Courtney Snyder, MD
Expectation - the pervasive force that can deflate some of our happiest moments. Expectation makes us hold too tightly to what we think should happen or how we think someone should respond to something we've done. Disappointment often follows. ...But, do we have to live with expectation?
I started wondering about this while volunteering with my family alongside a couple whose organization gives food, friendship and dignity to people living on the streets. Without naiveté about addiction, mental illness and homelessness, this couple never seemed to question whether or not they should give. Their intent was to serve. How many of us have questioned the best way to give to a homeless person fearing if we give money, they’ll spend it on alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. While it makes sense, not wanting to participate in a possible addiction, it also raises an important question - Are we actually "giving" when we need to have certainty of the outcome?
A situation closer to home may be that of an extended family member or friend asking for money. Do we give the money and then feel angry when they send us a postcard from Hawaii? Or, do we choose not to give, deciding that doing so would cause more harm than good to the relationship. Or, lastly, do we give the money freely as a gift and decide that once we do, the money is theirs to use as they see fit? I don’t think there’s a right answer for every relationship, but I do think giving is more satisfying or at least less aggravating when given without expectation.
Less dramatic, though still with the potential for annoyance, can be those times when we send off a lovely gift that is never acknowledged or give sage advice to a friend who manages to do the complete opposite.
The problem with expectation isn’t just that it binds our giving, it also binds our lives. We have expectations tied to our next five minutes, to our week, our year, ...our lifetime. When that plane doesn’t leave on time, we can get wound up or we can take the attitude that 'life happens' - maybe there’s something to learn here or maybe there’s something better that’s going to happen instead. As the Yiddish saying goes, “Man plans and G-d laughs.” However you define or don’t define G-d, it’s obvious that those who “roll with it” lead happier and less stress filled lives than those who don’t.
I’d love to say I excel at this zen way of being. I don’t. But I do think the struggle is one worth having. When I wrote my last post, I did so with the intent of sharing what I thought was useful information. As always, when I was done I clicked the "Publish" button. (For a blogger, this moment is akin to sending part of one’s self out into the world - always with the possibility it may be read by many or seen only by one’s adoring dog.) Needless to say, after publishing that post, expectation reared its ugly head and my focus shifted to whether the post would be read and appreciated. How quickly something born out of service and even humility can turn into something about ourselves...if we let it. A blog motivated by a need for validation quickly becomes a blog less worth reading ...or writing.
What would happen if we let our gifts fly like helium balloons that were never really ours in the first place? What if we were more like anonymous philanthropists or those people who secretly pay the check for strangers at another table? What if … when we push that "Publish" button, we let go and simply look forward to the next time we have something to share?
I'm a conventionally trained child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. My current approach to health is both holistic (pertaining to the whole person) and functional (addressing the root causes of illness). I write this blog to share what I've learned.