If I can just get it right, then I can relax, or so we tell ourselves.
Of course, that is a lie. No matter how right you get it, there will always be something that could make it better.
We recently planned a trip to New York, to see the magnificent colors of the fall foliage.
My plan (expectation) was to travel four to five hours to a beautiful cabin on the waterfront, surrounded by the majestic colors of fall. Sipping our favorite hot beverages, we’d sit on the rocking chairs, facing the floor-to-ceiling windows as we took in the beauty.
After a couple of hours relaxing, we’d grab our hiking boots and head out to meet wonderful strangers on the trails—all within walking distance. In case we didn’t meet anyone on the hike, we’d head to the local café, grab a pastry, and meet the locals.
What a great script! Doesn’t it sound lovely?
When Reality Doesn’t Match Your Expectations
Alas, that was not the reality of our time up north this year.
Instead, finding an AirB&B that fit our budget, in the location we’d envisioned staying, proved impossible.
Jonesing to get away, we threw the proverbial dart and looked at several places across the map on AirBnB, and randomly picked a place close to Lake Erie.
We knew nothing about Lake Erie, except that there was water there.
I love the water, though I’ve got to tell you, Angola (the small town where we ended up) and Lake Erie, are neither hopping, nor warm, in October! It was not exactly beach weather, and the house was not exactly on the water. Angola doesn’t have a local café, and hiking was far from walking distance.
And, as it turns out, the deliciously warm September and October weather, and ungodly amount of rain, delayed and muted the colors I had expected to see.
No big deal, right?
Dealing With Unfamiliar Situations
My brain screamed out in utter defiance. It told me what a giant mistake I’d made. My inner script convinced me there was something I should have done differently to make this trip turn out the way I wanted it to.
As my brain spun in circles, analyzing every element of how this trip came to be, it left me reeling with discontent. It was easy (entirely too easy), to waste precious resources (time and money) beating myself up over not getting it right.
Restless, I kept thinking, I don’t need to travel nearly seven hours, or spend a hundred bucks a night, only to hang out inside someone else’s house.
Thankfully, my moments of insanity over the idea that this vacation was an utter failure paused long enough to allow unforeseen options to appear.
Unexpected Gifts From Unmet Expectations
As it turned out, Niagara Falls was just an hour north, and the Grand Canyon of the East (in Letchworth state park) was just an hour and a half east of this sleepy (in October, at least) town. It wasn’t quite the easy walking distance I had in mind, but the journey was well worth the experience.
Interestingly, there’s no way I would have planned this sort of trip—I didn’t even know I wanted to see Niagara Falls, or the Grand Canyon of the East!
Stop Beating Yourself Up And Accept Life The Way It Is
This is where I’d love to tell you that I relaxed into the experience, but that is not what happened. Instead, my inner monologue of “should have’s” intensified, as I battled the tension that continued to escalate in my jaw muscles.
- You should have gone with one of the other places.
- You messed up this vacation.
- No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get it right.
- You’re wasting precious time off from work.
- You can never seem to get these trips right.
- Why didn’t you ask more questions?
- Why can’t you just relax?
- Why can’t you appreciate where you are right now?
Stop Criticizing Yourself
Such self-directed criticism is utter insanity. It makes no sense to spend even a second beating yourself up over the way things turn out.
I don’t know a single person who intentionally sets out to create an experience they don’t want. I don’t know anyone who wants to miss out on the moment as anger and frustration consumes them. And most people want to be able to enjoy the experiences that do present themselves.
Accepting Physical Limitations Can Be Difficult
For example, yesterday I listened as a friend shared immense frustration with herself for losing control of her bowels earlier that day.
“I shit myself, Misti,” she said with utter disdain, almost as if there was something she could do to stop that from happening.
Battling a rare form of cancer over the past few years, radiation and chemotherapy have taken their toll on her body. In some cases she has absolutely no control over what her body does.
“It’s not like you said to yourself, ‘I’m going to shit myself in this meeting today. You wouldn’t do that to yourself,” I said, and then recounted a similar experience I had in the changing room at a JCPenney after consuming an entire bag of sugar-free cough drops the day before.
Now I know that sorbitol (and other sugar alcohols), when consumed in abundance, can cause real problems!
Accepting Things You Cannot Change
Here’s the point—no one sets out to create undesirable results in their lives. We don’t say, “I want to battle addiction, obesity, insomnia, loneliness, cancer, the loss of a treasured loved one, an unfaithful partner, debilitating illnesses of all sorts, feeling directionless or stuck, ridicule, humiliation, or failures of any sort,” including our careers.
No, we don’t choose the challenges (often perceived failures) that we face in life—not even the ones we manufacture inside our own minds (failing to create the perfect vacation).
Yet, plenty of people spend precious time (as I did) distracting themselves from the challenging experiences they’re in. They hide out, numb out, and over-analyze every element of the experience, striving to get some sense of comfort (a.k.a. control).
Banish Blame And Practice Radical Acceptance
Rather than putting the “blame” in its proper perspective (which is often just life, unfolding in the way it does), we internalize it. We unknowingly convince ourselves that there’s something we could have, or should have, or would have done differently.
“If I would have…”
“I should have known…”
“If they would have, then I could…”
These thoughts can easily consume our attention. They can leave us dissecting every element of our decision-making process. Meanwhile, we miss out on the gifts that take the place of our expectations.
While in the moment it was hard to see my “mistake” as a blessing, looking back on it now, it’s like someone wiped the mud away from my car windshield, so that I could clearly see the blessing of the experience. Thankfully, the experience gave me an upfront and personal experience of my own thinking.
While I may not always be able to control the thoughts that play in my mind (often without my even knowing it), I’m learning to observe them more, and to react less.
To be able to move from awareness to acceptance is a gift—one that gives you the ability to experience life as it unfolds. It’s rarely an easy process when the results we’re creating (uncontrollable bowels, as an example) are out of alignment with what we think is supposed to be happening.
Testing Out My Newfound Awareness
Watching myself struggle with unmet expectations (and beating myself up) gave me the foresight to try a different reaction the following week when, once again, my reality and expectations collided.
Thoroughly exhausted from weeks of barely sleeping (a challenge it seems many people struggle with), I planned my day so that I could rest in the afternoon.
Then, our hot water heater broke.
Thankfully, the plumber who was recommended to us cleared his schedule to replace our hot water heater that afternoon. The only problem was that he was working by himself, and needed help getting the old hot water heater out and the new one in.
Not only was he going to be in my home making a ruckus (where I planned to rest), but he also needed my help hauling the old water heater out of my basement, and bringing the new water heater in.
What You Really Need Is Acceptance
Dogged tired, with 3-400 kids preparing to come through our neighborhood for Halloween that evening, and friends joining us for the experience, I believed that I needed the rest.
Irritated with the way things were turning out, I found myself gobbling down the deviled eggs that Yvette, my wife, prepared for our guests that evening. Recognizing what was happening, I stopped and said, “There’s no way I can stay in this house all day—I’ll eat it down!”
Feeling the tension in my body as my taste buds lit up, I remembered back to my experience just the week before. This was an excellent opportunity to practice acceptance. To be clear, it was an excellent opportunity, but not a fun one!
Maybe I’ll experience such annoyances with joyful exuberance at some point in this beautiful life. I hope so! We’ll see.
Grateful For The Awareness
What I do know is that I’m grateful to have the awareness, because at least then I have the option of moving toward acceptance.
Gentle awareness combined with acceptance creates the platform for new action to emerge. Yes, the old saying, what you resists, persists, is true, but so is it’s opposite—when you face the sun, the shadows fall behind you. That is, when you accept yourself as you are, and life as it unfolds, life becomes easier.
Unraveling Hardwired Beliefs
When caught in the hardwired belief system that there is a “right,” it’s nearly impossible to enjoy (or even accept) reality in the moment. Such thinking has the capacity to rob you of the unexpected gifts that do show up.
Not accepting reality is a special kind of torture. When your mind gets attached to a vision for how things should play out (if you could just get it right), you wind up missing out on the (often, even better) way things do turn out. Make sure that you take the time to acknowledge that you are worthy of the time and energy it takes to become free of “should’s.”
With awareness, you can choose to pause, connect with your breath, and ask yourself what you need, given the circumstances at the time. Often, given the chance to breathe and think rationally, unexpected options become available.
Recognizing The Gift Of Being Trapped
Because I was “trapped” at home, I finally had a chance to do the research I’d been meaning to do, and even make a few phone calls.
Was it ideal? No. It wasn’t what I wanted or planned for, but it was reality.
Without awareness, I could very easily have spent the entire day shoving my mouth full of food, trying to cope with the frustration of not being able to get what I thought I needed. Instead, I waited until nightfall, costumes, and friends to gobble down some delicious goodness.
Progress, not perfection, my friends!
Our plumber went above and beyond, fixing stuff we didn’t even know needed to be fixed. He gave us extra supplies for our humidifier, and an excellent price for replacing our hot water heater.
Sure, getting the old heater up the stairs and out of the house was a beast, but thankfully we had the strength to do it.
5 Simple Steps to Accepting Life and Being Happy
- Acknowledge Your Truth. Feeling irritated, frustrated, or even angry? While none of these emotions feels good, all of them can be helpful… if you let them.
- Speak it Out Loud. You can do this through writing, or sharing with a trusted friend. Ideally, do it with someone who will listen without judgment.
- Accept Yourself. There are as many different reactions to situations as there are people. Thus, there’s nothing wrong with any emotion that surfaces, regardless of the context. Emotions are simply information worthy of your attention and acceptance.
- Accept the Situation. Life will always throw curve balls that are unexplainable and unavoidable. Each one can serve as an excellent opportunity to practice (and learn), if you allow it.
- Choose Your Focus. Music, learning, listening, reading, walking, coloring, knitting, and gardening are all excellent ways to focus your mind when strong emotions surface, and ultimately fade.
By acknowledging your discomfort, and focusing your mind on something positive, you give yourself a chance to allow the emotions (energy-in-motion) to take their course without going down the rabbit hole of discontentment your thinking creates.
While expectations can be sneaky and luring, the discomfort (frustration/irritation/anger) that surfaces as a result of unmet expectations is far more tangible. Discomfort, then, is an excellent clue that your expectations are going unmet.
Awareness gives you the option to free yourself from fighting against life, and allows you the option to accept and experience the journey, regardless of what happens.
This is real freedom—a place worthy of the difficulties needed to arrive, again and again, as life helps you expand into the unforeseen beauty that is your journey.
Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister has been helping companies and leaders create a culture of engagement for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com