A few years back on my spiritual journey, I found myself at a four-day seminar called The Greatness in You. A friend and her husband had recommended it to me repeatedly over the years and finally, one day, I booked my place. One of the key themes we discussed, hashed and re-hashed daily was that big E word. Yep, expectations.
Before we get started here. Let's begin with a definition of an expectation. The Oxford dictionary defines an expectation as:
"A strong belief that something will happen or be the case." And, "A belief that someone will or should achieve something."
The trouble with these explanations is :
A) as we cannot predict the future, why invest precious time and energy believing that something will happen or should happen? and
B) as we cannot control another person's actions, why would we believe that person should or will achieve something?
This leads me to my next point: that dreaded S word. Yes, should *shudders*. 'Should' is such a futile word. It takes away our power and implies that if something doesn't occur or happen then it is wrong/bad/negative/inappropriate etc.
Self-help visionary, Louise Hay, always said one thing we "should" all do is eliminate the should word from our vocab! Louise says to replace shoulds with coulds. It helps us to reclaim back our power and acknowledge that we are the creator of our lives and we can/could choose the best course of action and outcome for ourselves.
Back to expectations. When we place expectations on others (and ourselves), we set ourselves up for suffering. Lots of suffering. Trust me, I've been there (more on this soon). Why you ask? Because ultimately and as mentioned above, we cannot control another person's actions, choices, behaviours, values and beliefs. As much as we might expect them to be a good Mum, a supportive co-worker, a doting father, a caring friend, we cannot see into the future or guarantee that they will fulfill the roles we have reserved for them in our lives.
Simple example: communication. How many times have you forgotten to respond to someone, because of your cray-cray life, and then texted or emailed them back only to receive a very blunt message back? I certainly have! In the case of my Mother, when I was living interstate, she would be on my case if I didn't message her back within and hour or so. This wasn't always an option when working full-time in a busy corporate PR team! Often, I couldn't reply until I finally clocked off for the day. Anyway, it was war! I was the world's worst daughter (and still am). I would receive all kinds of messages about how rude I am for not replying immediately and that, because it only takes a few minutes to type a message according to my Mum, then I **should** be able to quickly text back within the hour.
This behaviour went on for years and still does to this day, sadly, because my Mum hasn't yet worked out we cannot control another person's actions and to therefore: drop all expectations. To be quite honest, the constant pressure and expectations she placed on me have driven me away, it's driven a big wedge between us, and has left me distancing myself because I'm always copping it. Expectations ruin relationships.
The issue with expectations is that they cause issues.
Deep inquiry work is where it's at
Finally, at the The Greatness in You, I was freed from all the guilt I carried around not living up to other people's expectations and specifically not communicating as my mother expected me to. This course gave me the freedom to take back control of my life and start living it on MY TERMS. Yes, not my Mother's. It was honestly one the most life-changing things I have ever done or experienced. I was validated by the peers undertaking the course with me and the excellent facilitators. I had permission to be myself, flaws and all, and still be loved and loveable. Unconditionally loved and loveable. I could, at last, stop the people-pleasing behaviour that I was accustomed to throughout my 20s.
But it goes much deeper than texting back on time. At the heart of this deep inquiry process was an awareness of the 'real Bianca' or my 'true self'. If someone (in this case my Mum) is going to be upset with me because I choose not to respond immediately, then do I really want and need this person, and the drama they bring, in my life? And if this is a recurring theme with the person not respecting my time and boundaries, do I really want those expectations hovering over me every day, every week, every month, throughout the year, and throughout my life - weighing me down like a tonne of bricks? The answer is a big NO. The real Bianca will respond in her own time, on her terms. And dear friends reading this, please don't be offended if I don't get back to you straight away: if it's urgent just call me! Don't be offended or take it personally because I take a day or two or 10 to reply. Like the beauty ads say, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen". I will eventually response when I have the time, energy and space to do so. And you know what: the quality of my communication is soooooo much better now. I don't feel pressured to just bang out a quick meaningless message here and there. I even love to send voice memos to friends in Sydney and London as it helps me to be more efficient (I'm faster at talking than typing) and it's more personal.
So I invite you to consider, are others placing expectations on you that feel heavy, unwanted and unnecessary? Speak up. Be yourself. It is safe and OK to be you. Never let another person make you feel like you're not good enough or not worthy if you don't live up to their expectations of fulfill their needs. In these turbulent times, we need to be strong resilient humans, less rattled by others' choices, confident in our own decisions, and freed from the unnecessary pressures and demands (and the perception of pressure) that other's place on us.
Sometimes, though, expectations can be a good thing. As long as we set and manage them for ourselves and they feel good, healthy and that they come from a place of self-love. Examples of healthy expectations:
I expect to feel healthy and alive because I eat well and exercise regularly]
I expect a great income because I work hard and believe I deserve the rates I charge
I expect to live in a home where I feel safe and secure
I expect to feel alive and energised because I eat a clean diet that minimises inflammatory and processed 'foods'
I expect society to care about the planet, the environment and sustainability.
But for the most part, having too many expectations is often fraught with angst, frustration and disappointment.
So what do we do then?
When we feel our needs and expectations are not met, we can use this as an opportunity to inquire into the situation a little more, going beyond the surface-level stories we tell ourselves. For example, when I moved home to Adelaide last year after living away for seven years, I told myself that it was going to be SO exciting and thrilling to see close family and friends at the airport, balloons and all, eager to welcome me home after so many years apart. This couldn't be further from reality. Or maybe this is the reality? I had let my expectations and hopes get in the way. And it left me feeling extremely sad and disappointed. I wanted to jump on the next plane back to London!!!
It took me a month or so to get over the shock and grief. Rather than dwell on how let down I felt, I used this opportunity to take stock of these 'friendships' and relationships. How important are they to me? Would I go to the airport or make an effort to see them if they were in the same situation? Heck, would I even go so far as to invite them over for a meal, a homecoming dinner if you like? I realised that these relationships were pretty-much one-sided. And if I'm always the one making the effort, than how is this serving me? We expect so much of our family and our friends, but maybe, I thought, some people come into our lives for just a "season, a reason or a lifetime".
Take it one step at a time
Step 1: If you're facing a situation where your expectations have been unfulfilled or you have been let down, first ask yourself "Am I being reasonable? Or, am I expecting too much?" Get a pen and paper out and jot down your thoughts and feelings. It's essential when doing any deep inquiry work to be really honest and truthful with yourself. In my case, I decided the answers to these questions was a no. I felt that moving to the other side of the world on your own kinda warranted a bit of interest and company from the people you considered close and live in the city you had just moved to.
Step 2: give yourself a moment to feel sorry for yourself and then move on, stat! I realised I had to stop playing victim. It was up to me to decide and accept that relationships with these people had to fall away to create the time, energy and space for new, positive, two-way relationships to enter into my life and flourish.
Step 3: trust and believe that the Universe has a higher plan and everything is working out for your highest good. What does this look in reality? Well in my situation, I truly believed that this scenario was happening for a reason. Maybe it would help me to grow and be more independent and strong. I had a few energy healing sessions with a kinesiologist in Sydney which really helped to clear away the stuck negative emotions and heaviness surrounding the whole transition.
Expectations can teach us a lot about ourselves and others. The next time you are left feeling disappointed or unhappy in your relationships, take a mental note if you or the other person are simply expecting too much of each other. Fully releasing all expectations forever is a tough ask, but with a bit of self-awareness, we can learn to manage expectations in a healthy and constructive way. Don't beat yourself up over it though, it's only human to want love and acceptance from others - we are hardwired to seek it out. Just know that your expectations for these very things can be perceived as needy and demanding (um, repelling) if they come from a pushy, 'should-y' place.
So, let's all try and drop some of those lingering expectations and just appreciate the people in our lives who light us up.