Letting Go of Expectations
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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
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.