I’ve started off this year enrolled in an eight-week creativity class. Me, a 30-year veteran of the creative life. You’d think I’d know it all by now, but I sometimes need to sharpen my creative tools or be reminded why this work matters.
As part of our homework for this week, the instructor suggested we write the words “No expectations” on five sticky notes and put them up in places where we’d see them often. I put four of mine on the microwave, the refrigerator, my laptop, and the bathroom mirror. The last one I stuck to the TV so that when I finally sit down in the late evening to unwind, I’ll be reminded not to do that mind-racing thing where I start making expectations for the next day.
A few years ago, I headed into the new year with what seems at first glance like an opposing vow. I promised to live a life of visualization and devotion to the law of attraction. Which I took to mean expecting I would get the things I wanted. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t.
In ruminating about expectations, though, I now realize how much of my days have been spent in anticipating an outcome. I’d head off to a party expecting to have a fun evening. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t. I’d arrive for a blood draw with a pit in my stomach expecting them to have trouble finding my tricky veins. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. Expectations often filled me with excitement or anxiety when really, they were never more than a best guess.
Even still, for a brief moment I hesitated before committing to living without expectations for a week. Part of me saw that as just “drifting” through life with no purpose, plans, or hopes. But it’s not that at all. I can enter a writing contest and still hope I will win. I can still visualize that moment when I receive the congratulatory e-mail. Then I can release the expectation of winning. Because either I will or I won’t. And whether I win or not, good could come from the experience, but so could bad.
This is all new territory for me, someone who is constantly thinking, often worrying, sometimes analyzing, and always hoping. I’ve dedicated the last two years to getting better at living in the now without realizing all the expectations I had put around that goal. I expected myself to change, to become a peaceful, Zen-like person who could fully inhabit this moment and appreciate all it had to offer. I expected myself to “succeed” at living in the now and to be better for it. It turns out the only way to really live in the now is to give up all expectations. Ironic, isn’t it?
To me, living with no expectations does not mean sitting idle or giving up our passions. The work we are called to do is important, whether that’s mopping the kitchen floor or writing a poem. Giving up expectations just lifts the pain and pressure we inflict on ourselves by expecting that the floor will stay clean for even an hour simply because we put the effort into scrubbing it. Or that everyone will love our poem as much as we do. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But something was gained from writing that poem, and the sentiments you expressed in it are now part of this world, and that’s not nothing.
Expectations take energy, whether we are expecting something good or bad. Wouldn’t that energy be far better spent in pursuit of something that brings you joy? Something that taps into your unique talents and skills? Something that recharges your overwhelmed mind?
I always told my children, “There’s no such thing as a wasted experience.” We learn from everything we undergo. If I believe that, then I also have to believe that outcomes are what they are for better or for worse. There’s peace in knowing that. And from a place of peace and calm, new ideas emerge. We’ve got a lot of work to do this year to “fix” our heartsick world. We’re going to need all of our energy to tackle the challenges that face us. So, release your expectations and just do your best. Our smallest efforts might pay off big, and our biggest efforts may land softly. Either way, we all move forward.
By Teresa R. Funke
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