Have you heard the expression, “Expectations are premeditated resentments?” I wouldn’t say that’s wholly true for me because my expectations aren’t about other people, but they have certainly been premeditated disappointments. For instance, I woke up on the morning of my most recent birthday and cried because I’m not at all where I thought I’d be at this age. Yes, the big things like married, but also I thought by this age I’d be living in a more spacious apartment and have signed a literary agent. But I haven’t.
Every year I inflict this kind of disappointment on myself. I make a goal where I say, “By this time next year I’ll ______.” And then inevitably what I set out to achieve doesn’t come to pass because I’m not in control of every aspect of my life. If we’re using the theater metaphor that all the world’s a stage and we’re merely players upon it, I’m instead operating under the assumption I’m the director. As the director, I have a say in what happens upon the stage, but as much as I’d like to be the director, I was cast as an actor. And that means it doesn’t make sense to have expectations for how my future will unfold.
Having a goal is great, but setting a timeline is not. How can I possibly predict what will happen in the future? I can’t. That’s also the chief complaint of every crowd-funded campaign I’ve ever backed. The creator sets up a timeline and says, “You’ll receive your water pitcher in six months,” or whatever and when that time comes and goes, people get angry and impatient. The timing is almost always off because the creator ran into unforeseen circumstances. It’s the same for me — I’m forever running into unforeseen circumstances.
What if instead of giving goals a deadline, I work toward them and just let my life unfold? What if instead I accepted and enjoyed what’s here, now? Jodi Picoult speaks to this in her novel Nineteen Minutes when she writes, “There were two ways to be happy: improve your reality, or lower your expectations.”
I already work incredibly hard to improve my reality so maybe now is the time to lower my expectations, or better yet, not have any at all. What’s funny is when I googled how to do that, much of the search results focused on lowering expectations in regards to other people and not much about lowering the expectations a person has for themselves. I suspect that because in the U.S. anyway, we have high expectations for ourselves. We believe if we dream it, we can achieve it and on our timeline to boot. You just have to think positively! Create a vision board! Hire a life coach! That all has a place, but so does something every spiritual teacher talks about: surrender.
My spiritual teacher says, “Human beings and other created beings perform a multitude of actions. The ultimate action, however, is … total surrender.” Total surrender means aligning my will with higher power’s will. Total surrender means recognizing I am an actor in this world, not the director. Total surrender means no longer placing expectations upon myself for when something will be accomplished because that only sets me up for disappointment and this year my goal instead is to be happy.
I dream of a world where we remember the recipe for happiness is to improve our reality or lower our expectations. A world where we remember we are the actors upon the stage of life and not the directors. A world where we understand in order to truly feel happy, we have to let go and enjoy what arises when it arises.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.