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Expectations and Dreams

Susanne Johnson
| December 5, 2013

The year was 1968, and my mother was expecting. She had dreams for me, but did I ever meet her expectations? Was I like the child she dreamed of? I don’t know. We never talked about it. There were many things we never talked about. I was unplanned, but I was loved. My father was married but not to my mother, although he later left his family to move in with us. He made sure that I knew what that word “expectations” meant. I felt that everything was planned, my role was written and I just had to fit into it. What did not fit into my father’s life would be made to fit. I was put in a body and soul cast and expected to grow up a certain way, but this was not my way.

My mother died as a direct result of her drinking. I was 14 at this time, and I broke out of the cast and began to raise myself according to my dreams and hopes. Lack of knowledge, wisdom and maturity led me to make lots of mistakes, but, when I left home at age 18, I was finally myself, good and bad. The expectations that were put on my shoulders were too heavy for me as a child. I could not bear them, but I learned to expect the best from myself and to strive for perfection. If I was second in a sports competition, I was the first loser. If my grades at school were not the best in the class, I considered them not good enough. Since 98% was not good enough, and I had trouble reaching 100%, I gave up in school. It did not matter to me where I was, if it was not 100%. I did not get a friendly word for 95%, so why do any effort to reach it? 70% put the same look on my parents face. Later, in college, I learned to start at zero again and push myself to become the best.

Dreams did not develop, as, when the best is expected, there is no time for dreaming. If just a tiny thing did not work out the way I planned it, I became frustrated. Before a tennis game I saw myself as the winner, and if I lost a game, I grabbed a bottle. I did not know what went wrong there or what to do. I felt like a worthless loser. I felt like I let my team down, and the only reason I could imagine was, “I did not train hard enough.” I would return home frustrated, sad and beaten and hear a “How did that happen?” from my parents before going to bed to suffer alone.

I wanted to learn to play the piano. My parents financed lessons and bought a piano. Unfortunately, there are people that are simply not musically talented. I am one of them. My parents turned my dream into an expectation. No matter how much I practiced my piano trials sounded like a bunch of neighborhood cats having a party. I felt so ashamed and was convinced I was a total failure. I stopped taking lessons and refused to touch any piano ever again. The lesson I learned from that was to only do things I know I will do perfectly, but that lesson is not a good one from today’s perspective.

My expectations for myself were also expectations I had for others. If I am perfect at something, I assume you will be too. If I can work 16 hours today, I expect you will too. If I won’t forget your birthday, I expect you to remember mine. I lead, you follow, and I expect you to follow with no criticism, suggestions or advice. I have it all figured out, I expect everybody to go along with me.

Absolutely nobody in my life met these expectations. I wanted everything to go my way, and I expected all others to go along with my ideas and plans. Needless to say there were many people in my life that did not agree with me, and my expectations led to frustration. If I was frustrated, I drank. I got lonely, even when the room was full of people.

I did not know the difference between expectation and hope. I can hope that it stops raining, but I can only expect it if I have a certain knowledge about the weather. I can hope for a sunny day on my birthday, but I can’t be disappointed if it does not work out this way. I can make plans for the future, but I can’t plan the outcome. This is what I know today but did not know before.

In order to be happy I can either lower my expectations or increase my reality. This depends on the situation. I have to see what the possibilities are. I have to accept others’ way of life and thinking. I have to trust myself to make my day worth living and not rely on others to do this for me. I can be happy for a positive outcome, but expectations only sometimes end in delight. Life is uncertain, and surprises may be negative.

Many people including myself expect the worst to happen. This way of thinking leads to anxiety and depression. Having unrealistically low expectations may result more often in a positive surprise, but what do these negative expectations do during the time before the event itself? All of the worries, doubts, fears, angers and hopeless moments are not needed, when the end result is not unpleasant. Low expectations are as harmful as high expectations. If I wake up every day and think it will be a rainy day, before I even looked out of the window, I won’t feel happy, even if the sun is shining. A little positive thinking is allowed. I once read that “Positive thinking is not about EXPECTING the BEST to happen. It is about ACCEPTING that whatever happens is for the BEST.”

Today I try to find a healthy balance. I can’t always do that, but I’m getting better at it. I can see when my expectations begin to affect my life, and I can be mindful of them. My mindfulness allows me to recognize when my expectations are either too high or too low and gives me tools to accept life as it is. I cannot expect or demand things from other people. I have to accept what they are able and willing to give and to do. I learned this lesson late in life, but I am grateful that I learned it at all. I am grateful for the guidance I received in this during my recovery. Recovery gives me a life and new ways of thinking.

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