I think they should tell you, coming out of the womb, that nothing will turn out like you expect. To avoid expectations at all cost. Expectations are the most dangerous indulgence of the human existence. In every facet of our lives, expectations have the ability to cripple, blind and curtail us. Expectations box us in and limit our horizons. There is a difference between hopefulness and expectation. Expectation is mostly commonly associated with a specific outcome. We expect the way things will go or ought to go for us.
We grow up surrounded by suggestion of what is normal, what is common, what is expected of us. We’re instructed in the principles of good behaviour and reprimanded based on how we meet others’ expectations of us. We create expectations of others.
Our greatest hurts will come from our unmet expectations; our relationships will break down when we cannot communicate, re-create or do away with our expectations of each other. Expectations become prescriptions.
Expectations prohibit creativity and innovation because they force us into pre-established paths and ways of doing things. Expectations push us towards norms which perpetuate cycles. And life goes on and on in this way.
Until something breaks. Until expectations fail to be met and you must hit the reset button.
I always thought I’d seen too many friends hit quarter and mid-life crises purely for the sake of some overwrought expectations; ideas about who and how they should be. So I made a plan; to not over-engineer my game plan. I simply thought ‘strategize for the half you’re in, see where you get to and then plan again.’
Can you see it there? Hidden in my plan to avoid creating expectations for myself, was an expectation. An expectation that there would be a second half for me. At some point, I’d find my half-time or a natural reset button.
I thought it would be family; in the traditional sense of a partner creating a natural segue into the second half. I have never been able to conceive of what my life might be with a partner. I am selfish but not selfish enough to assume that I could create a life or a dream big enough for two or two plus two – however many kids might come along. So I resisted making the mistake of trying to find someone who merely fit into the plan I had already made. I only ever planned a couple of years in advance, always thinking I would meet someone significant and we’d design the rest together.
I like the idea of co-creation; a mutually agreed collaboration of the future. A reset button for the second half of the game.
Now I’m at the halfway point – in time, at least. If I live as long again as what I’ve lived to date – that will be a long life. Perhaps too long. Not because I’m old, but really because I don’t want to live lonely too long. I have enough tolerance for platonic and familial love for another 20 years or so. Beyond that, I’m not convinced. So I face designing the second half now. Determining what strategies will reap the richest, deepest rewards and leave a legacy worth holding on to for someone, before I die.
The trouble with expectations is that they hide in plain sight until you trip on them. You can be doing just fine until you hit the one pothole you’ve missed every other time and you find yourself flying through the air, headfirst over your handlebars. You have to be grateful for it; each time you have to pick yourself up from one of those rough landings; it’s one more freedom to afford yourself. One more prescription you are no longer bound to. These prescriptions do not determine whether you were a failure or a success, as if those concepts have any bearing on what it means to be a human being. These prescriptions are social controls. Who cares if you never see the Eiffel Tower if you never really had any desire to go to France in the first place?
Freedom from prescription is essential. Examine every corner of your life for the hidden expectations (your own or others) that you are trying to meet. From how you raise your kids or manage your time or even what you share or do not share with the world.
As I think about the next chapter of my life; I don’t want to spend a minute of my energy or spirit in meeting expectations or prescriptions. I don’t want to risk not living every minute of the second half. I’m in brand new territory, undreamed-of country. It’s a time for invention and creativity. I want to live in such a way that I am fully alive and engaged with my greatest strengths. Devoting as much as I have into things that matter most for my legacy, not the legacy others would write or choose for me. I think as a woman, I’ve been even more susceptible to believing I have to take these expectations supposed on me by others and figure out how to make them work.
I don’t really care about money beyond what I need to live and spend time with those I love. I don’t want to spend a lifetime chasing a pay packet for something I don’t believe it; despite the expectations of what someone of my age and skill should earn. I want to continue to do all the things that take my fancy and come across my path. Naturally, I want the freedom to ask any question of spirituality, science or philosophy and mostly; I want permission to never be done – until my last breath. If I am incomplete til that moment, I will be delighted to know I left the world still learning.
What does the second half of the game look like? Less chasing the ball and much more running with it. If there is anything I’ve learned from the first half of the game; it’s that anything can happen. You’re just more prone to miss those opportunities if you’re still stuck on how you expected to turn out.
So what if your body isn’t how you thought it would be or your career isn’t what you planned. Who cares if you didn’t buy a house before property prices went up. A thousand tiny thoughts we have each day that push our lives into boxes we never intentionally set out to live in – that’s the claustrophic nature of expectations. Be free to not be Instagrammable or Pinterestable. Be free not to be Paleo or vegetarian. Be free to give things up or not – but do nothing because it’s expected of you unless you have set your own mind to it also. There are plenty of things in this category. Exercise for starters. Sex for seconds. Hospitality for thirds. Caring for your spirit and faith. Figure out to make these things a healthy part of your game plan.
For me, the second half of the game is freedom. The freedom to know myself and not just the shallow self others have tried to make me. Freedom from all the definitions that have been put against my name. Freedom to be my True Self. It feels almost as if I’ve spent the first half of my life learning just enough to really get me started – but it’s already half-time. I’ve spent the last moments of the first half dismantling the playbook I thought I had to follow. The good news is, I think you get twice, if not three times as much out of the second half.