Okay, I know how funny it seems for me of all people to suggest that anyone give up anything having to do with “fantasy” seeing as I kinda believe deep down in my core that the Wizarding World could be real and my dream job is to join Starfleet as a Science Officer and spend many years boldly going all over the place…
Fear not, friends. I’m not asking you to give up any of that fantasy deliciousness. Have fun with that stuff all you want! What I’m talking about are the not-so-fantastic fantasies: the expectations we create and hold onto about what our relationships and our families and our careers and our lives and our bodies are supposed to look like. You know what I’m talking about…all of the crazy fantasies rooted deeply in our little dysfunctional brains about how we and everyone else we come in contact with are supposed to feel and behave and think; what we should look like to the rest of the world. These expectations are dangerous, guys, and they will suck the cheer and joy out of your life faster than an extra-agitated Dementor with a chip on its shoulder…and that is bad!
First of all, let me be clear on this: I’m not saying that you should not set goals for yourself or have standards about how people are to treat you. Setting goals for yourself is fantastic and we absolutely have a responsibility to ourselves to show others what behavior we will accept from them. What I’m talking about are expectations rooted in perfectionism and control.
Expectations rooted in perfectionism are usually very personal and unrealistic. It’s when someone puts an intense amount of pressure on themselves to be flawless. They will never make a mistake, they will always have everything under control, and they will always know the right answer to every question. They will have a beautiful home, a nice car, a profitable career, a picture-perfect body, or whatever else they think will make their lives “good” and make themselves “worthy.” When all of this doesn’t materialize the way the think it should, they are more than willing to self-flagellate themselves. It’s self-abuse, people. Unless you are Lieutenant Commander Data on the Starship Enterprise, you are probably going to act like a human – mistakes, blunders, failures, foot-in-mouth moments, difficult emotions, and all. It’s what we do. It’s what Data desired to experience the most! And the big shocker? None of it takes away from our inherent worth. For real.
Now, expectations rooted in control are about getting other people to act how we want them to act instead of how they actually are behaving. We get disappointed, we get angry, and we can get really mean and resentful too because other people aren’t doing what we expect them to do; they aren’t playing the role we expect them to play. Didn’t they get the damn script?!? When we focus on others’ lives and behaviors and choices, it usually has a lot to do with fear. We are fearful because we think our lives, behaviors, and choices are forever tied to these other people who are screwing it up! Or it can be because we’re too freaked out to actually look at ourselves (our behavior, our pain, etc.) so instead we focus all of our energy and time onto others. We can become so committed to making other people act the way we want them to act, that we are willing to move forward with the plan of action no matter the cost. And Spoiler Alert, the cost can be huge.
There’s this awesome book series called The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind which was turned into a TV Show called Legend of the Seeker that ran for a couple seasons. I absolutely love this series! The Sword of Truth/Legend of the Seeker has it all – swords and wizards and magic – you know, that good fantasy. One of the characters, Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander, is a Wizard and he has these “Wizard Rules” to live by. Anyway, here’s what I’m trying to get at: Zeddicus says “that the greatest harm can result from the best intentions.” Uh…yeah. Sit with that statement for a minute. Do we think we’re doing what’s best for ourselves when we push ourselves into perfection? Do we think we have the best intentions when we try to control other people? Of course we do! But it actually causes a great deal of harm to ourselves and others.
So what do we do about it? A few things, I think. First of all, practicing acceptance of what really is in your life (as opposed to what you think should be) is like casting a Shield Charm around yourself – Protego!!! It keeps you from being susceptible to the negative effect of expectations. If you want to take it a step further, don’t only accept what is but be appreciative of it. Yep, that’s right. Appreciation is like kryptonite to Expectations – all of expectation’s powers vanish. And if you’re not familiar with The Serenity Prayer, it packs a powerful punch of wisdom that can be utilized when dealing with expectations.
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living life without expectations means that you strive for progress not perfection in all areas of your life. You treat yourself with kindness and you give others the dignity to live their own lives on their own terms – whether they’re doing it differently than you would or not. Life without expectations is about loving and learning, moving forward and failing, screwing it up and trying again. It is accepting people for who and where they are, experiencing relationships authentically, and being free. It’s a good place to be and I hope you know it well or are on your way to it.