“Expectation is the death of serenity.” ~Dr. Joy Browne
A friend of mine shared this quote with me recently during a discussion about the difference between expectations and setting intentions for our future. As I thought about this, I came to the conclusion that (for me anyway), expectations tend to be about attempts to control whereas intentions are about setting our aim without trying to control the outcome. In my mind, I see it as the difference between a tight-fisted clutching (expectation) and a loose cupping in open palms (intention). I realize that both words can be used in a variety of ways, and many people may see these words differently than I do. That’s why I thought it worth starting with explaining my starting point for understanding these words at the beginning of this post, so it’s at least clear where I’m coming from—whether you agree with my definitions or not.
However, the real insight for me came with the pairing of expectations and control. I have known for many years that I have a tendency to have high expectations of people, organizations, and things around me (including myself). I have also known that I have tendencies toward control; it’s my (quite unsuccessful) attempt at creating safety in my world. I’ve worked hard at reducing my tendencies toward both of these things, but I have never before realized how interconnected they are.
My expectations are really just another form of my attempts to control. It’s as if I believe that the psychic energy of fiercely enough held expectations will someone how influence the actions of those on whom I have placed these expectations and cause them to do as I expect.You’d think I’d have let go of that particular illusion a long time ago when the evidence showed it didn’t work, but perhaps I needed to clearly see what I was trying to do before I could recognize the evidence for what it has to say to me.
Oddly enough, for all that I do this to others, I think the person I have always tried hardest to control (and therefore had the most expectations of) is myself. Having grown up so convinced that my true self was thoroughly bad and unacceptable, much of my control has been aimed toward trying to make myself conform to who I thought I “should” be (gleaned from messages around me) while trying to suppress the me that I really am. I’m still discovering ways that I have so thoroughly ingested these ideas about who I should be that I was completely blind to who I was.
As I start letting go of these false ideas of who I am (or should be), I am gradually finding it easier and easier to let go of the need to control the parts of me that are “unacceptable.” It’s still a work in progress—those inner gremlins are well-entrenched, and they know all my weak points—but I’m noticing the expectations slowly begin to melt away.
And as each one goes, it leaves behind another taste of serenity—sip by precious sip.
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