Managing our expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about managing my expectations lately, and not just in relation to my writing but in many aspects of life.

I find that if I hope for something too hard, it can drive me beyond distraction, making it impossible to focus on anything else…and, if my hopes go unmet, it can be utterly crushing.   On the other hand, when I temper my expectations with too big a dose of pragmatism, I fear ending up with enervated dreams lying limp and lifeless on the floor.

What’s a girl to do, then?  How do we find that middle ground?  Where is the space between weeping inconsolably every time we receive bad news and shrugging with a practiced indifference that feels a bit more genuine every time we reach for it?

Coming from academia, I’ve literally been trained in the art of expecting rejection.  In fact, I know very few people who’ve escaped graduate school without a nigh-on ingrained expectation of constant criticism, failure, and stymied hopes.  Oddly, though, most of these people are also some of the least likely to give up.  It’s as if feeling constantly “not good enough” liberates us from the fear of failure and thus the fear of continuing to try.

This is a good thing, but it comes with some bad potential side effects, such as resignation.  We keep putting ourselves out there while holding on to conflicting and equally powerful beliefs:  that we’ll get where we’re headed someday, if only we work hard enough, and that we are most likely to always be told “no” to everything we strive for.

It’s numbing, honestly.  And while numbness is good when it comes to dealing with rejection, it’s terrible for cultivating hope.

Maybe there’s no good way to deal with rejection and dashed hopes, no satisfying means of managing our expectations.  Maybe it’s just all part of the ride: hope, fear, anticipation, dejection, panic, self-hatred, and, finally, the return of a rising sweep of hope.

Contemplating these things always makes me think of that wonderful scene from the original Parenthood film, in which Steve Martin, in the midst of a terrible panic attack, suddenly feels the clattering wheels of a roller coaster dragging him inexorably towards the precipice and, just as he imagines his car tipping down into oblivion, his gagging fear gives way to the elated thrill of speeding downward, hurtling towards the next, unknowable turn on the track.

Life is like that sometimes.