Last week, I had to drive to an afternoon appointment. I had a podcast all lined up for the ride, the skies were clear, and I wasn’t even running late. I was looking forward to a relaxing trip—right up until I pulled onto the freeway.
I discovered about a zillion more cars than I expected, all driving at half the speed I would have preferred.
“No,” I explained to the bumper of the car in front of me, “there isn’t supposed to be traffic in the middle of the day! This does not work for me!”
It wasn’t really the bumper’s fault. I was frustrated because the traffic wasn’t what I expected.
We all carry around expectations about how the world should work, whether we realize it or not. When reality smacks our expectations upside the head, we have to deal with not just the annoying reality, but also with our unmet expectations.
Expectations mean we suffer twice. Ugh.
The more we can let go of our expectations, then, the simpler life becomes. (In theory. You still have to contend with traffic.)
Letting Go of Expectations
Here are a number of expectations we have—it’s time to let them go:
1. Other people will think true things about you.
It would be great if everyone thought only great things about you—or at least only accurate things about you. Everyone gets to choose their own thoughts, though, and sometimes people are going to think things about you that just aren’t true. They may not understand you, they may not know the whole story, and you may not be able to change their minds.
But you don’t have to be who they expect you to be. What you CAN do is act with integrity, be kind, and trust that others’ thoughts say more about them than about you.
2. Others will make the same decisions you would.
Whether on a small scale (why would your neighbor buy more stuff when his garage is already full? Wouldn’t he be happier with less, like you are?) or a large scale (why would that politician create that policy? Doesn’t she see the negative consequences you see?), others are going to make decisions you don’t agree with and maybe don’t even understand.
If you expect the world to always work a certain way, you can get lost in outrage and despair instead of simply responding to what’s happening.
3. You can’t relate to someone if you disagree with them.
She “liked” that news story that you think is ridiculous. He upgraded while you downsized. Her priority is local while yours is global. But don’t write them off completely. We’re all connected on a deeper level than the stuff we argue over.
You and that person you disagree with—you both love your children and want to create a better world for them. You both want to be known and loved. You’re both afraid sometimes. You can connect with that person because they’re human, just like you.
4. Things will always go your way.
Some things will turn out how you would choose. Others won’t. The more you let go of your expectations about outcomes, the more you can be present for whatever is actually happening in your life.
5. Things will never go your way.
Is it better to expect the worst, and be pleasantly surprised when things turn out all right? Not really. You’re still wasting energy on an unhelpful expectation, and you’re blocking hope and imagination at the same time. Being present right where you are is simpler than expecting things to be better or worse.
6. Changing things on the outside will fix problems on the inside.
You can change a lot—probably more than you even realize—about your own life. But changing your circumstances won’t magically make internal problems disappear. If what you need is love, or compassion, or confidence, or acceptance, or purpose—those things all come from changes inside of you.
You can’t get them from a new job, a new house, a new town, or new jeans. External things might seem to help, but without making changes in your own heart, they’re just band-aids. Expecting them to meet your emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs will leave you frustrated, not fulfilled.
7. Eventually, you will arrive.
Your life is not a Google Maps route. At no point will you “arrive at your destination.” The whole thing is a journey, and there will always be more to learn. You’ll be growing and changing forever. Don’t let expectations about “getting there” steal your joy in being here and now.