“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
Many people attribute this quote to Shakespeare, but the origin is actually unknown. The quote closely resembles a truth that is widely taught in Buddhism:
“Desire is the root of all suffering.”
When we desire something, we expect a specific outcome, so the statements are pretty closely aligned.
I've been reflecting quite a bit on my level of happiness lately. There are some really great things happening in my life, and I am able to feel gratitude and accomplishment and support and direction and hope. I'm optimistic about what the future could hold for me. That said, I've come to the conclusion that I feel disappointment on a regular basis.
Since I don't like feeling this way, I am turning inward to find out what the source of my disappointment is. Do I just expect too much? Do I base my expectations on criteria that is fair and balanced? If I become more accepting of certain things, will that balance things out? Or am I just settling? Shouldn't I continue to demand that certain expectations are not only met, but exceeded at times?
Let me start from within. I readily admit that I expect way too much from myself in various ways. In the past, this level of expectation was all about covering up who I really was. Being an over-achiever was a desperate attempt to win the approval and meet the expectations of others. You can read more about that here. Presently, I'm all about being my most authentic self and going after what I really want in life. However, my approach can be detrimental to my progress (and even to my health) at times.
I'm currently working two jobs and am going to school full-time at the Utah College of Massage Therapy. It's been quite an adjustment to keep up with the demands that come along with this crazy schedule. At times, I want to collapse because of burn-out. I don't eat or sleep like I should. But hot damn if I'm not doing everything it takes to get straight A's. See the problem there? I don't take good care of myself, but I'm certainly taking care of my goals. Sounds like an imbalance, doesn't it?
Well, I want perfect attendance and a 4.0 GPA when I graduate because I feel that these two things will make me more “hirable” to potential clinics and spas. I reviewed these goals with a mentor of mine recently and she reminded me that while they are worthy and good, there might be more important goals to shoot for. She challenged me to examine other things that would make me stand out from the rest of the pack.
Being competitive is good. I've been pleased to see that I still have that fire after all these years. However, my own expectation of my performance at school has required a significant amount of sacrifice. Those closest to me have seen my constant state of stress and my insistence to run faster than I have strength. I'm often told that I'm not quite myself lately, or that I look tired (never gets old). I've been running on empty since October, but my goals...
What about my goals? And my attendance?! And my GRADES?!?!
I've taken things down a notch lately. Sure, I have attendance and grades on lock and those two things will continue to be goals. But, maybe I can accept that a B once in a while wouldn't do major damage to my overall life trajectory. Perhaps I can lower my expectations and raise my level of acceptance. Maybe I could even replace these two goals with worthier goals, such as:
- Being less of a complainer and more of a champion.
- Being more available to loved ones who may feel neglected since I started school.
- Being a positive force to others in building them up instead of being an energy vampire.
- Becoming the most authentic, loving and giving version of myself I can be.
- Focusing less on grades and attendance and more on becoming an amazing massage therapist. After all, most of my clients won't give a damn that I got A's in all my Anatomy courses. They just want an amazing massage from someone who cares and knows what he's doing.
Managing relationships is another area where I struggle to achieve a healthy balance between accepting and expecting. Here are some examples:
- While I share many religious beliefs with family and friends, I have expected in the past that they will see eye to eye with me. That they will mourn with me. That they will celebrate with me as I navigate my way through life, even if the path is a little different. I show up for them in many ways, so I absolutely have expected that they will do the same for me. However, I've had to accept that they aren't having the same experience I'm having and that they might not be able to grasp every aspect of being gay and Mormon. This is an example of accepting in a healthy way. Sure, I don't like being called to repentance and I can sometimes feel a chasm between people that I'm meant to be very close to. But forcing any of them to think as I think and see as I see and feel as I feel is a wasted effort. It's just not realistic. My energy is better spent elsewhere. Instead, I can accept that I have good relationships where love triumphs over any differences in beliefs, politics, or opinions.
- When it comes to dating, I unintentionally fell pretty hard for two guys in my recent past. It just so happens that they were taken. Read more about that struggle here. I've expected (or at least hoped for) things from them that I had no business asking for. While it has been extremely heart-wrenching to let go, I am trying my best to accept what cannot be. Lowering my expectations and increasing my level of acceptance is a must. In other areas of dating, I've been amazed at how disappointed I've felt by so many guys. Some men flirt and lead me on, only to disappear, while others allow for meaningful conversations or exchanges, only to make it clear later that they have no intention of pursuing things more deeply despite achieving a palpable chemistry. This is part of dating that everyone goes through. While I can let go and accept that my love life is not on fire at the moment (who has time for love right now anyway?), I will not give up on expecting a high level of output from my future guy. After all, I love hard and give my all. I may be disappointed time and time again, but eventually, my persistence will pay off. My guy won't reciprocate out of obligation. He will take the lead just as readily as I do in showing me that he loves being with me. This is an area where I won't negotiate or settle. I'll continue to demand until I find what I'm looking for. I'm worth it, it's realistic and it's attainable. I won't settle for less!
- Other than 3 or 4 core close friends and some family members who step up to the plate consistently, I've discovered that I put more into my friendships than I get from them. I will often be the one to call or text to check in or I'll take the initiative to make plans to spend time together. It's one of the loneliest feelings in the world to think that if I stopped making such efforts, I wouldn't hear from some of them ever again. My expectation of my friends is high because I try to be a very involved, pro-active friend (um, not counting the last few months since my social life went out the window, haha). Because I give a lot in this area, I sometimes assume that my friends will give back in equal measure. This sets me up for disappointment when I don't feel that the friendship is as important to them as it is to me. I tend to take it personally. In some ways, I want to maintain this level of expectation and hold my friends to the standard I've set. In other ways (perhaps because I've dropped the ball on several friends since school started a few months ago), I am able to lower my expectations and just trust that quality is better than quantity. Plus, I'm learning all over again that the more I love myself and can rely on myself, the less I need from other people. Still, this continues to be a tricky area for me.
In summary, I'll admit: Sometimes I expect too much from other people. If I gathered up all of the reasons, relationships, goals, and experiences from the last 5 years that have brought me disappointment, I think I could safely say that a common theme was that my expectations weren't met. On the flip side, some of my greatest victories and sources of joy over the last 5 years were simply a result of my expectations being met. We can't have everything we want, after all.
I believe in fulfillment and being content with what one has in life. There is great power in coming to accept what is and what isn't. We can more readily appreciate our expectations being met when we have first felt the sting of disappointment that comes from our expectations not being met. That said, I refuse to accept the status quo in certain areas. I'll continue to have expectations of myself and of other people so long as I can justify them and walk the walk. I'm open to lowering some of them, but not all of them. There are just some things I'm not willing to settle for at this stage of my life.
The less expectation we have, the less disappointment we'll feel. But aren't there some things in life that we should boldly and proudly demand and expect? Of ourselves and of others? As I continue to balance acceptance and expectation, I'm going to be more gentle with myself. I'm also going to assume the best about others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Part of this is accepting who someone is instead of who I expect them to be. I think this is something that we all get to take our lifetimes to learn to manage, but it's especially present on my mind lately.
Your thoughts are welcome and appreciated. ;)