The Problem With Expectations…

“Happiness = Reality – Expectations” – Tom Magliozzi

My mom always used to tell me that “everything happens for a reason.” I don’t know if I believe that. That sort of presupposes an intelligence in the picture … one who has a plan for me. That might make me feel good…but I don’t imagine that comforted those trapped in NAZI Germany concentration camps in 1940. It certainly isn’t likely to comfort those in war-torn states in our present-time. What is the “reason” for in any of that?

It’s entirely possible that I simply am not capable enough of seeing the purpose because my capacity as a single human with a small slice of reality and limited senses doesn’t allow for omnipotent wisdom. I can run with that.

But here is what I can subscribe to:

Everything happens exactly the way it was always going to happen.

Earth was always going to be formed. How do I know? Because its here. It was always going to rotate around the sun. My evidence? Because it does. I was always going to fall in love with a lovely boy in high school. We were always going to make mistakes. We were always going to break up. I was always going to major in politics and economics. I was always going to intern in health policy. I was always going to switch gears and become interested in wellness. I was always going to become a health coach.

It all happened exactly the way it was going to  happen. How do I know? Because like the signs posted in shopping malls everywhere espouse…I am here.

What does any of this have to do with expectations?

I’ve been thinking a lot about suffering. About disappointment. I was trying to find the common denominator in all of it.

Because sometimes I suffer when I am in physical pain. Sometimes I suffer when I’m just exhausted. Sometimes I suffer because of disappointments in a relationship.

But there are also times that I experience physical pain without suffering, times when relationships end and I am at ease….it’s just a sweet, though sad, exhale. There are times when I am sleepless…but at peace with being awake.

To to  make things even more confusing – sometimes nothing specifically “bad” is happening, and yet suffering is present. Sometimes a relationship is “fine” and yet I sense doom. Sometimes my health is “okay” and yet I am aggravated.

Sooooo…WTF?

Every time I suffer, it always seems to start with an expectation

To be clear….I am not trying to say that expectations cause pain. Pain is different than suffering. What I mean to say is that any time I am suffering…it is because I was expecting to have a different outcome.

There are times I expect to have a fabulous day with my partner…and we just don’t sync up. In that moment, I have a choice. I can choose to frame that as a disappointment “but we are supposed to love each other. Why doesn’t he love me more? Why don’t I love him more? What’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with us?”

Or…I can say “Huh…interesting. This is definitely not going well.” I can do something else. I can focus my attention on my work. On a book. On my cat. I can call a friend. Take a nap.

There are times when I am sick. Being sick sucks no matter the circumstances. It feels icky. It’s painful. It’s hard. And I don’t have much control over whether or not I get sick. That wasn’t up to me. As I said…I was always going to get sick. But whether or not I suffer is up to me. 

I can battle it. Cry against it. Fight it. Rage. Or…I can let it go. Understand that I am going to have to slow down. Understand that I am going to have to sleep more. Move less. Take a breath. Release.

If you really want to be healthy and whole, you have to accept what is. 

Ancient yogic scriptures boil down the process of healing into three steps.

#1 Do the work. What does that mean? Well…in a relationship, it means communicating. It means spending time together. It means compromise. With regard to physical health, it means eating your vegetables. It means drinking enough water. Getting enough sleep. Doing the work  is important. It helps influence the outcome even if you can’t control it.

#2 Watch yourself. In other words…observe what is happening. Where is your patterning? What are you doing that is supportive to your overall goals around health, intimacy, professionalism? Is your behavior in service to that goal? How are you changing? How are you growing? Are you changing?

#3 To the best of your ability – LET GO OF THE OUTCOME. This is the most important one. The simplest one. And the hardest one. Because at the end of the day, you don’t control the outcome. You could eat broccoli every day and end up being diagnosed with cancer. You could say “I love you” every morning only to find your partner in bed with another woman/man the following day. You could prepare for that job interview for weeks, and it may go to the boss’s cousin. Why did it happen? Who knows. But it was always going to happen that way. And you were never going to be able to control it. 

So when it comes to thriving and feeling whole, whether in the context of personal growth or in the context of something larger than you…if you want to avoid suffering, it’s not about being “good” or “perfect.” It’s not even about “achieving” the right goal. It’s about being willing to let go of your expectations and embrace what’s right in front of you.

Or…if not embrace…at least accept that it was always going to be that way and go  back to the drawing board to #1…..do the work. Maybe the next time you watch yourself, you’ll see yourself do a little bit better the next time around.

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