I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately. I believe it’s possible to live a life without creating unreasonable expectations of self and others.
I’ve come to see that expectation leads to disappointment. I’ve joked occasionally that this is why it’s good to live life as a pessimist: out of the two possible outcomes, a pessimist is either proven correct by the negative outcome, or pleasantly surprised in a positive outcome. Truthfully though, I tend to be an eternal optimist. I’m driven by seeing what’s possible rather than what is.
So, something’s going to happen in the future. We know that in most situations, we don’t have the direct ability to affect the outcome. Sure, we might want things to happen a certain way, but there are so many factors outside of our control (say, for the weather to improve, or for my local barista to make me a respectable mocha). I don’t doubt that you can think of a few examples from your own life where something happened that didn’t involve your input.
When I create expectation about things that I don’t control, and then attach the emotion of disappointment or satisfaction to them, that must be serving me in some way, right? Disappointment first: Now I get to complain about something that wasn’t done right. Someone messed up, and it wasn’t me. I’m right, and you’re wrong. Alternatively, let’s say things went well. Now I get to take credit for it, but really never had any claim on the outcome in the first place. But being right sure feels good, doesn’t it?
Really though, people don’t often do what I think they should. And inevitably, I can find something wrong with the weather. Maybe it’ll be too hot. Maybe it won’t be windy enough to fly a kite. And, that mocha, it’s a little too bitter today. These things are outside of our individual control. We created an expectation, and we were disappointed. And then usually, we turn that disappointment into “I’m not good enough” or “Why does the world hate me?”
My rejection of expectation doesn’t come from a rejection of the responsibility that comes with living in a set of communities or in a family. On the contrary: It is a wholehearted acceptance of responsibility. Real, personal responsibility. It’s taking back responsibility for the things in your life that you can affect real, positive change.
But what about things that are inside our control? For me in my training, I could conceivably expect to make a certain time at my next race. Easy. I’ll have no problem coming in under an hour on this or that. I can do that in my sleep, practically. And if that’s true, there’s really no point hitting the spin class tonight, so I’ll go see a movie and eat a tub of buttered popcorn instead.
The astute will see what happened there: I was able to completely absolve responsibility for my training, leaving it entirely up to fate, if you will.
On one hand, it might be reasonable to expect things of yourself. You’re in control of your own destiny. But on the other hand, we don’t really know what’s around that next corner. It might be something good, or it might be something bad. But we can definitely learn from it.