Letting go of expectations

a.k.a. why you should cut yourself some slack

Often we are the ones who expect the most from ourselves. We set goals, striving to improve ourselves, our work performance or many aspects of our personal life. And while that can bring us higher, help us be better humans, it can also bring us down. And then we crash. Our expectations are not met, our goals are not accomplished, and so our self-esteem takes a hit. Little by little, we may begin to doubt ourselves as we set incredibly difficult goals which we don’t manage to achieve. Our sense of worth plummets. We set the bar higher and higher, we fail again and again. It seems we can’t do anything right, whether major life decisions or innocuous daily stuff.

Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash

How to prevent this pressure?

Well, how about not setting yourself up for failure in the first place? Why be so hard on yourself? Is it really just to stay motivated, to keep improving, to be “a better version of yourself”? What’s wrong with the way you are now, with the person you are right this moment?

Once you achieve this or become that, whatever it might mean for you, you’re going to be happy, right? Many of us think that, believe that. There’s nothing wrong with this belief as long as it doesn’t guide your life, stopping you from actually living it, enjoying everything surrounding you right now.

Where is this need for change coming from? Is it an expectation from within you or from the outside, from the faceless people in the society?

But how to let go of expectations?

Probably all of us have heard the expression “focus on the journey rather than the destination”. Well, however cheesy it may sound, it actually clicked for me only a couple of weeks ago when I was reading an article by Anthony Moore. He quoted Bryan Cranston who had said his motto is to “focus on process rather than outcome” — a bit different from the above, possibly less cliché but you still get the idea.

So how does this apply to you?

Have you ever experienced the feeling of immense satisfaction and joy after achieving a goal you’ve been working towards for a long time? And do you also remember how quickly that feeling had passed? Now, according to the quote by Bryan Cranston, you should be asking yourself if you remember experiencing joy and satisfaction during the process that led you to that moment?

I wouldn’t want to claim that if you didn’t enjoy the whole journey then you didn’t do it right — after all, nothing is that black and white. But it makes you think and reflect, right? Should you go through the daily grind, the hustle, only to tick off yet another goal off your list? Shouldn’t there be more to life, to work, to success? Wait, shouldn’t success actually feel good for longer than just a few short moments?

This is where letting go of expectations comes in.

And also of rules dictating how your life is supposed to go, what you’re supposed to do and in what order.

I found that focusing on daily actions rather than long-term plans and goals — which, let’s be honest, can be quite intimidating — brings much more happiness to my life. I choose what to do every day and I make sure it’s something that makes me think creatively, challenges me, lets me use my skills and makes my heart sing. Okay, that last part might have been a tad exaggerated but that’s genuinely how I feel when I do what I truly enjoy. And if that’s not the point of living then what is?

Find what matters

Reaching a set point, achieving a goal, earning a reputation — none of these will bring you any closer to happiness if the process that got you there was miserable, painful and demotivating. Watch out, another cheesy line coming at you: it’s noticing the little things and moments that actually makes us happy.

Which translates to making sure that you explore which activities are the ones that bring you the most joy, that make you feel fulfilled and give your life purpose — and then remembering to find the time to do them daily.

Wait, what? You don’t have time? You work too much? And, let me guess, your work isn’t “it” for you? And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to encourage you to quit your job and go search for meaning and purpose — unless that’s what you want to do. But if you can’t carve out some time each day to do something you enjoy, don’t you think you’re living life a bit backwards? After all, how wrong can your life go if you dedicate time to activities that resonate with you, even without a grand plan?

As long as you’re able to support yourself and your basic needs, and you’re doing what brings you real joy and fulfillment when you do have the time, what else do you need? I think I finally figured it out for myself.

Daily satisfaction means so much more to me than knowing that I’m following some sort of an arbitrary plan that I or someone else set for myself.
Photo by Caique Silva on Unsplash