A college friend and I believed we had tapped great wisdom when we discovered the power of expectations. During our Saturday morning ritual re-hash of whatever party we had attended the night before, we noticed that whether we judged the party fun or a bust largely depended on how it had measured up to our expectations. High expectations=disappointing party. Low expectations=great party.
Several decades passed before I understood this concept applied equally to life as to college keggers. Still more years of acquiring wisdom (euphemism for finding a grain of meaning in the seemingly unbearable pains of life) has taught me the most dangerous expectations are the ones you never knew you had until they were irrevocably dashed.
One could try to alleviate these surprises by imagining every conceivable danger, possible tragedy, personal loss and probable failure. Or maybe the key is to have no great expectations at all. An Eyore-life has a certain appeal.
Back in college, my friend and I knew the answer was not to continually lower our expectations, (especially when it came to dating). We decided the key was having “realistic expectations.” Find a sweet spot between accepting mediocrity and courting disappointment.
Now, I realize. It's not a sweet spot. It's settling.
Expectations are normal and human, but for every joy there is an equal and opposite degree of suffering. Our expectations spring from the desire to protect ourselves from the suffering and park ourselves forever in the “joy” lot. Control is a tempting illusion.
Finding a way to deal with expectations is especially important for writers because so much of the success of a book is truly out of our control. A recent blog post on this topic tweeted around the web like a hummingbird in heat.
Author Jessica Spotswood writes honestly about the pain of having a book not live up to expectations and how she is finding strength to move ahead in her writing based on a greater purpose.
My own disappointments have caused me to ask the question--is it possible to move beyond managing expectation to freeing myself from expectation?
Sometimes. Sometimes not. But my efforts in this direction have convinced me it’s a worthwhile goal. Expectations by nature focus on the future, a future for which there are no guarantees.
The only guarantee I have is the present. Taking my focus away from the future and directing it fully on the here and now frees me from the tyranny of expectation.
When I dwell on the writing itself, on the joy of putting words together on the page, the excitement of the plot developing under my fingers, the satisfaction of bringing myself to a great depth of emotion—that is living. It opens me to possibility, stretches my imagination and casts me into mystery. Even the frustrations of the writing process are preferable to day dreams of a bestseller.
Instead of worrying about whether or not my manuscript will get published, whether my book will be a success, or who’s definition of success to believe… the question becomes--can I accept what is true now? Can I find meaning and purpose in this moment?
I'll be looking at these possibilities and I would love to hear about how you deal with your expectations.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.