thanks for sharing this insight!

    I agree that letting go of expectations is important. I think if we didn’t have such high expectations from others, we would be a lot less stressed and more satisfied in our relationships.

    However, I also really liked your tip on “communicating expectations”. People can’t read minds, and this reminds of me of a time where I once expressed my dissatisfaction at a situation.

    When I brought it up, the response I got was “You didn’t tell me about it, and I can’t read your mind and know what you’re expecting”. They were 100% correct!

  7. jen R.

    Thanks for the wonderful read !! I have finally learned to replace that word “expectation” with “appreciation”. It was only thru making the same mistakes over and over did I finally become willing to change.

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