The first time my family decided to go to Walt Disney World, my parents were worried about what every parent worries about at Disney: lines. Lines for every ride, potty break, snack, and meal. Lines you wait in so you can get to more lines….essentially child torture. So on the car ride down they schemed up a solution to the line problem: low expectations. In the hopes of avoiding meltdowns during hour long waits, they began saying things to us like, “wouldn’t it be cool if we got on ONE ride!” They must have been convincing because by the end of the car ride, we kids were happily discussing just how crazy it would be to get on more than one roller-coaster.
The point wasn’t that we wouldn’t try to get on as many rides as possible, just that for every additional one after the first, we would consider ourselves lucky. As it turned out, it was a relatively quiet afternoon and I remember getting on many roller-coasters that day. My sister and I walked out all smiles – our expectations had been met and exceeded, simply because we’d set them so low.
What if we went through life the way my parents took us to Disney World? Because here’s the truth: expectations are judgements on the way reality should be. And what happens when we judge reality?
I should have gotten that job, but I didn’t. I should have been able to climb that route, but I couldn’t. That vacation should have been relaxing, but it wasn’t. My partner should be able to read my mind by now, but they can’t.
When expectations go unmet, we end up sad, resentful, or angry. We’ve deemed our own circumstances wrong – of course we feel sad and angry. But life is full of the unexpected, and reality isn’t something we can easily argue with. We will fail, succeed, grieve, celebrate, get promoted, get fired, be asked on dates, be turned down, achieve athletic goals, and miss the mark again and again. And what if all of that is okay? What if, even when we try our hardest and things don’t go as planned, it’s still okay because we never identified how it should look from the get-go?
By creating expectations, we eliminate all roads to success except for one. There is one path that leads to satisfaction and everything else is something we must overcome, deal with, or tolerate. It can be exhausting. Not only that, but sometimes when our expectations are met, we bypass happiness and gratitude all together and go straight to righteousness – of course it’s like this, this is what I deserve (and can I have more too?). But when we begin to peel away our expectations of life, we become more open to whatever is in front of us in that moment. We are less stressed, more grateful, and more open-minded. We can pivot faster when things don’t go as planned, and we can learn and grow from our experiences more easily as a result. We aim for whatever it is that we want and are fully open to whatever reality presents to us in return.
It’s not about setting your sights low, it’s about recognizing there are many ways to achieve success. As we find the bravery and boldness to aim for everything that we want in life, we simultaneously accept whatever it is that we already have. There will be always be lines in life, but there’s (at least) one ride to be grateful for, too.