The Limitations of Expectations
Work to earn money. Study to earn a degree.
Be happy to earn approval.
People love to be around happy people. And nice people. Funny people. Caring, selfless people. I can do that. Sure thing.
A degree is very important. In fact, two are often necessary to scale the desired precipice successfully.
And money, well that’s a given. Gotta work to eat! And have stuff. And a decent savings account, buy a house, get a new car, eat out, go on vacations. The essentials for a happy life. Because people like to be around happy people.
But our health and relationships are the most important of all, so let’s not let any of this get in the way of spending time with those we love.
Hmmm. So we have 24 hours in a day. Work claims the life of eight (or 12) of those. Going to class and studying chops about four of those hours into tiny, unidentifiable pieces (That is, unless its finals time, then you might as well stick me with an IV of caffeine). I need to offer encouragement and be there for my friends and family. At least one person is bound to come to me with a dire crisis each day so let’s allot an hour or two for them. So, let’s see, that leaves me with about 10 hours to…eat, sleep, breathe, bathe, exercise, kiss my husband, pray, read…ooh I almost forgot about driving to my destinations, dressing myself, and securing the food I need to eat. I got this. Less sleep, faster food, quicker kisses, speedier driving, less me.
My name is Teena and I’m a recovering expectaholic. If you’ve never been to an AA meeting this is where you say, hi Teena. I am not an addict but the one AA meeting that I visited changed my life. Everyone in the room sat, comfortably confessing their feeble brokenness and need, and communally celebrating each step towards freedom from their masters. This is the first time I experienced the power of a community centered on the confession of common need. A community centered on a common confession of need. The Church, the potential power of the Church...anyways, back to expectations.
So what does AA have to do with expectations? When we begin to establish our lives on the foundation of certain standards, dependent on certain provisions- liquid or otherwise- with certain expectations; it is easy to lose sight of what we are losing. While we ascend up the ladder towards our goals, do we ever stop to question whether we are on the right ladder? Or what’s going to be on the roof when we get there? Why we are going on the roof to begin with? Or what we’re missing among the lilies and green grass growing increasingly hard to perceive as we ascend towards the heavens.
Expectations. They once belonged to our parents, our teachers, coaches and pastors. We just wanted to do the mid-summer sprinkler sprint, read stories about that cute family of bears that lived in that treehouse, throw a ball, skip a rock, play a game, draw a picture, enjoy life with those around us. Content. When we were little, the big people tried to keep their expectations to themselves, let us be kids. But grown-ups are bad at hiding things and eventually we grew up and it was time to live up to those expectations. At some point, they were no longer theirs, but ours. We internalized and projected. Projected our parents’ standards and disappointment onto our bosses and professors, spouses and friends. Just like when we were little and we worried about big things like grades or sports or the bully’s taunt; or sometimes even bigger things like how we were going to eat or stay safe. We learned to make adjustments to our personality- before it was even fully formed- in hopes to reach up and touch the expectations, fondle the approval, of those charged with our care.
I’m 25. You’re 21, 37, 54…fill in the blank…since leaving home, all of us have kept the big people’s expectations locked away in the closet of our hearts and minds, near the skeleton remains and the scary monsters. Maybe you’ve done counseling, or had great lovers and friends who have helped you realize and process through these. Maybe. But maybe you still feel their suffocating presence in your all-too busy schedule, your constant feelings of failing short or nearly falling over. Maybe, just maybe, these expectations are still ruling and reigning from a secret control center similar to the one Oscar Diggs cloaked himself in as he projected the awe-inspiring image of the Great Wizard of Oz. Promising to provide the heart, the brain, and the courage needed to journey a gold-paved, yellow brick road to happiness. Oh and mustn’t I forget all of the new expectations that we’ve gained from our peers, a changing society, our new communities and new roles. There are so many. More than infinity, really.
So let’s get to the point. We each are gifted with one life. It is a beautiful one, a devastating one. Seasons of grief and pain are followed by times of great joy and excitement. There are few things in matters of life and death that we can control. We hate that. We don’t accept that gracefully. But I think in our striving to control that which we cannot, we have in fact missed the many things that we do get to control. How we spend our time, resources, and talents. Where we live and how we interact with those around us. Who we choice to do life with. Can I emphasize that one? The “driven” life lived alone on the treadmill of achievement, money and acclaim will always come up empty. But our lives do not need to be lonely, tired or empty; limited by our expectations. We get to choose. Let’s choose.