The Thing About Expectation…

William Shakespeare is quoted as saying that “expectation is the root of all heartache”, and do you know what, I believe he is right.  OK, so for the benefit of today’s blog post we will ignore the fact that no-one has ever been able to provide a source for that quote and I actually believe it is a rather tenuous  reference to a line in one of Shakespeare’s many plays; “Oft expectation fails, and most oft there where most it promises…” (All’s Well That Ends Well, 2.1, 141-2).  Nonetheless the sentiment is there; where there is expectation, there lies an opportunity for disappointment.

Expecting less of people is a notion that I have personally battled with for a number of years.  I mean, why should we lower our expectations of people? Isn’t that called settling?  And what if people don’t live up to my expectations? Do I cut them off, or let them off? And what exactly am I expecting of other people; am I expecting them to respond, act, behave just like I would in any given situation? Surely not.  Surely I can’t expect to control the thoughts and actions of others, no matter what my expectations might be…

But what is expectation anyway?  One dictionary definition is that it is a “strong belief that something will happen or be the case…”  A strong belief; that’s important.  Just because I believe it should happen, doesn’t mean that it will.  Like I said, no matter what expectations I might have, I have no control over others to deliver to them in the exact way that I expect them to.  Reaching that understanding, the realisation that it is ok to have expectations as long as my response to the reality isn’t unreasonable has been a huge step in finding happiness in a world that threatens far too easily to disappoint.

There are a couple of ways to go about reaching that level of contentment. One is to have no expectations whatsover.  Let’s face it, if you don’t expect anything from anyone, you can’t ever be disappointed can you! Is that realistic though? Is it even human nature not to have any belief in what you think is right or wrong?  Probably not.  So I say go ahead, set those expectations if you will.  Set them as high as you can reach.  But, and this is a big ‘BUT’, don’t allow your world to fall apart when the subject of your expectations doesn’t pull through for you how you had hoped.

How many of you have made plans with your partner, or your family, both even, and had this romantic notion in your head about how it is going to be?  I’d be as bold as to say that at least 80% of you are lying to yourselves if you said not.  This time of year is a perfect example; we write Christmas lists making our expectations for what those parcels might yield perfectly clear.  We buy presents for others, ‘knowing’ how they are going to be received; “Mum will love this..”, “Eliza is going to go crazy when she opens this…” And in your mind you have this picture of how that is going to look. It’s Christmas Day, so of course the snow will be falling.  The log fire will be crackling, and everyone is eagerly anticipating the gifts. Except it doesn’t snow (it rarely does on Christmas Day), you don’t have a log fire (you got a bit carried away with that one!), you just watched your mum open the same present from a sibling, and your daughter is so overwhelmed by the concert tickets that instead of the tears of joy and arms flung around your neck that you anticipated, she sits there dumbfounded with an odd look on her face and for a moment you think you might have got it wrong.

Take this weekend.  I had this idea that we would get into the festive mood by taking in a local Christmas Fayre with the children.  The kids would enjoy rides on the Carousel, as my husband and I watched with a cup of hot mulled wine warming our hands.  We would buy lots of unusual gifts and treats for the Christmas period, and then we would buy a tree on the way home, and some outdoor lights to decorate the house.  All of this would be undertaken to the sound of Michael Buble crooning Christmas classics, and it would be Christmas in the McBride house after all!  Yeah, well torrential rain and muddy fields did not feature in my vision of how that was all going to pan out.  Neither did a marquee so crammed full of people that you couldn’t get to see a stall, let alone purchase anything from one.  The kids queued in the rain for a 50p per minute ride on a carousel, and yes I had my mulled wine, but was irked by the fact that my husband wouldn’t partake.  Apparently he doesn’t like it, even if I did try to convince him it was Christmas in a glass and everyone should like it.  My son got more of his hot chocolate down his jacket than actually made it to his mouth, and someone knocked into my eldest daughter, scalding her with hers.  The reindeer Christmas decoration that I had seen with a sign for £30 around it’s neck, actually turned out to be £210 and was met with a very stern shake of the head from the husband.  We managed to choose a Christmas tree with little event (after he convinced me that our ceiling was not 7 feet tall!).  Buying outdoor lights was a treat, resulting in  a 12 metre line of icicle lights making it across one window of the house until we realised that the measurement was for the whole set, including about 8 metres of wire from the mains!  Cue a return trip to The Range from Sprotbrough’s very own Grinch, but the lights are up and they do look lovely (thanks Gav!)

It is part of my make-up to have expectations of people.  I have a very vivid and overactive imagination and that means I can create a whole feature film in my head of an event before it has even happened.  I can’t change that, it’s just how my wonderful brain works.  But what I have changed over this year (possibly after we were given some pretty harsh perspective on what really matters in this life) is my reaction when things don’t quite go how I planned them.

Why should Gavin jump up and down with excitement over that cute pink dress I just bought our baby girl? He has about as much interest in little pink dresses as I have in football, and he has no expectations of me on that score.  Why does my bottom lip come out when he doesn’t enthuse over the new boots I’ve bought? To him, those boots look like every other pair of boots I own and he just can’t work out why on Earth I needed another pair!  He has no interest in where I carefully position each lovely sparkly ornament on the Christmas tree; to him it looked alright when it just had the lights on (that was his contribution).  We like different things, we are chalk and cheese; he is from Mars, and I am from Venus.  That doesn’t mean I am going to stop showing him my new purchases, or asking for his opinion. But I won’t be disappointed, upset, hurt or angry if I don’t get the response I was expecting.

There are lots of things in life that don’t go the way you expected them to. I didn’t expect our daughter to be struck by a life-threatening disease when I had planned to be out walking in the Spring sunshine with my newborn baby.  Trust me, I’ve grieved for the loss of those moments I planned.  But that’s what life does, doesn’t it.  It throws  curveballs – isn’t that what makes this life amazing?  I don’t believe in all those “things happen for a reason” cliches – to believe that would be to accept that Freya became ill as part of some divine path and that makes it ok.  It isn’t ok.  But what it did do is teach me to take life for what it is, at face value.  See beauty in the every day. Savour moments for what they are.  Things aren’t only special because they turned out how you planned it to be – what about the other people sharing the experience? Have you considered how they might like it to turn out?  You cannot impose your view of the world on everyone in it.  So go ahead, expect all you want, but be prepared to embrace whatever outcome presents itself.  Don’t be disappointed because it didn’t tick all your carefully planned boxes, look for a reason to celebrate the differences, because maybe, just maybe, the actual outcome is better than the one you anticipated if only you would allow yourself to see it.

Life is too short to be disappointed all the time becuase things don’t match up to your expectations.  How about just letting something be what it is, rather than what we think it should be?