We have all felt let down by other people at some point in our lives. I used to struggle with those feelings. I don’t as much anymore.
This is why.
Expectations. I had them. And still do. But in the past, they existed as a by-product of my being alive. I didn’t know why I had my expectations, or how their being met would enhance my life. It had never occurred to me to think about such things. I had my expectations – because I had them.
I see now that many of these expectations were unreasonable. For one or more of the following reasons: 1) I knew what I expected, but no one else knew or reasonably could have known; 2) I didn’t know what I expected, but I assumed I did; 3) I expected things that conflicted with each other; or 4) I expected too much.
There was no way all my expectations could have been met. They weren’t. And I often felt let down.
Expectations have to stay.
My solution was to “get rid” of my expectations. It was an idea that had much support. “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed,” said the poet Alexander Pope. “If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed,” said Sylvia Plath (another poet, who sadly, lived a tormented life and committed suicide).
It was a great solution – as long as my goal was to “avoid feeling let down.” But deep down, that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to be deeply happy. And ultimately, my solution got in the way.
First, because it sprung more from a fear of feeling let down, than a desire to be happy. And allowing fear to dictate my choices was not emotionally healthy. Second, because life is about giving and receiving; and by clamping down on my expectations, I was closing myself off to receiving. I was sitting on the sidelines, refusing to play. I was giving up. Third, no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t “get rid” of my expectations (I wish I were that enlightened). The best I could do was to bottle them up, and suppress them. But they didn’t just sit there. They turned into frustration and resentment. And defeated my goal of being deeply happy.
No. “Getting rid” of my expectations was not the answer. My expectations would have to stay.
At some point along my journey, I began to question everything about myself, including my expectations. And I did some much needed house-cleaning.
I found that some of my expectations weren’t mine at all. They were expectations others thought I should have. I let go of them. Some of my expectations were dated. They were defined by my sixteen year old self. And not by the person I was today. I updated them. Others were based on what I thought I wanted. I found out that I didn’t truly want those things. I redefined them. Yet others were unreasonable for all of the reasons mentioned earlier. I let go of many, and clarified others.
As a result, I ended up with a smaller set of more clearly defined, and reasonable expectations.
Working with a smaller set of clearly defined and reasonable expectations is so much easier. First, there is less to feel let down about. Second, the people in my life meet my reasonable expectations easily. So I feel let down less.
When I do feel let down, I ask myself whether I am being reasonable. If the answer is no, I let it go, and don’t feel bad for much longer. If the answer is yes, and the issue matters enough (it doesn’t always), I deal with it in whatever way is appropriate. Sometimes, that involves a talk featuring the words, “I feel let down because . . .” Then, I forgive. And I move on in peace.
There is one other thing.
What really matters.
I expect to feel let down every so often. This why.
The people in my life are doing their best. If they could do any better, they would. Usually, they do great. But sometimes, despite their best efforts, they let me down. They continue to deserve my understanding and love, because no one is perfect. Neither am I. I will let them down too.
So, when I feel let down, it’s not a big deal. As long as I know that people care, that they are doing their best, and that they come through more than they don’t and for the things that matter, that’s good enough. It’s what really matters.