Roots of Expectations

I was a quarter mile from the finish line. Staring at the banner, the digital clock ticking away, the fans and balloons all waiting, welcoming, I felt more anxious than excited. Something in me didn’t want to cross that finish line, while another part of me couldn’t wait to be done. The run had been brutal and I was hurting.

I don’t remember much else of the final push, just that I had to make myself run across the finish line. When I did, there was no elation or joy. In fact, it was completely opposite. I felt disappointed and sad. I wondered, “this is it?” Why didn’t I feel different? Why wasn’t I thrilled?

As the following hours melted into days, the disappointment turned to depression. I was confused why it was happening. I had set and met a huge goal, but something in me felt empty and that made me angry. It took a long time to figure out why I had sunk instead of soared after crossing that finish line.

I didn’t set out to run a marathon just for me. I was dating a runner and he thought it would be fun. I agreed. I started training to get his approval and acceptance, which in my mind equated to love. I wanted to prove I was good enough, even though part of me didn’t believe that.

I was masterful at running from myself and anyone who got too close to me. I didn’t believe I was worthy of love and I certainly didn’t love myself. In hindsight, I can see many of my goals and expectations for myself came from extrinsic motivation for love, approval, and acceptance. It drove my perfectionism. As a result, I set high expectations for those around me, too.

I see extrinsically motivated expectations and their repercussions all the time. Sometimes the expectations are so high they are impossible to meet. Such as the case when you can see where you think you “should” be but aren’t. As well as expecting a situation to stay the same, such as a job or a relationship. Both eliminate any opportunity for growth because it is through the challenges that you discover your capacity to practice integrity, acceptance, compassion, and love, both for yourself and others involved in the situation.

When my relationship ended, I started a journey to self-love. Six years later, I did a half-marathon, this time for myself. I had spent 18 months healing an injury that should have kept me from running. Every training run was steeped in gratitude for the ability to run, the friendship deepening with my running partner, sunshine and beautiful views on the run, and the delicious breakfast that awaited after every long run.

I remember event day at Camp Pendleton, CA. Through the dusty trails and beating sun, I smiled, sang, even danced through the course. I talked to others, encouraging and celebrating with them. As I rounded the corner towards the finish line, I cued up my favorite song. I couldn’t help myself, I sang out loud (not pretty, but oh-so-heartfelt). There were a group of Marines waiting for us final runners to finish. One Marine looked at me, his face spread into a huge smile and he said, “Great song!” to which I replied, “Help me sing!” He hopped off the back of the tailgate and we dance-jogged through the chorus, singing together.

I crossed the finish line into the arms of my partner, then turned and hugged my running partner and my friends who’d made the trek. Tears flowed down my face (I’m getting teary remembering it). I wouldn’t leave the finish line until a buddy I’d met on the course crossed. We’d both been told by back surgeons we’d never run again and yet, there we were sharing a high five at the finish line. I felt extraordinary gratitude.

I knew I’d finish, well, I’d hoped I’d finish, but my expectations were to enjoy the journey. Everything became icing on the cake. Every time I am extrinsically motivated, I am disappointed. Each time I am intrinsically motivated and relax into the journey, I go beyond expectations, often beyond my wildest dreams. When I drop the “should” (or stop should-ing on myself), I become free, I have more fun, and am filled with extreme gratitude.

Follow these three steps to shifting your expectations:
Look at why you think you “should” be doing something or being something different than what you are doing/being. If it’s to prove something to someone else, re-consider the expectation immediately.
Get courageously honest with yourself. What’s missing in your life that you’re filling with “should”? Could you offer that love, approval or acceptance to yourself? If not, why not? Do you need some help to begin the journey of self-love and acceptance?
If you don’t want to do something, don’t. It’s really that simple. Do what you genuinely want to do and commit to enjoying the journey, both the challenges and the successes. Notice how gratitude fills, inspires and motivates you.

When you shift your focus from the should to present moment, you gain power and clarity to shift into a more authentic state of being. It requires commitment, willingness, and even some discipline to keep shifting moment by moment. The truth is, each moment is all we really have anyway. Choose wisely in this moment. Surrender your should’s and experience freedom.