….thank life kindly for the lovely citrus fruit and ask if life has any limes to go with.
But seriously, you know when you have been waiting all day…scratch that, several days….for something to happen, and then, right before you are supposed to do whatever it is you’re waiting for… something happens and all of a sudden you’re not able to do what you expected? You know that feeling right?
So that general description might not do it for some of you. How about a real life example from my real life: I was using my mom’s old Blackberry a couple years back. My phone was dead, and my mom had it laying around (and it was a smartphone, albeit an old one) so I began using it. Just after Christmas, I was up on Mt. Hood with some friends, snowshoeing. I carried a small pack with a few energy bars, my phone, wallet, and a blue gatorade. Well, I didn’t screw the lid on my gatorade bottle tight enough and during the course of the hike it began to leak into my pack, saturating everything. I only noticed when I began to see blue-tinted snow around me which seemed to be following me. I stared at it for a few moments before I realized that it was coming from my pack.
Well of course my phone was soaked in it, and it had begun to freeze. So my old blackberry was…as they say, “kaput!”.
Well, I had been wanting an iPhone for ages. And everyone in my family had one. My mom, dad, sister, sister’s fiance, aunt, uncle, other aunt, other uncle, cousin….etc. So I wasn’t too upset when my Blackberry became a blue gatorade popsicle. I had enough money from Christmas to be able to purchase one. So as soon as I got home from the mountain I wanted to run to the AT&T store a couple miles from my home and get my new phone. Buuut, my mom and dad killed that idea. They were concerned about me trying to get my phone on their plan and they believed that if I put a new phone on their plan it would screw everything up and they would get charged more than they should. So I was told I had to wait till my dad was available to go with me. And at first it was: “ok, we’ll go as soon as I’m off work tomorrow”. But he had to work late and the store closed. Then it was “come meet me for lunch and we’ll drive over and take care of it”, but then his boss wanted to have lunch with him and so it was postponed again. Then, finally we got to the store on the third day, and the lady at the counter said that if we waited another couple days the iPhone 3 would go on sale. Sooo, it was another two days and then finally we were able to get my new iPhone!
So you can see how that example works. I was really excited about it, and I had been looking forward to it, and it kept being postponed and deferred. At one point I was frustrated enough to want to just say, “screw it” and get a different phone or just use another old one. But I stayed with it and I eventually got what I wanted. Not that it always ends that way.
So why am I talking about this? Because it illustrates clearly what I want to talk about tonight: expectations and disappointment.
Growing up, I was disappointed quite often. But at some point around 13-14 years old, I realized that if I had no expectations, I couldn’t be disappointed. I figured, “hey! if I expect nothing from others and from life, and I get nothing, then no big deal, but if something good happens, it is a pleasant surprise!” So for a while I attempted to expect nothing. I stopped asking for things. I wouldn’t tell my parents what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas. I wouldn’t plan parties for my birthday. I assumed I would fail at everything but academics. And in school, I just expected B’s, because I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
Of course, I realize now that this attitude doesn’t work. In fact, I began to realize it back when I was 15. I had turned my expectations down so low that when I finally met a few guys in High School who wanted to be friends with me, I couldn’t believe it, and blew them off for some time until they convinced me they really wanted to hang out with me.
My lack of expectations became pessimism and that pessimism became depression. Not a happy time.
But my junior year of high school it seemed like life just started throwing things at me. I found a solid group of friends. I met my first girlfriend. I began to move up in the ranks on the alpine ski team, the only sport I was ever truly good at. I got second on at the Solo Ensemble contest on Tenor Sax. I had teachers compliment my writing in class. In short, it seemed like all of a sudden the universe was trying to make up for all the previous years when things never seemed to go my way.
So, of course, I began to have expectations again.
And they persisted for four years till the end of my junior year of college. Then I got sicker than I had ever been. I was in so much pain I had to walk with a cane. I barely was able to make it to class and I had to quit my job. Finally it got to the point where I was hardly managing to pass my classes and even dropped two of them. My life spun out of control and that is when my addiction to opiates began. I lowered my expectations for the world again. Dropped them through the floor. All I wanted from life was to be able to have a place to sleep, food to eat, and my pills. And the pills came before the food and shelter. In fact the came before everything. Which is why in February of my senior year of college I ended up in the Denver City Jail.
That’s when I started trying to rebuild what I expected out of life. I couldn’t get off the pills for good, but I began to try, at least. I started going to class and doing my work again. I began working even though it was less hours than ever. And eventually I managed to graduate.
I moved back to Portland, and my expectations of life have been a roller coaster since that point. Less than 3 months ago, I had no place to live, and no food to eat and no money to buy food with. I had just enough heroin to get me till the next afternoon. I stole and panhandled in order to scrape together enough money for a dingy motel room an hour bus ride from the city center. I was at the point where ending it all was starting to seem attractive (rock bottom as far as expectations, you’d think).
My parents stepped in and rescued me, although they might not see it that way. I deceived them and lied and for several days I used drugs in their house until they caught me and dropped me off at Hooper Detox. For once, I believed life had given me exactly what I had asked for. I felt I deserved to be there, or, worse, that I didn’t deserve it. I almost didn’t believe I deserved a second chance. But my parents and the amazing staff at Hooper gave me that chance anyway.
But I had no idea what would happen when I left Hooper. I knew my parents wouldn’t let me near their house again. But I had nowhere else to go. Before I had to face that, I got sick enough that Hooper (after 7 days) had to transfer me to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital to treat my CF exacerbation coupled with pneumonia. And then, you know the rest of the story.
But let me tell it again: I sat there in the hospital, just barely hanging on. My aunt and uncle came to visit and asked me what I saw in my future. I told them, “nothing”. They wrote up a contract, and said that if I signed it and agreed to its stipulations that they would give me a place to stay and support me while I recovered.
At first I could barely believe what they were saying, and then my skeptical brain with low expectations tried to get me to believe that it wouldn’t work, there was something wrong, I couldn’t do it, I would fail and they would kick me out and I’d be worse off than before.
But I took a chance and ignored that voice.
And I reminded myself what I’m sure you already know but I had forgotten: there is no way to NOT have expectations. You either expect something good or you expect nothing or you expect something bad. But expecting nothing is still an expectation. And we all have heard of “self-fulfilling prophecies”. If you believe your experience will be bad, good ,or even neutral, you will often be right.
Your view will color your experience and your mind will interpret events to fit the way you already view them.
So, lets talk practical application….
Based on my examples above, it would seem that having positive expectations is the best choice. Since there is no way, really, to not expect anything, and negative expectations breed negative experiences, it makes sense that expecting the best but preparing for the worst – as the old saying goes – is the best decision.
But when you expect things to go well and expect people to be kind and friendly and expect to get the job you want and expect to be with your girlfriend forever and expect to be healthy…….you expose yourself to disappointment. And, as we all know, disappointment sucks.
Tonight, I had something to which I had been looking forward for a couple days. And at the last second, it was postponed, for the second time in two days. And I was more than just disappointed. At first, I was angry. And after talking with my aunt Kate, I realized that the anger I felt was based on hurt. I felt hurt. It seemed to me like I wasn’t important. I interpreted what had happened as meaning that I wasn’t valued.
Wow. It’s amazing how much our interpretation dictates our experience. And of course, then after I got the news that disappointed me, I tasted the Thai Curry I had made and realized it was too spicy and hadn’t cooked long enough (because I had rushed the cooking to make sure I was ready to do what I thought I was going to be doing).
But, again, after talking with my aunt and getting it all out on the table, I realized that I was making interpretations about events and that my interpretation might be incorrect. Moreover, even if my interpretation was correct, I didn’t have to let that damage my self-esteem. I know that I have value, and I don’t need anyone to tell me that. In fact, once I had eaten, while Kate and I watched Jeopardy! (kind of a weekday tradition for us), I had taken my unmet expectations and chosen to feel the disappointment without judging it. The only thing that tells me that being disappointed is “bad” is me. And if I just choose to experience that feeling and say, “yeah, I feel disappointed. That’s what I’m experiencing. But it is okay”, then the hurt and anger just sort of fades away.
I’m sure you can all think of a thousand examples of when you were disappointed and also examples of when you were pleasantly surprised. But can you think of a time where your expectations weren’t met and you were able to truly feel that feeling and allow it to be present and told yourself it was okay to feel that way? I know, it’s a tough order huh?
But it is doable. If you want to learn more about this idea of “feeling your feelings and having your thoughts without judging them” look up Non-Violent Communication. I’ve found it one of the most helpful ways to improve my interaction with myself and with others.
To sum up: we all have expectations, and we all have times where life doesn’t measure up to what we would like. The only healthy way I know to deal with this is to just re-format our experience and to allow ourselves to be disappointed without judging that disappointment as “bad” or “wrong”. Because that judgment fosters negativity in our perspective and our perspective creates our experiences.
I choose to expect good things. I choose to handle disappointment in a healthy way. And most of all I choose to continue to expect good things even if I am sometimes disappointed.
Thanks for reading. Sending you virtual gratitude and compassion,