Expectations. Why do we have them? Why do we expect certain things to happen or for our lives to go the way we “expect” them to? What are we expecting? And why?
As a therapist I have had countless conversations over the years with my clients, discussing their expectations. Most of these expectations, mind you, are not verbalized. They’re just “in there”. You know, in your head, “expecting”………
Expecting to do well in school. Expecting to get a good job out of college. Expecting to get married (at least by a certain age). Expecting to get pregnant. Expecting that your parents will be healthy. That you’ll be healthy. Expecting to take great vacations. To have a ton of friends. This list goes on and on and on…….
And believe me, I get it. I’ve had a lot of expectations for myself throughout my life as well.
I think that some of my “expectations” have also been my “hopes” in life. I “hope” (PleaseGodPleaseGodPleaseGodPleaseGod)that my kids will remain healthy. That I’ll go before them. I expect to live until I’m at least in my 90’s. Why? I expect, or “hope”, that I will not die in some crazy ass freak accident and that I won’t be freakishly maimed for life. (Yes, my imagination can run away at times……We hear about these things on the news and it freaks me out. I think about and expect these things not to happen!).
So yes, I expect the best. Or, shall I say….I “hope” for the best. The least amount of sorrow and pain.
And my clients do, too. We all expect the same in many ways. And that is fine. In fact, it’s good to expect good things.
The problem lies in the sometimes rigid thinking that there will not be/can’t be anything that could happen that doesn’t fall in line with MY plans, MY expectations. That black and white, either/or thinking.
Because as life would have it, things don’t always go as planned.
And this is where we get tripped up.
I’ve asked my clients innumerable times over the years, “What makes you think that?” Sometimes I get the slightly-exasperated look that says, “DUH!” And the answer is usually something like, “Because that’s how it’s supposed to go.” That’s just how my universe was is supposed to work, Dammit! Insert whatever life issue you want here, because it can be ANY issue.
- My marriage is supposed to be like THIS.
- I was supposed to be at THIS level in my career at THIS point.
- No one told me that I could get sick. WTF?! I wasn’t expecting this!
- I thought I’d have two kids by now.
- I thought this weight would have come off by now. COME ON!
Take almost any subject matter and insert it into the above. They all fit.
So I have asked myself, and I challenge my clients, to begin thinking about not “assuming” things will go the way we plan them to.
Because when we can, and will allow, for disappointment…..when we can accept that life might not always go as we planned it would……then maybe we can help to stave off a depression or anxiety-ridden life experience.
Now I will tell you. Clients HATE it when I say this. No one wants to hear it. I don’t want to hear it, either. But sometimes we have to hear it.
Client’s have said to me, “You know, I was so mad that you said that to me in that last session. But I’ve thought about what we talked about. And maybe…….this is something I need to work on…. my assumed expectations…….”
Having expectations is fine. We just have to know how to manage them.
To have an honest conversation with ourselves about what we want, desire, need in this life. And to really, truly give ourselves a talking-to about how it will be if….if….. our expectations don’t come true.
How will we live our lives? How will it change me? What will I do? How would my world, my life, be different? And how can I work on making that be ok for me?
Take the time. Make plans for your future. But don’t get bogged down in the narrow-minded thinking that certain things will “never” happen. Because they might.
I know this can be hard to think about. I know you don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. But you have to. I have to.
Take a deep breath. It will be ok. Just go through your thoughts, your plans. And manage them.
Ask yourself: What is it I expect in my life today? What do I expect for my future?
And by all means, shoot for those goals/aspirations in your lives.
But also, and this is important, consider what you will do if the goals and aspirations don’t come to fruition. At least consider it.
You might find that doing so is freeing. That acknowledging our expectations and bringing them down a notch can be liberating……
This we can know-That life might not, probably won’t, turn out the way we expect it to. But that we can, and will be able to, “roll with the punches”.
That we can find authentic peace in the UN-expected.