In this relatively healthier life, I have arrived at an understanding of what used to be one of the dirtiest words in goal-seeking: “expectation”. For nearly the entirety of my life, expectations weren’t “projected outcomes from a series of actions”. They weren’t, as the Oxford Dictionary defines, “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.”
Oh no. For young Miranda, expectations were threats.
Exhibits A, B, C, & D
My childhood was one giant mess of unmet expectations. I was hyper and I failed to behave like a good little girl. I had unaided attention deficit issues and I failed to meet the Indian standard of getting all A’s. I failed to learn Malayalam so I never connected with Indian culture, the Indian community, my Indian family. I was called “fat” since before I can remember, no matter what size I was, so I failed there too. Then there was the negative reinforcement that calcified my fear of not meeting expectations…So, there you have it, my childhood was one big shame truffle. Don’t get me wrong, I tried to do things right, but with my lovability being dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick, all of my efforts were contaminated.
My fear of not meeting expectations took on different forms past my childhood but none more dreadfully than in my career as a musician and teacher. After latching onto music as the only source of validation I had (to make up for my lack of worth), my lovability continued to dangle in front of me in every classical performance. To borrow from Leon Seltzer’s verbiage*, any success I had only “offered temporary respite from [my] tireless striving,” before the fear driven hustle commenced.
What’s worse is that sometimes I would actually be learning and improving, until performances crept closer (my validation arena). For a brief moment I would get a taste of the sound I want, or a taste of the musicianship I desperately desired to sing or play with, lyricism that would lay dormant until I felt safe. When my unfair expectations presented themselves, devolved into threats, I ceased to grow and all of my energy went toward survival.
Life is different now. Strange even.
I don’t set expectations for myself as much as I set goals and see what happens. I allow myself to witness (and accept) outcomes with curiosity. I see the gap between where I am and where I want to be, I change a few things here and there, and then I try again. Do I put pressure on myself every once in a while and freak out? Yes, but it feels so awful that I let go by default. The sensation of a lack of breath or shaking makes me think, “BLEGH!!!” Then I detach, simple as that. Expectations are no longer standards I have to meet to be enough, they are no longer a threat.
Were former unhealthy expectations (or threats) the problem? No. They were the symptom. If I travel further up this little branch of dysfunction, I’ll see what preceded unhealthy expectations in goal-seeking was unhealthy intention.
My intentions were contaminated by shame. There was simply no chance of my having healthy intentions in my music career because I didn’t have the self- awareness to see that I was in constant survival mode wrought by unresolved trauma. As I did the work to recognize my patterns, my increasing self-awareness allowed me to get to a place where I operate from a deep sense of worthiness (as Brené Brown says). This allowed me to set goals from a place of love, infusing my intentions with health, which made detachment in goal seeking possible . Now, whether I hit or miss, I regularly sense that I am learning.
Que Será, Será
I now understand expectation is more of a guess in the realm of goal seeking. I get that this experience may change when certain things are on the line, like a promotion or when other people are involved in meeting a goal or deadline at work. Still, I believe what will allow me to sustain healthy detachment in those moments is a little bit of faith, cultivated through self-love, self-care, self-awareness, and self-acceptance.