Expectations. We've grown up on a healthy dose of them haven't we?
Sometimes I wonder if expectations are the key to our undoing. That maybe expectations lead to more suffering than healing, more separation than unity, more pain than peace. That maybe expectations are costing us far more than they're worth.
As children, we're expected to act a certain way, fill a certain spot in our family, play a certain role. Meeting such expectations is met with reward. Failing is met with shame. For me this took the shape of perfectionism. The more I succeeded, the more I strove to be "good", the more I was covered with acclamation and praise. Apparently working really hard to be perfect makes for a really good kid, student, family member, employee, and on and on. Expectations were piled on like bricks, one perfect rectangle stacked on top of the other until I was trapped inside. This created a really strong, tall fortress.
Walls I continue dismantling to this day.
Maybe you were expected to be perfect or maybe you found yourself put in the place of trouble maker, the mischievous one, the funny kid, the fat kid [I'm so sorry], the athlete, the musical one, you fill in the blank.
And then we live into it. We create our lives around it.
We raise our kids from this voice.
For me, perfect led to sick. For the greater part of my life I charged ahead with the perfect flag as my guide. I worked to design the perfect building, find the perfect diet, introduce food to my new baby in the perfect way, parent and feed my kids perfectly, keep the house a perfect sort of clean, practice a pose perfectly - keep up, never stop, push, chase the perfect. This pursuit kept me so occupied, every warning sign my body so kindly provided went unnoticed or ignored until it had to scream to get my attention.
The irony is, perfect is an illusion. Expectations a mirage. Kind of like shapes in the clouds. You can see them and fully believe that cloud is a dragon. You can do everything possible to convince yourself it's true, but it's still very much a cloud. And in a moment it may transform into a bunny or turtle or fish or dissipate completely - the entire time actually being a collection of moisture in the atmosphere.
It seems so silly and yet most of us live out of this place. We chase and push and work ourselves sick. We eat believing this is who we are. We workout thinking there actually is an ideal. We crack jokes to keep people laughing, hoping they don't see the "other side". We self-destruct because, well, it's expected. Or for any number of reasons, spurred on by the voices loudly clanging around in our head, we stay imprisoned.
But what would happen if you took one expectation and set it aside. Maybe you begin with your kids. Is there an expectation you have for them you could test living without? Or maybe you try it on your spouse or your friends? Are you expecting them to show up in a way they simply can't?
My youngest child has a way of expressing herself that comes on with strength and intensity. This is generally followed by a sense of deep shame equal in force. She has big feelings and needs to express them immediately. My first instinct is to react just as intensely, demanding she doesn't talk to me that way, making sure she knows how wrong that is. However, by releasing the expectation for her to act a certain way, I'm able to see her as she is - a child that needs to be heard and understood. So I let her react and then I hold her and let her cry and then, when I feel her relax in my arms, I tell her I hear her and believe her and understand how she feels. We talk about words she could use to express herself in a way I can understand and that won't be hurtful or unkind. Overtime she's been able to use these words and her intensity has come down a notch or two. Not because we expected it out of her but because she's needing that intensity less and less. More importantly, she's being given the space to show up honestly with what's inside of her, use her own unique voice, and can trust she's okay and still lovable.
But it had to begin with me releasing how I thought she should be [an expectation I was living out of from my own childhood] and instead hold this sacred space for her to grow in authenticity.
Ultimately, sustainable change comes from within. It comes from recognizing that the voices you've taken on as your own are not truly your voice. They may be the voices of your parents or grandparents or boss or partner but they are not your authentic, genuine voice. Once you become aware of the difference you can begin to lean in and listen.
For me this has come through meditation, yoga, and work with teachers from varying backgrounds and expertise. It's also come from being in the garden, the woods, and on the shore. From watching my kids play and listening to their giggles. It's come from slowing down and chasing less. From creating space in my house, my relationships, and my life.
And from choosing this every day.
Waking up with the intention to live well [not perfectly] this day I've been given. Going to bed releasing the guilt and shame and disappointment I may carry and covering myself with grace, knowing I did the best I could with what I have.
May you find a way to release an expectation, even the smallest of one. May you trust you are enough. And may you live from a space that flows freely from the goodness that lies within.