There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “Peace begins when expectations die.” I guess it means that we are better off releasing our expectations to the universe than trying to hold on to something that will surely disappoint us. This is all fine and good, except we are taught from a very early age to have high expectations for ourselves and others. To push beyond our discomfort, to reach for the stars, to hold others accountable to greatness… You see the conundrum, yes?
Right-sizing my expectations has been something I’ve really struggled with. I feel like I’m always missing the boat. I either set my sights too high – for myself, for others – only to be discouraged when things don’t turn out the way I think they should, or I lower my expectations and wind up with shit. As women, particularly, I think this is somewhat of a trap. We’re told to expect to be treated well by our male counterparts, in business and in love, and simultaneously told our expectations are unfair and impossible to satisfy. We’re told to push our children so they can realize their greatness, and then criticized by self-righteous mommies for being too… whatever.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, in terms of my own life. I’ve had expectations attached to how I thought sobriety would go for me, how my business would unfold, what I would be doing now, nearly nine months after leaving my job. I had expectations regarding how big of a role yoga and meditation and self-discovery would play in my life. I thought I would have started my book by now and my house would look like something out of Better Home & Gardens. Spoiler alert – although I’m happy with where I am, none of those expectations really came to pass the way I thought they would. And that’s okay.
I’ve also had expectations for others in my life. I have expectations about my son’s emerging career, from where he’ll land a job out of college to how quickly he’ll move out and begin managing his own finances without help from us. I’ve had enormous expectations for my smart, funny daughter, who I thought would grow up to be an amazing engineer or scientist and change the world for the better. The truth is, I will probably still be loaning my son money over the next year and it will probably take a while for him to spread his wings, entirely. And my daughter, smart, funny, and suffering from debilitating mental illness, may very well not even graduate high school on time, if ever, if we can’t unlock the door to the dungeon she’s currently living in. And I have to be okay with all of that, because it doesn’t fucking matter what I want.
So I don’t know what the answer is. Do we let go of all expectations lest we be disappointed? Or do we raise our expectations so we can lift ourselves and those around us up to our true potential? Or do we simply hold our expectations lightly, in cupped hands, and release them into the wind in hopes that they catch the breeze and take flight. Is that the peace the Buddhists are referring to? The ability to release not our expectations, but our attachment to outcomes, to the universe?