Expect Trouble

I’m pretty chill. I like to think that much of my contentment in life comes from being surrounded by people I love and doing things that I love, but I think the real reason I’m happy with my life is that I don’t expect much from it. I don’t feel like I deserve a better car or wardrobe, I don’t pine away for things I don’t have, and I don’t put undue pressure on myself or others to live up to a certain ideal. I guess I figure if I don’t expect too much I’m less likely to be disappointed. As Pinterest claims Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

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Having low expectations often results in me being less disappointed if something doesn’t go well or it means I’m pleasantly surprised when something turns out better than I thought. Lowering the expectations I place on myself gives me fewer opportunities to criticize myself and makes me more accepting of my shortcomings. I have less anxiety about uncompleted tasks and goals because my goals are pretty basic. Although I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, my more realistic expectations help me to be more forgiving of my flaws.

But lately I’ve been thinking that there’s a thin line between not getting your hopes up and giving up hope, between feeling settled and settling for less, and that lowering expectations for myself is keeping me from reaching my full potential. Maybe what I’ve been seeing as a positive thing is just another instance of me taking the easy road. When does acceptance become resignation?

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Is this resignation one of the things that keeps me from venturing out of my comfort zone? I thought about that a lot this week as I learned to play pool. I went into the experience expecting failure – not just that I would lose but that my very real but yet-to-be-classified-in-the-ICD-9 dexterity disorder which manifests itself whenever I try to use chopsticks would also afflict me when I tried to use the pool cue and that I wouldn’t even be able to maneuver it enough to hit the cue ball. So when I tried it and found that I could actually hit the ball and that I could aim it at a specific ball and actually hit it, I was thrilled. And when I was able to plan a shot ahead of time and actually make it happen instead of just hitting something and hoping for the best, I was amazed. Now don’t get me wrong – after two hour-long sessions I’m nowhere near good enough to consider myself a pool player. But I didn’t stink at it and I beat my husband and son several times (although they both said separately, “That wasn’t so much you winning as me losing,” as if that made it any less of a win.) I was quite pleased.

Apparently if you play pool for real you have to call the pocket, which means the game is pretty much all about setting up expectations for yourself. I started to think that maybe I should choose some areas in my life where I have to call the pocket, to set a goal and work for it instead of sitting back to see where life takes me. Nothing dramatic, just a few of reasonable expectations to work toward. It might be worth a try.

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I have noticed that the one area I do tend to have expectations is when I anticipate negative outcomes. When I see my kids doing something foolhardy I’ve asked them not to do, I expect that they’ll hurt themselves and when they do I feel mild satisfaction from the fact that I was right. Yes, you read that correctly – I enjoy being right so much that I find pleasure in saying, “I knew that was going to happen!” even when it’s something bad. And when I find out someone I didn’t like or didn’t trust lived up (or down) to my expectations, I feel smug because I was able to see it coming, as if that’s something to be proud of.

When my husband and I were playing pool the room was very crowded and there were some imposingly large, slightly scary looking, generously tattooed men playing nearby. A few of them stood close to one end of our table in a bodyguard stance so any time we needed to make a shot from that end we either had to shoot from a strange angle or ask them to move (which I only dared to do once). Because of their appearance and their lack of pool-room etiquette (don’t know if there is such a thing, but I’m guessing blocking an entire side of someone’s table for an hour probably goes against it), I made certain assumptions about them and I noticed I glanced down often to make sure my purse was still there. Then just as they were all leaving, we overheard the following conversation:

“See you at church on Sunday.”

“Ok, but I won’t be in Elder’s Quorum. I’m the new primary chorister.”

“Really? Lucky!”

“I know. It’s the best calling in the church!”

And boy, did I feel dumb. Suddenly they didn’t seem like thugs anymore.

If you look up synonyms for “expectation” the first word on the list is “assumption”. Even though I love being right, I think making assumptions and expecting the worst from people is just asking for trouble. Trouble with a capital T that rhymes with P.

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