We signed my son up for soccer this season. Nothing too intense, just a bunch of 4 and 5 year-olds running around after a ball trying to score a few goals. Neither my husband nor I are soccer players but we appreciate the sport and thought that for as much as Henry likes to run, and for the fact that he does enjoy kicking a soccer ball around our yard, that he would have fun. And at the very least enjoy a new t-shirt and the post-game-snack.
Well, it has been pretty painful to watch. At his most recent game, he ended up sitting with me most of the time silently crying. He’s totally my kid, what can I say? But it was his answer to my question “Don’t you like playing soccer?”, that while brutal to hear, made me truly understand what he was feeling as he sat watching the other kids play with tears in his eyes.
He said, “it wasn’t what I thought it would be”.
Now, understanding what a four-year-old thought soccer would be is stretch for me. But having expectations about something where reality turned out to be much different... that I can totally relate to. It always brings about feelings that I don’t enjoy very much - disappointment, sadness, frustration, and anger. Anger at myself for falling into the trap of dreaming about and envisioning a future for something I had no experience with.
So as I help my son try to recover from his high expectations of soccer, I want to tell you how I am slowly practicing on my own expectations as well.
Whether in my own life or the lives of those around me, I see high expectations all the time -
Expectations at work surrounding a new project or a new role.
Expectations at home for how your evenings or weekends will go.
Expectations for vacations, fun family outings, or date nights.
Expectations for how much you’ll get done.
When I find myself setting expectations, I find myself focusing too much on the future. Living out of the current moment. Wishing for what’s next to be better, even if where I am right now is pretty dang good.
So how do you manage expectations? Here’s what works for me:
Catch Yourself Red-Handed
They say that awareness or acknowledgment is half the battle, and with managing unrealistic expectations, I think that is so true. My husband is great at pointing out to me when I am fantasizing about how something will be so if you can find someone to be your accountability partner, that is always helpful. If not, put a reminder somewhere you’ll see it. It could just be the word Expectations. Anything that will remind you to be on the lookout for clues that might lead to future heartache. Or, on the flip side, maybe you remind yourself to be here in the present moment with a phrase like be here, now.
What’s Great About Where You Are Right Now?
Having expectations means you’re thinking or have given a lot of thought to a future event or outcome. For me, that often looks like having expectations about how I think our weekend should go. Maybe this sounds familiar…
You come home Friday night and expect that the kids are going to be so excited that you have the next couple days off to be with them that they will behave perfectly, and shower you with love and kisses. You create plans for a family fun day complete with picture perfect moments and a perfectly timed schedule making sure to respect the nap. Speaking of naptime, you’ll expertly use that “free time” to tackle a few small house projects, grocery shop and do your meal-prep for the week while still producing a pinterest-worthy family dinner.
That’s the stuff of fairytales...right?
I don’t need to tell you what the reality sometimes looks like, but even if you’re surrounded by a tantrum-throwing toddler, or struggling from sleep deprivation, or sitting around relaxing instead of doing something from that list of projects, there are likely some pretty great things happening.
The chance to practice your parenting in public skills. Lots of patience and understanding. Some much-needed downtime or time at home. Some delicious take-out.
Notice the good things and let go of what “should have” happened. What if everything is exactly as it should be?
Speaking of having expectations of photo-worthy family moments or Pinterest-worthy home-cooked meals, maybe your expectations are coming from doing a little too much social media comparison? Are you constantly perusing perfect Instagram feeds of mothers who only show the good moments? Are you spending too much time on Pinterest trying to create the perfect house or the perfect meal?
Comparison is one of the quickest paths to unrealistic expectations and we would all do ourselves a favor if we took a break from time-to-time and focused on what we have instead of what we think we should have.
How Do You Want to Feel?
Regardless of what actually ends up happening, or the circumstances of whatever you’re creating expectations for, how you feel about it is totally up to you. It’s why two people can experience the exact same event in two completely different ways. One person loving their job, the other person hating their job. The job itself is the same, but how they think about it is what’s different.
So the next time you catch yourself feeling disappointed because something didn’t turn out the way you expected it to, decide how you want to feel instead. How can you change what you’re thinking to help you feel satisfied with something as opposed to disappointed?
Hoping and dreaming are a part of life. It’s how you envision a better life for yourself or push yourself to do something different. You have expectations. And used effectively and within reason, expectations are a tremendous way to achieve some pretty big goals. To expect more from yourself.
Expectations only become a problem when you continually find yourself in a state of disappointment. When your reality feels so sad compared to what you thought life would be. That is no way to live.
Your happiness is not dependent on some expectation of how your life should be. Your happiness is dependent on you. On where you are and what your life is right now. How powerful is that? To be so in control of something as big as your happiness? It’s a lot of responsibility, but one I know you can own.
So stop expecting something or someone to make you happy or to be a certain way. Life is the way it is, and it’s up to us to choose how we want to feel about it.
And for my 4-year-old son, I hope he can come to terms with the reality of soccer and find a way to have fun with it anyway. Even if that means he just runs up and down the field and never once touches the ball. If it makes him happy, that’s all that matters.