Death of Expectations
Why do we carry around so many expectations of ourselves and others? Who do we think we are making judgements regarding what others should, would, could do for themselves, others and/or for us?
I believe it is reasonable to expect others to be civil to one another. But even that simple ask can be convoluted. In part because we have absolutely no idea what is going on in the minds and bodies of others. Even if they are very close to us. We are clouded with subjectivity.
Low Expectations of the Familial Kind
Growing up, there were no real and solidly stated expectations in my family. Yes we were expected to be polite in public, get to school on time, stay out of trouble, help with the dishes, respect our elders. I don’t even think my parents expected me to get a job at 16. But I did, because babysitting was not my gig and I needed to buy my own clothes and gas if I wanted to drive.
Fairly low level expectations.
There were no deep conversations about the future and what it might hold. Our family of six was in 60’s and 70’s survival mode. Getting by. Working and playing just enough to keep above water. No epic trips to Europe or even to the coasts of the United States. Camping was our summer go to. Low key inexpensive ventures to the closest river or lake.
Because there were literally few familial expectations of me, I was free to set my own. Which was liberating on some level, at least in the beginning. I remember school classmates who were athletes saddled with expectations from everyone around them only to fail miserably after they graduated high school. Others whose fathers (some mothers) expected them to enter the family business, leaving no room for personal choice or passion. Friends who were artistically gifted, but chose more practical professions to please their families and avoid rocking the expectations boat.
I was fortunate, in an awkward way, neither of my parents went to college. There was no alma mater to kiss up to. They hoped I would continue my education after high school, but there was no pressure. Neither of my parents had a family business they expected me to take over. My parents worked hard and so expected us to do the same in whatever we chose to do.
Having no expectations allows one to move through the world a bit more unencumbered. But that state of existence can also leave one standing alone in the middle of everything not knowing which direction to take. I admit to not having much direction early on. I still struggle.
Newly married at 26, my spouse and I moved south where I attended the University of New Orleans. That was about as far south as I could get from my humble beginnings. I found myself befriending a group of people (mostly classmates) I would have never come across in the state of my birth, North Dakota.
I often taut that New Orleans was the gateway to my own personal and artistic awakenings.
It all began with low expectations. I had absolutely no idea what I would encounter once moving there. And because having few ideas about what life was going to be like, I could be fairly open to whatever came my way. Daily existence was frustrating at first because life in the south is another world unto itself. And I was as wet behind the ears as any twenty something from the midwest could be in the 1980’s. With time, I learned to survive and appreciate the opportunity I engineered.
The academic environment was invigorating and frightening at the same time. And the expectation I placed on myself was to be open and learn no matter what hit the fan. I believe this experience foreshadowed what lay ahead. The experience in New Orleans solidified my ability to adapt with the confidence that I would prevail.
I know first hand how my own clouded viewpoint kept me from noticing what was really going on with my daughter as she navigated her teenage years. She was living in the same house and I did not have a clue. I have always thought of myself as being keenly aware of my surroundings. But for some reason, my own flesh and blood sifted undetected through my rose colored glasses.
My expectations were that she would muddle her way through the social anxiety of middle and high school. Once free from the constraints of that “trapped on a roller coaster” environment, she would slowly come into her own. Her dad and I found our own unique and often clumsy paths to get through that period of our lives.
Expanding upon those rigid societal expectations, she would attend college and find herself, meet a new and diverse group of friends. Friends that would understand her and become her tribe. Discover a passion for learning about the world and what she might do to sail through the universal waters. Pretty rose-colored, if you ask me.
How dare I lay those expectations on her when I did not really know what she was going through.
My expectations clouded my visions of reality.
Expectations and Diminishing Worth
During the pandemic and after seven years, my daughter came to live with us. I had no idea what to expect. So I chose to expect nothing. After observing the devastating effects that addiction had on her, lower expectations were how I would survive the onslaught of guilt, shame, rage and depression. Obvious results of previous untenable expectations.
I spent the past five plus years coming to this conclusion. A slow learner by many accounts, although not unusual for those of us with addicted loved ones. We expect they will see the light sooner rather later and hopefully before they kill themselves. Continually offering unsolicited advice because we expect them to listen to us. We love them, after all.
But, by expecting them to heed our advice, their capacity to make and take responsibility for their own decisions diminishes. The ability to work toward their own conclusive recovery plan becomes of less value. What we fail to realize is that the chemicals they chose to numb themselves, alters their state of being. Their brain capacity while using, changes who they are at their core. Even when they are in recovery their brains are still in addiction mode, because of learned behaviors.
Learned behaviors can take years to undo. It is a slow and arduous process. A process our loved one needs to decide to do on their own. All we can honestly offer them is our love and compassion.
After seven years, I knew it was time for my daughter to come home to heal. But it was her decision and she was ready without me having to say anything, but yes.
I chose to liberate her from my own unrealistic expectations.
Choosing to Live
Think about your own everyday learned and unconscious routines. What happens to your state of mind when those routines experience disruption for the first time? I used to get angry and somehow feel victimized when obstacles arose unannounced. I have learned through experience and some deep soul searching that those feelings are temporary, like so much of life.
Personally, those disruptions offer me opportunities I may not have come across or chosen otherwise.
The pandemic is a perfect example of the need to change learned behaviors that are no longer viable for whatever reason. Learned behaviors are often rooted in expectations that surround us and feed us relentlessly. But to what end?
To expect less allows us to experience more of what is right in front of us. Right now, this moment. One opportunity or chance encounter with whatever, whomever, however opens the doors to others. The choice is ours to take them in or not.
The past may provide memories, but it also harbors unrealized and untenable expectations. To stay stuck in the past with those unrealistic expectations, is sure death. I choose to live.
Image – Unraveling, 48″ x 24″, acrylic
As the title indicates, this piece arose out of a spontaneous and unhindered need to unravel my mind. To let go of what was encumbering me. Although when painting it, I did not realize what was being unraveled. That is the beauty of the subconscious in my work. The meanings and purpose of what I create, more often than not, come after the work is done. After I have had time to reflect. Expectations weigh us down and we don’t realize it until there is a disruption of some kind. Sometimes nuanced, but often a hard slap across the face.
What I hope to convey in this article and many that I have written is that filling life with expectations, leads to constriction and missed opportunities that are rarely part of the plan. Unravel yourself.