Confronting the tyranny of expectations

Where does your stress come from? There’s a whole litany, isn’t there? And all of those events, needs, situations and people are very real, cannot be ignored and are worthy of attention, aren’t they? Of course they are.

If you are any kind of emotionally mature adult, you deeply resent any unskillful person who has the unmitigated gall to tell you that stress is always internally generated. I’m with you, brothers and sisters. Put me on a beach on Maui and I will be very hard-pressed to experience stress. My cortisol levels will be so low, you couldn’t detect them with an electron microscope! Stress is very definitely “out there.” Any idiot can see that.

And yet, all the research — all of it — confirms John Donne’s poetic prediction that the mind by itself can make a hell out of heavenly external circumstances (think of how Othello torpedoed what should have been a lifetime of deep love with his wife) and a heaven out of hellish circumstances (think of any hero or heroine). So why doesn’t our life experience conform to the scientists’ research results?

The difference is expectations. If you find yourself snarling at the world and everyone in it, dig deep and you will find an expectation that the 1 percent would not destroy the entire US economy, including your livelihood and the retirement savings that you slaved and deprived yourself for 40 YEARS to earn, in order to get incrementally more rich than they already were.

The problem with expectations — I can only be happy if the future turns out the way I want it to — is that we are setting ourselves up for unhappiness. No matter how reasonable the expectation is. Expecting four decades of hard work to lead to a comfortable retirement (i.e., effort will equal results) was not obviously unreasonable. The intrinsic reasonableness, at least to my mind, of an expectation is irrelevant; there aren’t really “safe” expectations and “unsafe” expectations. Any expectation puts the power to generate joy or sorrow (or anger, resentment, fear) in someone or something else’s hands — not yours.

And let’s be clear what an expectation is. Expectations are not plans. I can plan, and should. Buying insurance, contributing to a Roth IRA or a college fund, and mapping out an itinerary through northern India and Nepal, are all examples of planning for the future.

Taking your malaria medication every day and bring medicines along on your trip is planning. Assuming that you are not, because of your careful planning and thoughtful action, going to get sick is an expectation. If you expect your life to be composed entirely of good health, sunny skies and no casualty losses that are not promptly indemnified in full, you are not in touch with the reality of life.

The road to happiness is to do everything in your power to avoid the avoidable, stupid pitfalls and let go of all expectations concerning results. So you take off for your trip, knowing that you might end up sicker than a hound dog during the honeymoon or the only chance you’ve had to see your beloved sister for 15 years, and be able to laugh about it. In my case, being sick on my honeymoon gave me permission to visit the bookstore and then sink down into bed and surrender to my misery.

Sicker than a hound dog during my three-day visit to a beloved relative meant I allocated $2,000 for airfare for another trip to see her, during which time I will do everything possible to avoid germs, but understand that my immune system isn’t familiar with the fauna of New Zealand and I can’t control that fact. My expectation is, whatever happens, I will doggie-paddle through the waves of Reality and eventually reach the beach called What Is.

And it will be OK, because What Is is a place where Love exists, in whatever form it manifests, and having Love in my life is the only expectation I have.

Ashland resident Victoria Leo is a life-health-career coach, clinical hypnotherapist who uses Usui and Karuna reiki for healing and training. To "Soar With the Dragaons," go to her website at www.soaringdragon.biz; for more, go to www.linkedin.com/in/victoriacleo.

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