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

 

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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.


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Connect: One Idea on How to Make the World a Better Place

I had the most touching interaction with a stranger the other day. I was walking out of the post office carrying a box and my unnecessarily large purse. I got into my car and was arranging everything on the passenger seat when I heard a voice behind me.

An older man had walked up to my open car door and as soon as I turned around, he said, “I wish to be of assistance. Do not panic.” With that, he gently closed my car door and was on his way.

I was struck by the quiet kindness in the man’s eyes and the kindness of his gesture. As I drove home, I replayed the moment over and over again in my mind, and I began to tear up.

Most of the time, if a strange man followed me to my car and walked up to the open door, it would have made me nervous at the very least. This interaction was different, though. I immediately recognized his demeanor as kind, and his words were honest and comforting.

He wasn’t looking for the thanks that I uttered to my closed car door as he walked away. He just saw that I had my hands full and genuinely wanted to help me out.

Of course, I would have had no trouble closing the car door myself. But had that man walked past my car without taking a moment to interact with me, I would have missed out on a moment of feeling connected to another human being, and feeling that you don’t have to know someone to care about them and making their day a little easier.

Then another thought occurred to me. How is it that we live in a world where shootings and bombings are commonplace, but where a simple act of kindness by a stranger was enough to leave my teary-eyed?

In a world that is so vast, that is populated by so many people, how is it that we still feel such a large void when it comes to feeling a connection to the people around us?

I wish I could say that I had the answers to those questions. Or, better yet, I wish I had solutions. But I don’t.

I do know that we crave a feeling of closeness, connectedness, and honesty with other people. Look at the success of Humans of New York or Post Secret. While it can be much harder to seek a connection with strangers in real life than it is online, that makes those real life connections even more enriching.

The discourse that surrounds having meaningful interactions with strangers tends to focus on helping other people or performing random acts of kindness. While that can be a great place to start, I believe the sentiment could – and should – go much deeper.

In thinking about what we can do to help people, it is easy to think about it in terms of what we are willing to do for other people that will make us feel the best about ourselves. I might feel really good about myself for giving $20 to the homeless man as I walked by him on the street, but it may not have been the most effective way I could have helped him. Maybe a few honestly kind words would have made his day more than the $20. It is easier, though, to put money in his cup and keep walking.

I think that a more effective way to think about “helping people” would be to think about what you could do to show someone that you see them and that you care about them. And I mean really see them. Understand them. Respect them. Empathize with them.

The man who closed my car door the other day knew that I might feel nervous that he approached me. He understood that, respected that, and was able to put my mind at ease before I even had a chance to react negatively. And even though he knew I might react negatively, he put himself out there anyways.

These are the types of actions that can start to make the world a better place to live in. If we could all look at our neighbors or the people we pass as we walk down the street and put just a little bit of effort into seeing them as individuals, absent of any judgment, the world be changed for the better. If we then took that seeing and understanding and – even occasionally – showed those acquaintances and strangers compassion and caring, the world would be a much better place.

I’m not saying that it is going to be easy. I’m not saying that I am good at it. But it is something that I am going to work on. Instead of giving sympathy to strangers, I will work on giving empathy, and making their day a little better through honest interaction.

It is something that can be applied on a much larger scale as well. Think about groups of people who are different from you. Maybe they are different in their age, race, gender, religion, or any other way. Make an effort to see things from their point of view. It may not be comfortable. It will likely challenge a lot of the assumptions that you had about that group. It may be difficult, but it needs to be done.

In a world where we are connected on so many levels, we are divided just as often. We identify ourselves as being part of certain groups, ranging from gender and race to political affiliation and which sports teams we like. If we surround ourselves with only others who are like us, it then becomes easy to see people who don’t fall into the same groups as “others”, but we must resist that urge.

It will not be easy. It will not happen overnight. If you are doing it right, you will be uncomfortable at times and pushed outside of your comfort zone. But start small. Start somewhere.

Start, perhaps, by letting a stranger know that you see them, and show them that in some way – no matter how small – that you care about them.


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7 Things I’ve Learned About Living on an Island

Today marks four months since Husband and I arrived in Grenada. It has been four months of learning and adapting to a life that has been very different from the one we came from. In many ways it is not better or worse, just different.

We went from the US to the Caribbean, Midwest season changes to tropical climate year round, two full-time jobs to being a student and a housewife.

Since I am fortune enough to not be the one who was crazy enough to decide that attending medical school would be fun, I have had lots of time to observe how life on an island is different than life in the US.

Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far:

1. If that ’94 Suzuki Escudo gets you from Point A to Point B, it’ll do.

Never mind that it doesn’t have air conditioning, sometimes it doesn’t start, and when the windows decide to work you have to hold onto them to keep aligned as they roll up. Luxury car features like radio, automatic locks, and a decent paint job can wait. It gets us from one place to the other (most of the time) and that’s all we really need!

2. You can live in the same three outfits of workout clothes – and nobody cares.

Though the locals seem perfectly comfortable wearing long pants all the time, when the heat index is constantly in the upper 90’s, jeans are the last thing I am thinking of wearing. Most of the time I exist in one of the few pairs of yoga pants or shorts that I brought to the island and a tank top. Everyone knows that we are all existing on student loans right now, we all brought what they could fit into a suitcase or two, and the options for shopping on the island are less than exciting.

3. Honking at people while you are driving can have a ton of different meanings.

In the US, if somebody honks their car horn it usually means something along the lines of, “%*$& you, you #!@*ing $&*@.” Imagine my surprise upon realizing that honking here is much closer to a friendly “hello” than a string of expletives. I’ve learned that honking can mean, “I am a bus, do you need a ride?” or “Hello friend that I saw walking on the sidewalk,” or even “I’m coming up on a blind hill where the road is probably not wide enough for two way traffic so if you can hear this please let me through.”

4. You will never again take for granted living in a place where you don’t have to worry about bugs.

I have been very fortunate to not have many encounters with bugs so far *crosses fingers, knocks on wood*. I have, however, heard so many stories about bugs on the island. Everything from huge centipedes falling from the ceiling in campus buildings, to ants that will find any way into your apartment – and your food containers, to relentless mosquitos in apartments without window screens, to huge, flying cockroaches. It makes the droves of mosquitos in Wisconsin seem like nothing.

5. Even though the seasons may not change, you will hear Christmas music everywhere you go as soon as November 1st comes around.

I’ve learned that Grenada does Christmas big, and you will hear Christmas music everywhere from the grocery store to random houses blasting it across the valley that you live in. At least Grenada celebrates their Thanksgiving in October, so once November comes around Christmas is really the next holiday to look forward to! I distinctly remember a Christmas a few years back where I was driving around and the car thermometer put the outside temperature at -30°F. Celebrating this Christmas in a bathing suit will be just as memorable!

6. You can have a different favorite beach for different occasions.

Living in the Midwest, where most bodies of water have cold water, lots of weeds, and an odor of dead fish, it never occurred to me that some Caribbean beaches might be better than others. Anything would be better than those beaches. In Grenada, all of the beaches that I have been to have beautiful, fine sand, a gorgeous green backdrop, and turquois water that you can see all the way to the bottom through. While they are all beautiful, some are better for snorkeling, some are better for partying, and some are better because you can lay out for a long time without someone trying to sell you something.

7. Just like living anywhere else, it is easy to take for granted the unique things around you.

After being here for four months, I sometimes forget that we live within walking distance of two gorgeous beaches. I’m not surprised that there are multiple fresh produce stands around, even though it is December. I can walk down the beach now without gawking at the scenery. We will be here for two years, and though parts of island life are second nature now, I remain committed to experiencing as much of the island as I can in the relatively short time that we are here!


The first four months in Grenada have flown by and I look forward to the new insights that I will have as I continue journeying through life in the Caribbean!


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Giving Thanks

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, I keep wondering what my first holiday season away from my family will be like. I feel incredibly fortunate that I made it to my mid-twenties before spending the holidays away from my family and their familiar traditions.

This afternoon will be the first time that I will not be with my parents, brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma as they sit down to Thanksgiving dinner together. They will gather at my grandma’s house, whose counters will probably be covered in snacks and appetizers despite the approaching feast.

My uncle will most likely follow my late grandpa’s tradition of brining and grilling the turkey. After everyone stuffs their faces with mashed potatoes, turkey, and Grandma’s sticky buns, someone will help Grandma carry her Christmas tree up from the basement and set it up to the left of the fireplace in her living room.

By the end of the day, everyone will have forgotten which wine glass is theirs, and Grandma will make sure that at least one whole pie goes to every household, along with the rest of the Thanksgiving leftovers.

While I am already missing that time with my family, I still have much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my loving, dedicated, supportive husband. I am grateful for the friends we have made in Grenada, some of whom we are lucky enough to be spending Thanksgiving with. I am grateful for my dog and his growing appreciation of cuddling.

I am grateful to have such a great relationship with my family and for all the memories and traditions that we share. I am grateful for my friends back home and that it is easy to stay in touch with them thanks to technology. I am grateful for my able body, the place we currently call home, the chance to live on abroad, free Wi-Fi, and the existence of ice cream.

That’s all well and good. While I really truly am grateful for all those things – and too many more to count – two things stand out to me about that list.

The first is that I’m surprised more food items didn’t make it onto the short list of things that I am grateful for. I mean, I plan my day around my meals. I am also truly sad for Husband, who does not seem to have the capacity to experience the pure joy that I do from eating delicious food. The short list may have to be revised to include Chipotle – of course I know the guacamole is extra – and pizza, at the very least.

All kidding aside, the other thing that stands out to me about the list is that most of the things that I am grateful for are the people in my life and the time that we are able to spend together.

The holidays can get so busy with gift buying and social engagements that it is easy to forget about what the person that you are buying the gift for means to you, or that you should be enjoying the time with the company that you are in.

As we gather with friends and family today and through the rest of the holidays, take a moment to really notice and appreciate the people you are with. Step back and notice the little conversations everyone is having, how the turkey smells, what the kids are doing. Take a snapshot of that moment in your mind so that you can remember it later.

If things get hectic during the coming weeks, return to that moment or think about the people in your life who you are grateful for and connect that to what you are doing. Connect it to why you are cooking, shopping, or traveling.

After all, it’s not just the decorations or the weather or the food or the gifts that make the holiday season special. It is the time that we take during the holiday season to spend time with loved ones and show them how much we care about them and to feel how much they care about us, that makes it such a great time of year.

I think that if we can keep sight of that, it will make the holidays even more enjoyable.


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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.


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