Expectations and the Unexpected

September 23, 2013

yellowstone-puddle

By Amy Hackworth. Image by Justin Hackworth.

Our family went on a little road trip last week, and I had some pretty specific ideas about how we’d spend our travel time. Things didn’t work out how I’d planned. It was nothing big or tragic that waylaid my ideas, just some unexpected events that changed the outcome of our trip (and truthfully, only slightly).

And yet, it stung. It was difficult for me to let go of the hope I’d felt in creating my expectations for our time together. The altered prospects were nothing too challenging, and actually presented some lovely opportunities. But it took more than a few miles down the road before I felt like acknowledging those opportunities.

Expectations have value, certainly, and help us manage our own and our family’s lives. But holding onto them so tightly didn’t do me a bit of good. Not surprisingly, being upset that things hadn’t gone differently didn’t change my circumstances. In fact, as long as I begrudged the loss of my unmet expectations, those expectations crowded out the good that was right in front of me—until I let them go. Once I was willing to accept what was instead of what I’d wanted, there was suddenly space to enjoy our days as they unfolded.

Have you learned to strike a balance between your expectations and the unexpected?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zoe - SlowMama September 23, 2013 at 3:02 pm

This is one of those things that comes up repeatedly in life and yet is so hard to do! I’ve found that giving myself a little preparatory talk before any plans or trips really helps. If I go into something knowing it may change or not go as I’ve planned, it doesn’t devastate me so much when it does and I can go with the flow better. If things *do* go as planned, then I’m super happy and enjoy it even more than I might have.

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2 allysha September 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I can be really flexible when the idea wasn’t mine! :) That’s been one continued lesson after another with my kids and my ideas of how things should be: flexibility!!! My unwillingness to do things differently trips me up more often than I’d like to admit!

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3 Linnea September 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Great topic! I run into this all the time because I’m a perfectionist. Even if my rational brain says, “it’s just a little hiccup — no big deal,” I can’t help feeling disappointed when plans fall short.

A friend recently told me about a great concept that might sound a little strange to others, but works great for me! It’s called the “daily failure quota.” Basically, it’s the idea that some portion of your day is destined to be made up of small (and maybe a few bigger) failures. For example, maybe you miss the bus, have a friend cancel plans, can’t find the shirt you wanted to wear, spilled some food, got cut off in traffic, etc. Some things are under your control, some aren’t — but regardless, they sometimes they feel like a big deal!

Looking at these mishaps as “just one of today’s little failures” helps me readjust my expectations. It takes the power away from the mishap and gives me back the power to control my day. Failure and the unexpected are a part of being human! When I’m open to the possibility of failure, then I can focus my energy on my successes and other, more important things in my life. :-)

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4 Amy3 September 23, 2013 at 6:16 pm

I’m a perfectionist too and it can be so difficult for me to switch gears when things don’t go as planned. Even when I know what is happening is as good or better, I still resent the loss of ‘control’ I feel in those moments. However, I’m heartened to hear about others who struggle with this. My husband does such a great job of being flexible in the face of life’s curveballs. I’m still working on this lesson myself!

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5 becky September 23, 2013 at 7:07 pm

my husband and i always joke about this because while i’m not exactly laid back in life, when bad or unexpected things happen i’m that person going, “cool, a new opportunity” or “i wonder what lesson i’m supposed to learn” or my husband’s least favorit – “well, that’s life.” and my hubby on the other hand loses his mind when things veer off track…and when he does, i always pat his hand and go “you had such a nice childhood. how sweet.” i do the same for people who blissfully arrive late to everything – “wow. they were really happy as kids!” years ago, in some sort of group session at yet another of my mom’s ventures into rehab, one of the therapists pointed out that some of the least traumatized by life early on are the most likely to be traumatized by little things later on. whereas a traumatized person learns to cope and survive and keep their expectations sooooo low – so as to never really be knocked over again – and thus happiness actually gets easier (and yet can lead to a lot of other problems in life – so not always a positive). the leave-it-to-beaver family i married into that loses their minds over the least hiccup in life, “we’re so unlucky!” “how could this happen?!” and on and on. and i just sit back and smile and think how blessed i was to get the chance to be part of this exceptionally happy family! and every time they melt down – it’s just a further testament to their awesomeness. exasperating awesomeness, but awesomeness never-the-less! i just thought you would enjoy my fun little take on this issue in my life.

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6 Heidi September 23, 2013 at 9:57 pm

We always say before a trip, “if it turns out as expected we’ll have a good time, and if it doesn’t, we’ll have a good story” This includes massive tent soaking rainfall, hope it helps a little.

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7 Reese Carrozzini September 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

Well said post. This happens to all of us in so many situations, including travelling, and you are spot on when you talk about having to let go in order to enjoy that moment. I’ve been there a many time and I’m still learning from it.

Cheers!
Reese Carrozzini Studio

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8 Heather September 24, 2013 at 8:36 am

With 3 kids aged 4 and under, my husband and I have a rule for all our outings. We set 1 goal, and aim for it…and anything else is bonus. On a recent trip to NYC, our goal was to visit the Natural History Museum. A side trip to Central Park was bonus.

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9 The Other Robin September 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

My husband has truly helped me see the “it’s the journey, not the destination” way of thinking. He reminds me to breathe and be in the moment instead of stressing out and fretting over changes of plans. It’s a much more Zen way to live and I try to remember that whatever happens is going to be fine, maybe even great!

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