charlie brown and lucy

The Dangers of Expectations

Last week I wrote about wanting things to go back to how they were, and how that expectation is unrealistic and unhelpful. This week I want to take this one step further and explore how our expectations of others and our desire for specific outcomes leads us to resentment, anger, and hopelessness – and what we can do about it.

Expectations

We view the world and others through our own perceptions, beliefs, and mores. Consciously and unconsciously, we expect people to think and act in the way we believe others should act. It is not bad to have our expectations, but assuming others can, will, and desire to live by our standards is unrealistic. I would hope that everyone would see the world the way I do and treat each other kindly, but if I am being honest, I can’t even live up to that perfectly every day.

Our expectations are not only about the actions of other people. Our expectations are also about the environment, politics, society, and every circumstance that touches our lives. Most of the North America is currently experiencing severe cold and snow right now. Many are angry or disheartened by this fact. Their expectation is that it should not be cold, but it is winter and Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does. Others are having trouble accepting election results or the seriousness of the Coronavirus. Just because we don’t want to believe the facts, does not mean they are not facts. Our expectations of people, the environment, and the world can not control the reality of any of those things.

Acceptance

Instead of stubbornly holding on to our expectations in the face of reality, we need to accept reality. The image of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football comes to mind. Charlie Brown constantly expected Lucy to hold the football for him. And Lucy constantly pulled the football away before he kicked it. If Charlie Brown decides to believe each and every time that Lucy will act differently than she has consistently acted, who is to blame for his pain?

As I have said before, “Pain comes from expecting a dog to be a cat. A dog is going to be a dog.” People are probably going to do what they have done before. The weather is going to be the weather. The results are going to be the results. No matter how much we believe or insist, these facts will not change. Our desire for reality to be different from reality only causes us pain, anger, resentment, and disappointment. Acceptance is the key to peace.

Boundaries

Bear in mind that acceptance does not mean we allow ourselves to be continually hurt. It is important to create boundaries and to voice our needs. Charlie Brown needs to accept Lucy will remove the football – and then he should probably find someone else to hold the ball for him in the future.

Acceptance does not mean we excuse or accept the actions of others. Acceptance simply means we stop fighting reality. When we can accept the reality of the situation, we are then empowered to do something about it. If we are around people or circumstances that do not serve us, instead of angerly attacking reality, it is best to accept the reality of the situation so that we are then empowered to change the situation or remove ourselves from it.

Much of our anger and resentment is because we are playing the victim of some person or circumstance. We are giving them our power. It is important that we set healthy boundaries and clearly voice those boundaries moving forward.  

Be Kind

As Robin Williams is quoted as saying, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” We can only the do the best we can do that day at that time. We can encourage, hope, and pray people will act better – but on any given day they are only going to be able to do what they are capable at doing. Know that even when someone is seemingly intentionally being mean, it is usually because of their own pain. That doesn’t mean you need to take their abuse, but it does mean that you can still give them your empathy.

Where are you fighting reality? What do you need to accept? What boundaries can you put in place? Instead of playing victim to circumstances or others, empower yourself through acceptance.

ghost on the street

This Halloween, let’s pledge to stop ghosting

We will get to ghosting in a minute, let me first take a step back.

Over time, the focus of this blog and my coaching has shifted from how to lessen the negative effects of stress to instead how to prevent stress by uncovering and diminishing the root causes of stress. Many of the professionals I work with need deeper assistance than just time management and prioritization skills. Most of the time their stress was caused by the fact that the career, role, or company culture they were in did not serve them. Their stress was a result of not being able to recognize they were in the wrong place and didn’t know how to give themselves permission to change.

When I look at the world we are currently in, I see the same issue on a global level. We are trying to learn how to cope in a messed-up world, where what we should be trying to do is change the paradigm. As I step back and look at the root causes of much of our pain and conflict right now, it is due to our self-focus and our resistance to learn how to come together. In the Western culture where individualism, personal freedom, and individual success is valued, we have replaced the common good with self-focused desires. What is keeping us from coming together is self-centeredness, hyper-independence, and an ego run riot.

I am not saying that we are all self-serving, cold-hearted narcissists. What we do need to be honest about, however, is how our thinking is usually focused on our own wants and needs, instead of including the needs of others or at least being mindful of how our actions affect others. For instance, I have conversations almost daily with my job seekers who are upset that after interviewing multiple times, the human resources representative is unresponsive. The candidate is never informed if they are still being considered or if the role has been filled. They are just ghosted, as the young kids say, by the company. The irony is that many times these same candidates a few weeks in the future, ghost me. I don’t know if they landed a new position or what happened. They are just gone. The bottom line in both cases is that people are not thinking of how their actions or inactions (i.e., ghosting) affects others. They are oblivious to and have no consideration for how what they do or don’t do affects others. In their mind, the relationship is over and they don’t even think of giving even the lowliest of text message response. It is not that they are mean, they just aren’t thinking any further than themselves.

As Lily Tomlin said, “We are all in this together, alone.”* These days I think we need to flip the quote. We feel that we are in this alone. Even with all the technology providing us the tools to be close, more and more people are feeling isolated. We are not alone. It is not me against the world. I am part of the world. Humanity is a living, breathing organism of which I am but a part. As more and more of us can see that we are not isolated, that we are not the only and solely important person in the world, we can begin to make decisions and policies that benefit us all as a whole. And we can begin to heal the root causes of our stress.

As a first step, let’s stop ghosting each other.

*I have also seen this quote as “We’re all in this together – by ourselves.” I could not verify the correct version.

smoke window

A Need for Empathy

Lately I have been gifted with some terrific teachers in my life.  The cat that used to sneak into our house, who I had found a home for, is back – and has commenced sneaking into our house.  She is teaching me boundaries with compassion (instead of compassion with no boundaries). The other prominent teacher for me right now is the young woman next door.

Multiple times a day, my neighbor sits on her patio and smokes. Sometimes tobacco, sometimes other plants. As our patios are connected, when she smokes, without fail, the fumes make their way from her patio into my house. I understand that she does not want to smoke in her house and have the smell inside where she lives, but neither do I. Thankfully I never said an unkind word to her, but I have to admit that I have frequently closed my window with extreme prejudice. My angry indignant mind loves to play its tape. “She is so rude. She is purposefully doing this to me or at least doesn’t care about how her actions affect me. It is unfair that she is keeping me from having the fresh air I am entitled to.” The tape stopped the day I spoke to her.

Photo by Taylor Young on Unsplash

We were having some work done on our home and like I good neighbor, I wanted to forewarn her of the noise and mess it may cause. I hardly got the words out of my mouth when she apologized for the smoke. She said that she tries to control how much comes our way, but the wind is not always helpful. She apologized for the weekend before. I had thought she was having a party with a few friends. What I learned was her 20-something friend died unexpectedly and she and her friends were chain-smoking to help them through the trauma.

I felt like a heel. Here I spent weeks making my neighbor into the bad guy. I focused only on myself and my suffering – which I made worse by the stories I told myself. Never in all that time did I tried to get to know her. Never did I have a conversation with her to see if we could problem-solve her right to smoke and my right to clean air. Never did I consider what she may be feeling or what was going on in her life.

Many of us have like me temporarily, or fairly constantly, lost the power of empathy. We look at our goals and our needs. We see people as taking from us or denying us. It takes a figurative slap in the face like I received, to awaken us from our self-centered coma. This experience has helped me remember:

We don’t know what someone else is going through:  Before we get angry because someone cuts us off in traffic or is curt with us on the phone, it helps to pause and consider that maybe the person is having a bad day or is rushing to take care of an emergency. Instead of focusing on our inconvenience, we should look beyond our self.

There is no absolute right or wrong: Just because we have expectations of how things should be, does not mean that is how they will go or even how they should go. Who are we to judge what is right and wrong?

We are all in this together: No matter how much we try to isolate or be independent, we need one another. Peace, understanding, compassion, and empathy can be found when we stop thinking “me” and start thinking “we.”

If you want more inspiration to embrace empathy, watch this terrific talk by Simon Sinek about the need for more empathy in the workplace.

Now more than ever, at work, in our relationships, and in our government, we need more empathy, compassion and understanding.