My mother, a fount of wisdom, has repeatedly told me over the years: Blessed is she who expects nothing for she shall never be disappointed. Each time I heard this, I’d rally with my justification for having expectations – to make things better than they were, to expect more of ourselves and others, to push for improvements.
Working without expecting a salary? Going to the doctor without expecting a diagnosis? Dieting without expecting to lose weight? Madness. It never made sense. Until now.
I had what one might call a ‘come to Jesus’ moment, or if Jesus isn’t your thing, then a particularly large penny finally dropped – the old Irish penny, bigger than any coin we have today.
Having expectations were doing nothing for me other than raising my blood pressure, increasing my stress levels, and making me a complete witch to be around.
I got a message in my inbox pointing out the danger of having unrealistic expectations. The operative word here is unrealistic.
Is it realistic to expect to be paid for your work? Or to get a diagnosis from the doctor? Or to lose weight while on a diet? All debatable. Realistic is a very subjective concept.
We make a big deal out of everything. Being five minutes late, getting stuck in traffic, somebody giving us a wrong look, waiting in line, overcooking a meal, gaining a pound, discovering a wrinkle, making an honest mistake…you name it; we lose all perspective. The real problem is we have unrealistic expectations. That’s not how God wants you to live! If you want to experience the joy Jesus promised, do these two things: 1) Concede that your uptightness is largely because of the way you have decided life should be. 2) Acknowledge that your expectations are causing you much of your frustration.
I remember being told in a performance appraisal a few lives ago that I needed to better manage my expectations. I wasn’t willing to compromise on what I believed was a minimum standard. A realistic expectation – in my world.
When I renovated my flat, I flipped a lid when I saw that the light switches weren’t straight. They were off by only millimetres. But they were off. And surely, it wasn’t too much to expect that a qualified electrician would take pride in their job and put them on straight? Three renovations and six electricians later, I was still climbing the walls.
I make a terrible landlady. I expect anyone staying in my place to look after it. As I would. Not as they would. I expect them to see what I see. And do as I would do.
I’m not easy to live with, either. I deal out coasters like a hand of cards. I have to clean up before I can sit and eat. I’m constantly turning off lights and pulling out plugs.
The latest building project (which was to take six months and is now in its third year) drove me to the pills.
And then, one sentence, just one sentence, showed me the light.
When you keep expecting things to always be a certain way and they’re not, you will always be upset.
Yesterday, the lads were in plastering the cellar walls and ceiling. It was spilling rain. The chap who had started inserting the damp course in an exterior wall was to have come back last week and finish the job. Until he finishes, the lads doing the terrace can’t finish laying the bricks. The water pooled up and seeped through an air vent in the cellar, washing away my lovely, smooth plaster. I was surprisingly calm.
The previous week, when the chap was inserting the damp course and the metal plates came through on my newly plastered and painted kitchen wall, knocking off my tile skirting, I looked at the damage, sighed, and moved on. I have yet to sweep it up.
While painting the concrete floor in the barn, we didn’t wash off the effervescence (I didn’t even know there was such a thing). On our third coat, the first two started coming up in patches. Ah well. S*&^ happens.
Two months ago, just one of these would have sent me into a meltdown. All three in a week would have had me chewing the Xanax. But now that I’m not expecting things to go to plan, there’s no frustration.
The gas thing is that I’ve never had a plan. I don’t plan. Not since my carefully laid plans at 16 all fell asunder when I didn’t get into teacher training college. At least that’s what I’ve always told myself – but aren’t expectations plans of a sort? I’m not ready to debate life without expectations in the Oxford Union, so don’t go poking holes in it.
I’m fully embracing this calmer me. The house might take five years to finish but it’ll get done when it gets done.
The roofer said he’d come by today to give me a quote – he might, he might not. If he does, it’ll be a pleasant surprise. If he doesn’t, I wasn’t really expecting him anyway.
I’m reminded of something my dad used to say to me: People don’t disappoint you – what disappoints you is that you were wrong in your expectations of them.
Expectations. Expectations. Expectations. Great or otherwise. I’m taking a hiatus. And am grateful for the calm.