Yes, it seems counterintuitive to me too, the notion that we can or should let go of expectations. But here’s what the writers who foster such a life-view mean by that statement – we make our own journey much more difficult when we hold out expectations for how life is supposed to go.
If we’re able to let go of those expectations, we can enjoy the journey and be (often delightfully) surprised by what we encounter along the way. Our expectations are like unnecessary baggage that we bring with us. They weigh us down, they burden us with the imagined need to look for something particular to happen, to be said, to be done – in order to make the world “right.”
However, by learning to let go of those expectations, we can begin to see new joys, new opportunities, new beauty on our pathway. When we’re looking for one specific outcome, and we fail to find satisfaction or to get that expectation met, the result is often our own unhappiness.
There are some common habits of human behavior that have accumulated around the notion of holding on to expectations –
- Anger often arises from the realization of unmet expectations.
- Disappointment often comes from the recognition that an expectation is dashed.
- Resentment is born of our unrealistic expectations, especially of other people.
None of us needs more of those unpleasant emotions in our lives, and one key to reducing our experience of such unhappiness is to let go of our expectations and allow life to simply unfold before us, ready to surprise or even delight us because we approach it with fresh eyes!
So often, I hear us (humans) bemoaning our disappointments –
- He didn’t write, he didn’t call, he didn’t even send a text!
- They never bothered to say thank you, let alone send a note!
- No one visits anymore, it’s as if we’ve been abandoned!
- The party just wasn’t any fun – no one really paid any attention to me!
How different our inner dialogue might sound if we were able to let go of our expectations, especially those regarding the preferred behaviors of others –
- The holiday was so joyful, I didn’t even miss hearing from him!
- I’m so glad they came to visit; I hope we can connect with them again soon!
- The time alone was restful, relaxing, quiet – I got so much accomplished!
- I skipped the party this year and stayed home to work on holiday cards!
Your approach may be slightly different, but your experience of joy, of happiness, of contentment with the life you have (rather than the one you expected) can be so much richer when you learn to let go of those unnecessary expectations.
The life we “expect” is unrealistic. It has no hardships, no adversity and certainly no disappointments – but that’s not a true reflection of anyone’s actual experience! Life is unpredictable, it’s subject to change, it forces us to contend with snowstorms and power-outages, it invites us to be resilient and responsive.
But when we cling to expectations (especially of a “perfect” life) we miss the opportunity to be open and responsive. Instead, we become reactive and resentful – upset that life hasn’t gone our way – the way we expected it would go!
As I think about the coming New Year and the many opportunities it offers to start afresh, I’m convinced that the best gift I can give myself is a conscious release from all my expectations about how life is supposed to unfold – all my unrealistic expectations! My gift to myself would be fresh eyes, openness and a mindset of wonder – ready to be excited, amazed and even overjoyed by what the path forward does reveal – what the journey holds for me!
Whatever the journey holds for you in the coming weeks, I trust you’ll take a breath and notice when disappointment bubbles up for you. Were you expecting something you didn’t find? Were you holding on to an expectation of how it should have gone? I invite you, just let go! Allow the journey to surprise you and welcome whatever comes!