The other day I heard a woman tell her girlfriend that to keep from being disappointed, she had lowered her expectations. It was all I could do to keep from jumping into their conversation and saying, “Seriously? Why would anyone want to lower their expectations?”
When we lower our expectations, it affects the way we see ourselves and our ability to achieve our goals. In turn, that affects how others see us, how we allow them to treat us and on and on.
Every day all of us encounter dozens of met and unmet expectations: There’s not as much traffic on the freeway as we thought there would be; the hand cream we bought last week is amazing, or we didn’t get the raise we were counting on. Be they good or bad, subtle, or in-your-face, expectations are the paragraphs of life. To lower our expectations is to sentence ourselves to a life of Cliff Notes: a life that’s missing the content; the highs and lows, the very experiences that make life rich and rewarding.
Life is relentless, the way it goes on, expecting us to jump back onboard after health problems, job loss, divorce and death. Getting back on track, with cheerful purpose and intent, can be difficult. Our painful attempts are often nothing more than aimless stabs in the dark; attempts at regaining our zest for life and establishing new rhythms and pathways. In the beginning, most of us don’t rally with authenticity and wholeheartedness. Instead, we do just enough to convince ourselves—and those around us—that we’re trying. That once again, we’ll be alright.
This has been one of those times for me. The last few weeks I’ve been going through the motions of life, all the while, knowing mother was dying. My back’s been out of whack; I’m behind with work, and if I’m to be honest, I’m depressed. I know it’s related to seeing mother’s suffering and her death. Yes, we had a complicated relationship, but we loved one another. I’m mourning the relationship I wish we’d had, and at the same time, I’m missing the woman who showed up the last week of her life.
Last night I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, again. It reminded me that life, and our expectations, can just as easily swing from joyful to disappointing.
In one scene Maggie Smith’s character asks a disappointed Judy Dench, “What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not sure what I shall do,” Judy’s character says. “Nothing’s worked out quite as I expected.”
Maggie Smith pauses and then smiles and says, “Most things don’t, but sometimes what happens, instead, is the good stuff.”
Where we are in life is as much imposed on us by circumstances, out of our control, as by our willingness to overcome them. Our challenge is not to lower our expectations, or to cope with the short, unexpected paragraphs of life, but to string them together until we, and our story, thrive. Once again, I’m looking for the good stuff.