“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” (Karen Casey)
It’s often said, in various forms, that “expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” A lot of people I’ve shared that with, hate it. When I probe deeper it almost inevitably turns out that the naysayer has their expectations twined up tightly with their hope. Letting go of one feels like a threat to the other.
Hope is essential for us human folk. Without a sense of a more positive future, current pain can feel pointless. That kind of hopelessness is a fast track to despair. I’m glad that people resist despair. That’s a goal I can get behind.
But what is hope? How does hope exist absent of expectation? Notice the phrase above: “A sense of a more positive future.” Do a self-check right now: How specific is your vision of a “more positive future?” Are you assuming that “more positive” necessarily means happier or with less pain and fewer challenges? Is that the only way the future could be more positive?
I see two assumptions woven in there that have a habit of getting in our way. The first is that we need to hold an illusion of control to be okay. The other is that “more positive” will always feel better. Clinging to either one of these assumptions will create suffering and make it difficult to move productively through pain.
I’ve addressed “external locus of control” and the illusion of control many times in this blogspace. Often when we “expect” something, we give it very specific details. I things don’t happen just that way, we can become bitter, angry and hopeless.
The Gift of a Midlife Crisis
Many of us spend years thinking, “If I just have this thing in my life,” or “If I just accomplish that thing,” then! Then I’ll be happy! What is often maligned as a “midlife crisis” is how it looks when people get to a certain point in their lives when they understand that all of their dreams are not going to come true. After pushing through an entire adulthood pursuing what we think we want, we start to recognize that the time is short, that some of those things are not worth the effort they will take, that other people really do have the power to steal or prevent our dreams at times, that some of the things we deeply desired just will not be a part of our lives no matter how noble or tenacious our intentions.
The “crisis” is our effort to let it go and stop chasing what we thought that dream was going to bring us. The faster we recognize that we never needed that specific experience in order to be okay, the less stupid stuff we have to do to get to contentment and our “more positive future.” That’s when we stop suffering and start embracing the gifts our lives are bringing. If we learn that what we were really expecting was something bigger, something much more meaningful, we can let go of trying to pre-determine every line and stroke of our life story.
Hope is something so much more robust and important than our expectations! Our vision is limited. The world is so much bigger, so much more complex than we ever dreamed. That “more positive future” is much bigger than what we imagined would “make us happy.”
For starters, no one and nothing can “make us happy.” Happy is an emotion like all other emotions. As such, it is born out of how we assess a situation. (For a quick primer on Emotions 101, click here.)
Secondly, happiness is just one of a myriad of emotions life can offer us. Anger is a gift of clarity and energy to affect change. Jealousy is an opportunity for us to refine both what we want/don’t want, and to pursue it. Rage carries the raw material needed to heal deep wounds. Fear can be an opportunity to bond with others and to find our internal resiliency. Disappointment can usher us into a whole new, more functional and even positive approach to our lives. Grief can be brutal. It can also ultimately expand us from within, deepen us and give us more to give creatively, relationally and communally.
Expectations have a tendency to skip all of those experiences that don’t feel good while we’re in them. Hope has room for them all. Hope wraps itself around what is meaningful. Hope holds the future with an open hand and attunes us to a world of possibilities that we might never have imagined. Hope feeds our purposefulness, regardless of how life takes us there.
Expectations are fragile, predicated on knowing the specifics of what is ultimately unknowable. Hope is powerful, resilient and faithful. Why settle for expectations when you can have hope.
Are you struggling with disappointment, resentment or dashed expectations? Would you like to use them all well to build a more positive future for yourself? Contact Tiffany today. Let’s make a plan!