Letting Go of Expectations

From hectic life in the USA to island life as a stay-at-home-wife, this blog follows the musings of an anxious Type-A as she learns to slow down and tune in to the important things in life

 

Category: Expectations

The Art of Slow Living

Slow living is not something I’ve ever been good at. I’ve always had things to do, places to be, and people to meet. It wasn’t that being really busy made me particularly happy, it was just how I thought life was supposed to be. And how it would always be.

When we moved to the island and I started the blog, though, one of my main goals was figuring out how to live more simply, be happier, and disconnect from how frantic life is at times. It’s a journey I’ve been on – at times more mindfully than others – for the last year.

Letting slow living into my life is something that has changed gradually. In many ways, it has been like watching a kid or a plant or a pet grow. When you’re with them all the time, you don’t notice how big they’ve gotten until you look back at a picture or previous memory. Then, all of a sudden, you realize how much they have changed.

That’s how it was with learning to slow down my life. It’s not that I’ve noticed a huge change from one day to the next, but rather when I look back on my life a year ago, I notice that relaxation and slow living was harder then.

The Difference a Year Has Made

For instance, I have a partially written blog post titled, “Why Being Too Busy is Bad.” I didn’t get very far into writing it, and for the life of me I can’t figure out where I was going with it. Now, it seems obvious to me that being constantly too busy could be a bad thing. A year ago, though, that was quite a novel concept.

I was also in a yoga class recently. At the beginning, the instructor led us through some relaxation breathing and reminded everyone to be present on their mat for the hour. Our responsibilities would be waiting for us at the end of class, but it doesn’t do any good to think about them or worry during the class.

I put aside my thoughts of what I would be having for dinner after yoga – which can be quite a task for someone who loves food like Pooh loves honey. In that moment of peace, I remembered trying to settle into yoga class last year.

A year ago, I was in the middle of my “quarter life crisis”. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or how I was going to figure it out. For once in my life, I wasn’t working or in school, and that lack of identity made me really uncomfortable. I had no idea what to do with myself during any free time, which I suddenly had a lot of.

Settling into yoga class then was an active struggle. Now, after a lot more practice and a year working on slow living, it is a whole lot easier.

The Benefits of Slow Living

Learning how to slow down my life has been incredibly rewarding. I no longer feel like I need to schedule something for every moment of every day. I have time to appreciate the little things, like a nice cup of tea in the morning.

It has also helped me to get my anxiety under control. Removing the extra tension caused by the fast and frantic nature of my life lowered my overall stress level. I still have anxiety, but I feel better equipped at managing it now.

It also makes island time much more enjoyable. If you’re in a rush, the extra time that it takes for things to get done on an island can easily make you frustrated. Whether it’s waiting for food in a restaurant or waiting behind a car that has stopped to chat with someone on the side of the road, I no longer feel tense when something takes longer than expected.

One of the things I appreciate the most is being able to relax. Free time used to be my nemesis. I could schedule it into a day, but I would never actually relax enough to enjoy it. Now, I appreciate a lazy Sunday morning with a good book or sitting outside and watching the sunset in the evening – without fixating on what I have to do next.

The Key to Slowing Down

I believe that slow living is more of an art than a science. There is no right or wrong way to go about it, just try things. Maybe going on walks helps you slow down. Maybe it’s playing an instrument, or drawing. Don’t be too rigid about it, though. If what you’re doing doesn’t make you happier, try something else.

It doesn’t have to be a drastic lifestyle change. Maybe you just decide to be more mindful and present in the moment for part of your day, like on your commute to work. Just remember that the key is time.

At first, your mind will wander. Take walking for example. At the beginning, you might spend the whole walk thinking about work, or the kids, or your to-do list. Over time, though, your mind will slow down. You will begin to notice the trees and the sky and the changing seasons.

Maybe that’s the first lesson in slow living. Coming to terms with the fact that it is going to take time and practice to get good at it. It will take work. As an anxious over-thinker myself, I know it’s not easy.

Then again, things that are worth it never are.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Easier Said Than Done

Hey!

Long time no see!

I won’t bore you with the usual litany of “oh I’ve been so busy I couldn’t possibly find the time to write!” That would be both slightly untrue and… a total cop out.

The honest reason that I haven’t written in a while may be:

A) It’s scary to talk about your life and thoughts and opinions and have them accessible by anyone in the world with an internet connection.

B) I do not believe that people are inherently interested in what I do every day (like what I had for breakfast or that I walked my dog) so I try to create blog posts that add value, in however small a way, to people’s lives. And that’s hard. Ok, pity party over.

C) I realized that in all my bravado about “letting go of expectations” I had created a ton of expectations about the blog. I wanted to have so many posts a week, I wanted to create a strong social media presence, I hoped to attain a decently sized following eventually, I felt that posts had to be a certain length. All those expectations made it more like a chore and less like a fun thing that I wanted to do. And nobody was making me do it. So I stopped. And then I didn’t start writing again because I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to keep writing as much as I “felt like I should”.

D) All of the above.

It took me a while to finally answer this question, and even longer to decide what I was going to do about it.

I decided that I am going to try my best to practice what I preach and move forward with the blog without my previously held expectations.

Well…

At least with a mindfulness that the expectations that I have set for myself are completely arbitrary and that I can acknowledge them without giving into them.

And I’m going to start that off by making this post short and sweet!

I won’t try to sell you on the usual, “I have a ton of exciting stuff lined up so come back soon!”

If you like reading, check back now and then. When I think of something to write, I’ll post it.

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

The Welcome Surprise of Low Expectations

Having high expectations for something is an easy way to set yourself up for disappointment. Maybe you heard that a movie that just came out is “literally the best movie ever made”. You go into the movie expecting a visual masterpiece and a plotline to rival the works of Shakespeare.

When the movie is over, you agree that it was good, but probably not the best movie ever. What’s more, since you went into it with the expectation of watching the best movie ever and it didn’t live up to that, you probably like that movie a little less than you would have if you went into it with no expectations.

I was recently happily surprised by a situation in which I had no expectations for myself while I was practicing yoga. I started doing yoga about four months ago, and while I love watching people who are good at yoga maneuver their bodies into elegant poses, I know that I am a long way away from that.

Occasionally I get impatient with myself and wish that I could progress with yoga more quickly, but most days I am ok with where I am at, and I am ok with the fact that the journey to more strength and flexibility will take a long time. I also know that I am not very flexible, especially in my lower body.

That was why, when my heels touched the floor in downward facing dog, I was ecstatic.

In downward facing dog, your hands and feet are on the mat and your butt is up in the air, with your body in the shape of a V. I remember in one of the first yoga classes that I ever attended, the instructor said to think about your heels coming all the way down to the mat in downward facing dog. With my heels four inches away from the floor, I thought she was crazy.

If I had any expectation about my heels touching the mat, it was that it would happen after years of practice. Honestly, though, I didn’t think about it much. I just enjoyed stretching out the backs of my legs in downward facing dog.

Then, one day, I was practicing yoga at home following a video online. This was after about three months of practicing most days, but not every day. Toward the end of the video, I went into downward facing dog and it happened! Both heels touched the floor!

I was so excited that I couldn’t even go into Shavasana, the final resting pose that you are supposed to end your yoga practice with. Instead, I ran into the other room to show Husband, who was happy that I was happy but not quite sure what all the fuss was about. The dog, on the other hand, was super happy about all the running around and excitement.

Most of the reason why this was so exciting was that I hadn’t expected it to happen for a very long time. If I had expected my heels to touch the ground after one or two months of practicing yoga, just like expecting to watch the best movie ever, I would have just set myself up for disappointment.

Yoga practice has been a great way for me to embrace the moment and release any idea of how things should be. I have become better at tuning into my body and accepting where I am every day. Since that first time my heels touched the floor, I have had days where that has happened again, but I have also had many days where it hasn’t, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

I enjoy yoga much more when I think about it as a journey, instead of a time to push myself into perfect poses. You can think about life in much the same way. It is a journey that will be much more enjoyable if you take the time to enjoy where you’re at each day, instead of just rushing to get to a place where you think you’re supposed to be, such as having a certain job or relationship status.

The key to enjoying the journey is not holding onto expectations about what a yoga pose should look like, or what you should be doing at a certain point in your life. My heels touching the floor in downward facing dog was a lightbulb moment for me about how great it can be to have low expectations.

Of course, I don’t want to have low expectations about everything in my life. I still want to have goals and things to strive for, but I hope to hold onto my goals without turning them into expectations. It’s great to have something to work towards, but much less great with the unnecessary pressure of expectation.

So go on, enjoy the journey, and open yourself up to feeling surprise and joy over the little things.

My Biggest Expectation

Growing up, I always thought about what my life would look like when I was older. I think most people do. We fantasize about the job we will have, the person we will marry, where we will live, the places we will travel to. While this is all well and good, it can put a lot of pressure on your adult self to live up to the life that you dreamed of having when you were younger.

My own dream life goes something like this: go to a great college, get a job changing the world where I am constantly engaged and paid well, meet the man of my dreams and get married, buy a nice house, save money for traveling the world in my free time, have two kids and watch them grow into well-adjusted members of society, and eventually retire and grow old with my adoring husband, children and grandchildren. Because I was horse-crazy, my dream life also included owning a small farm for my horses (plural) and competing as far up through the levels of Eventing as I could.

Even with these grand ideas about how our lives will unfold, we know that we will encounter some bumps in the road. Relationships are hard work, and it’s not always going to be easy. Having kids leads to countless sleepless nights, a messy house – and finding cereal where you would least expect it. Maybe you won’t get the job you want right away. Maybe you will have to move farther away from your family than you would like to. It sounds cute, from a distance.

But even my young-adult self thought, surely things will go mostly according to plan, right!? And for a while things did. I graduated from college, but I did not continue on to a higher degree as I previously thought I would. I got a job in my field right out of college – which I feel extremely lucky about – but it wasn’t a job where I felt like I was changing the world. I did meet the man of my dreams and get married, but then the future quickly became murky.

As we were planning our wedding, he was also applying for medical school. When the dust of the medical school application process settled, it was clear that we would be moving. To Grenada. An island. In the Caribbean.

Fast forward and here we are, married and living in Grenada! How cool is that?! While I fully realize how lucky I am to be living on a Caribbean island for the next couple years, it also threw a huge wrench in my ability to meticulously plan out every last detail of our future. Where will we be in two years when we return to the US for clinical rotations? Where will we be after that for his residency? With Zika spreading and the impending mountain of student loan debt that we will be in, when will we be able to start trying to have kids?

Another wrench that the move has thrown into my ever-important plans is that it’s really hard to get a work visa in Grenada. Which means I am, currently, a stay-at-home wife. Woe is me, right? But on the other hand, it has forced me to come face-to-face with the fact that I didn’t feel like the job I had before coming here was right for me, and that I don’t even know what I want to pursue as a career path.  The whole basis of my future – getting a job that I find fulfilling, where I am helping others, and that ideally pays well enough so that my family can live comfortably – doesn’t exist. I feel like I should have accomplished that by now, or that I should at least be on a clear path to getting there. But I’m not. And I’m going to try to be ok with that.

I’m going to try to be ok with that because sometimes, I think the biggest expectation that I have for myself is living up to the timeline that I created for my life. It is my biggest expectation, and also the one that causes me the most grief. Right now, my life is not on the track that I thought it would be on, and in some ways I feel like I’ve failed because of that. What I have realized now, though, is that if things went the way I thought they were supposed to go, I would not have had the time to reflect on what career I want to pursue. I also probably would not have had the opportunity to live in another country and get to know it’s culture and people. And I definitely wouldn’t be living somewhere as beautiful as Grenada. It can be hard letting go of your perfectly formed plans, but once you’re done lamenting their loss (and by all means, take that time), take a look around. Because it’s possible that the new direction that your life has taken you will give you just as many – if not more – opportunities than the path you thought you were supposed to be on.