I like dictionaries. Big ones, with pages and graphs and charts and pictures of world flags and biographies. Dictionaries that weigh at least twenty pounds, that by all rights should be mounted on a stand of some sort in a central location in the house so everyone can appreciate them in all their glory.
I have a dictionary like that, though it’s a thrift shop acquisition. Real dictionaries from the brand-new section are expensive and their purchase would severely cut into my book buying budget, which already takes up more than its fair share of family capital.
Dictionaries are good place to go to for information and elucidation.
I had a thought recently about expectations. I had a thought that maybe a lot of us have a problem with them. I thought that maybe expectations do us harm. When I tried to pin a definition down to think on it more deeply, however, I realized my thinking was circular. I was struggling to explain what an expectation really is.
If you can’t explain something, you don’t really “get it”.
My circular definition was “an expectation is something you expect.” As explanations go, it fell short of the mark.
Enter the dictionary.
“An expectation is a belief that someone should or will achieve something.” Expectations contain the assumption that things will go your way. They lead one to assume that there will be good times and unmitigated successes. This is often not the case; thus, expectations can lead to feelings of great disappointment.
Unfortunately, in life, sometimes things don’t go well. Sometimes we fail.
Failing is uncomfortable, but things are made worse when we treat failure like a personal and moral shortcoming. When not meeting expectations is seen as an indication that we lack the qualities that make up an adequate human being, we enter into problematic mental meanderings.
Having expectations can do that.
I’ve spent a lifetime waiting for my expectations to come to fruition. Everything was put on hold until that momentous day. I expected all kinds of things from life. A perfect body, great beauty, mental stability, a good job, a family and relationship, and financial security. I expected them all. I didn’t have a plan, and I didn’t live in a way that was likely to make my dreams come true, but I expected them to, nonetheless.
Not only do expectations make me judge myself harshly, but they stop me from fully living. Expectations pull you out of your life; they leave you trapped in the future.
There’s a lot to be said for living in the now. I don’t think it means don’t have a plan. I think it means be here and present for what’s currently happening. I think it also means don’t attach too much to outcomes. We only have so much input and control. Much of what happens in life is out of our hands.
That’s the problem with my expectations. Not reaching them causes me harm. Not reaching them causes me to attack myself for being a failure.
I worried that letting go of expectations would leave me rootless and drifting until I realized that expectations leave me that way anyhow. Expectations don’t come with a map. They aren’t interested in a plan.
We don’t often subject our expectations to reality checks. So odd then, that we condemn ourselves when we fall short. But we do.
Is it wrong to shoot for the stars? Of course not. But it’s a bad idea to base our sense of self-worth on getting there.
It occurs to me that expectations are more akin to wishes than goals. Believing my wishes will come true without a way for me to ensure that they do is an odd way for a grown-up person to act.
Time to let the fantasies go.
A new year is coming. It’s time to make resolutions, time to enact positive changes. There are the usual health and finance related promises that I’ll make and abandon to share, but this year I’d also like to try something different. I’d like to work on something that sticks.
I’m going to give up on expectations. I’m going to try and stay focused on the moment and on what I can control. Let go of everything else. Let go of being attached to the result. I’m going to avoid expectations that do nothing more than bring me down. I’m going to allow reasonable goals a place at the table. Time to throw out the pie in the sky dreams – they’re old and stale anyhow.