‘Expectation’ by Gustav Klimt, 1905
Over the years, I’ve written about some of life’s certainties — birth, death, time and change. You can guarantee we will all experience those things.
Birth and death are at the centre of our existence. We are birthed onto this Earth, to leave it again. No matter where we’re from, how much material wealth we may accumulate or what colour our skin, the scent we exude. Us humans are birthed into this world to die. Animals and plants too.
Birth and death occur in tandem with time, which leads to change. Life is in a constant state of flux, sometimes deep and challenging, other times gloriously joyous and uplifting, tender and sensuous. Change happens as time passes, ticking over every minute, day and year. Tick, tick, tick …
Rushing, darting, dashing, being somewhere, anywhere, and nowhere. Time, there’s never enough, we always want more. Time to act and do. Time to be and play and have fun, time to walk and run.
Faster, quicker, need it yesterday … I don’t have time. More and more, more time to work and more work. Time’s ticking, always ticking.
Time to feel, time to heal. Time to see and be. Time to love and be loved, and feel the love. Time to feel sad and hurt and heal from the sad and hurt. Or, we can have too much time. To think, and do nothing. The trepidation in time.
Life’s certainties don’t stop there though because we also have the dreaded: Expectations. We all have them, no matter how hard we try not to.
Expectations come from the act of expecting, wanting, requiring. Demanding. They can be ego driven, selfish and ungracious, and can creep in like muted millipedes found curling in a corner of your home. Black, hard little critters. Or they can thrash in as a heavy, weighted monster that won’t budge.
The problem with expectations is when they aren’t met, they lead to all sorts of frustration and disappointment. I’d go so far as to say that unmet expectations can be killers. You set your mind to attaining something, and when you can’t achieve it, become disheartened.
It becomes doubly so, tripled and quadrupled even, when that something hindering your ability to reach your expectation is something you have no influence over. An expectation of a sound sleep can be lost to a neighbour playing loud music at 2 am; the expectation of juicy apricots in summer can be lost once insects bore into the 20-year-old apricot tree, and dies. Most obvious is COVID-19. Without banging on about the obvious impacts, the expectation of many to carry on with our ‘usual’ life has been quashed by the outside influence of COVID-19. Many expectations pre COVID-19 are today unmet, and the impact of that can be debilitating.
Unmet expectations aren’t necessarily in the extreme and can be as simple as expecting to walk your puppy around the block in 15 minutes, only to be gone double that time because your puppy wants to sit or chase a butterfly, or refuses to walk and instead wants to bite at the lead.
Of course, it can go the other way too. That rascally puppy who runs amuck in the backyard, chews the skirting board of your home, might be the epitome of the model walking dog. The expectation of mayhem and mischief on a walk is a pleasant surprise when the puppy walks tall.
The challenge is in managing those expectations, especially when they’re unmet, is letting go of them before they twist you into a tourniquet that’s too tight to untie.
Some say to have a goal and set a plan in action to achieve it, but be prepared to change the plan if it isn’t achieving your goal.
Perhaps it’s as a friend said to me the other day, who believes everything derives from and is love. Life is about ‘the love of the self, to become sovereign to the self.’ I liked that and took it to mean being respectful of one’s self in all one’s entirety, in all beauty and flaw. And to be grateful for what is, appreciate who you are and what you have and don’t have.
In our constant motion of time, look around and breathe in what we see, drink it in and savour it, whether bad, sad or positively blissful and everything in between.
Wonder at life. Be inspired by the expanse of red soil that meets a horizon of blue in the distance, find the awe in the incandescence of snow laden mountains illuminating at 2am in an Arctic winter. The natural world is full of marvel and being in awe of it puts expectations into perspective and can shrink them into a manageable insignificance.
Sit with a young child that’s waking in your arms, and appreciate their faith in your love and protection. Meditate with the birds calling in sunrise, or fall asleep to waves that never stop their rumble into shore. Take a three hour lunch with a friend on a sunny winter’s day, chat with someone who has known you over lifetimes; appreciate kindness.
I love this quote from Julia Baird in her book, Phosphorescence: on Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark, for it’s a reminder to take the time to appreciate:
We need to learn how to regard and pay attention, to mine our inner strength, and accept the possibility that we can emerge from pain and grow by moonlight — in times of darkness — that we can push ‘right back’ on winter and find inside a summer. We also need to seek and settle upon a purpose in life — something many people seem to discover once they fully open their eyes (Baird, 2020, p. 204).
Perhaps that’s another of life’s certainties: learning how to let go of, and manage expectations.
Maybe it’s a case of expect the imperfection in life, where expectations are one of them. And take note of those moments of satisfaction and fulfillment in simple pleasures.