Disclaimer: Obviously disregard this – and virtually everything I’m about to say – if you have an anxiety disorder/mental illness.
Let’s talk about expectations vs reality for a quick sec. To use inspiration from one of my favourite movies 500 Days of Summer, I want to talk about the following equation: expectations < reality. Not the opposite. One could even take it a step further and say that the equation ought to be expectations = reality, in that they should be quite literally equal. Because living your life as expectations > reality just ends up sucking, a lot.
Being a chronic optimist, I’ve had to learn the hard way to live life without the whichever-shaded tinted lenses. I’ve tried to find ways around fate and reality, to manipulate things to go my way. I’m quite the expert, actually. Ever tried the ‘I’ll imagine the worst so it won’t happen’ approach? Or better yet, the ‘prepare for the worst, so you aren’t ever disappointed [when it does inevitably happen]’? Man, that’s just sad. And it’s even worse when the worst does happen, so who’s the winner there? Isn’t there more to life than expecting things to go badly all the time? Why, yes, there is! Enter me and another episode of an idiot on the internet tells you how better to live your life…
Have you ever heard a rags-to-riches success story or powerful CEO or lottery winner (etc.) ever say: “Oh, this isn’t a big deal. I expected this. I knew this was coming.”
Probably not. They probably had a giant stroke of luck or a gruelling life of hard work to get to where they are. I really doubt they were meddling with the universe’s plans in their spare time to try and get this exact outcome, for them to get to their level of success. It’s very likely they – and similar scenarios – were down to what I want to focus on in this particular piece of verbal waffle today: the organic process.
Letting things evolve gradually, naturally, slowly, in other words. In our hyper-charged world today, it seems like this idea is pretty redundant; we simply don’t have time. Or do we? Yep, my friends, we do. It’s just about whether we make the time to give ourselves space for this. Whether you’re applying for jobs, working towards a project, entering a new relationship, basically going for anything that you want, at some level you need to surrender your grip of control. *Cue metaphorical image of baby-throwing-all-of-the-toys-out-of-pram*
Again, in a world where everything is at our fingertips, everything is so accessible. And sometimes by just a single word (oh hi, Alexa), so it’s hard to let go of the fact that we aren’t in the driver’s seat for all of the moments in our lives. But that’s exactly what we need to learn; to let go. To – as wonderfully as James Bay puts it – leave it to the breeze, no matter how many anxieties we attach to it. If we can detach from the belief that we need to be in control in order to get what we want, things will, ironically fall into place. Life’s really annoying like that.
Now obviously this doesn’t always apply, like the U.S. presidential election of 2020, for example, but I’m talking about the smaller things in our everyday lives. The incremental shifts that eventually take you to the final outcome – that’s where the magic happens. It’s finding that sweet spot in that surrender, in the submission, that state of not knowing what will happen, but knowing in your gut you’re trying your hardest to make it happen and trusting that somehow it will. The act of fully putting your faith into fate/destiny/God’s/whoever’s hands is a really courageous act and takes balls. The way we’ve been conditioned to live and think – that is, to live in a state of chronic doubt or anxiety, whether severe or subtle – isn’t something you can unlearn overnight, but it’s definitely something you can leave behind you over time.
Just keep asking yourself: What insecurities am I projecting into the future right now that are keeping me from being right here? Because you guessed it, this kind of living, this need to be in control for fear that things could go badly, all boils down to good old worry in the end. This undercurrent of stress is nobody’s friend, rather, it’s just a giant proverbial meth-coated roadblock that we can’t resist – unless we try (if meth isn’t your thing, might I suggest just a regular sugarcoated roadblock metaphor?). As always, with anything you want to change, consistency is key.
Ultimately, this takes us back to one of the Stoic’s main principles – letting go of what you can’t control. And this ties in nicely with the organic process. If the anxiously-based approach really doesn’t serve you – and I doubt it does – try this. Try letting go (yeah right! As if it’s that easy!), letting things happen without trying to catastrophise or predict or overplan around the clock. Separate yourself from those thoughts by depersonalising them, by recognising them by simply saying: “I’m having the thought that I’m going to mess up today,” rather than letting the worry be embedded in your mind, running the show on autopilot.
At first, your brain will do everything in its power to reject this unfamiliar way of thinking, but don’t resist it, let those mental protests come. They will die down eventually and it will become easier to live life from moment to moment rather than being habitually and unconsciously stuck in a potential future.
As long as you you know in your bones you’re trying your best and that you’re choosing morally conscious decisions, life will surprise you in the best way. Better yet, when you’re not even trying at all, life will plop a wonderful gift in front of you when you least expect it – and that’s the big fat golden key to life’s best bits.
Choose – better yet, trust – the reality over projected expectations that are rooted in insecurity. Trust yourself to know that you don’t need to feel insecure in the first place. Trust that no matter what happens, all will be well.