expectations vs reality

July 20, 2011

what should be . . .
listening to the tara brach’s “flow and presence” podcast yesterday, there were several moments when i felt like she was speaking straight at me. the most powerful point to hit home was the idea that many of us tend to spend our time and energy trying to control [time, our relatives, everything] — at all cost. then, when we find that this is impossible, we lose the ability to be present and happy in our lives.

taken one step further, a huge part of what leads to the control scenario in the first place is the idea that things ‘should’ be a certain way [otherwise, what would be the point of pushing?]. some of us are . . . well, should-ier than others, and i know that i personally land on the extremely should-y side of the spectrum.

a selection of SHOULDS of my past and present:
✔ [childhood] i should be able to excel in 324982 activities simultaneously while getting perfect grades
✔ [college] i should have a boyfriend with X, Y, Z specifications
✔ [adulthood] i should be a certain size
✔ [adulthood] i should run X miles/week and race at a certain speed
✔ [adulthood] i should cook something healthy and balanced for dinner every night

ie: not like what i had last night
✔ [adulthood] i should be able to go into work every day and just LOVE what i’m doing 100% of the time
✔ [adulthood] i should have a REAL job by now
✔ [adulthood] i should be pregnant by now.

even yoga class is not should-free for me:

✔ i should be able to touch my toes in forward bend by now; i should be able to take that bind; i should be able to do that arm balance

the common thread in all of these “shoulds” is the idea that the universe is just supposed to behave in a certain way — a way that is — for better or for worse — just not the way reality is.

i know this, because i can’t [yet] touch my toes with straight legs, i can’t expect that work is going to be 100% FABULOUS all of the time, and i sure as hell can’t get pregnant while maintaining size X status and running marathons.* furthermore, every ‘should’ on that list could be used as a fill-in-the-blank for this sentence:

if _____ were true, i could then be happy.
but, as i have acknowledged, some of the above shoulds do not jive with reality, and others are mutually exclusive. so, what would that mean for me?

nothing good. in fact, i might find myself stuck in a mood kind of like the one i have been in all week. counting the minutes/hours/days down. not being present or really feeling much happiness.
* not at all saying that’s true for everyone — but it is for me.

what is.
★ i have time on my side with our fertility struggles. i am 31, not 41. if i were to get pregnant an entire YEAR from now, it would not be any sort of disaster [other than the potential for wasting that whole year stressing about it]. furthermore, the time that it has taken has meant more time for josh + me to just do our own things together, just the two of us.

jetting off to hawaii for our next vacation, for example.
★ i can still work out and be active and healthy even if i am not in racing shape.

★ i am on track towards a great career and on my 10th year out of 12 of POST-COLLEGE graduate training. i may not love what i do in the lab every day, but it is a learning opportunity AND a chance to enjoy a much more balanced lifestyle [compared to residency]. i used to dream about getting adequate sleep every night, and now i’m better rested than i’ve probably been in years.

★ i am a good person even when i do eat cereal for dinner.

down with the 2WW
and with that, it’s time to forget about the 2-week wait. i truly do not want to live life in a countdown! i will acknowledge some of my unrealistic expectations and “shoulds” and “if only” thoughts, and just be okay with what is, today.



  • Reply thenheathersaid March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Oh Sarah!!!
    I was just having this conversation with Nicholas recently – about control and how I am slowly starting to learn how to break the need for it, and my desire to reach a point where I am unaffected (or better yet, gratefully accepting of the change!) if situations do not meet my expectations. I totally relate to this post and the reflection – I feel a journaling session of my own expectations vs reality lists coming on ÔÅä THANK YOU for sharing and prompting this!

  • Reply Dawn March 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for the great reminder about breaking out of the "should" cycle. It’s easy to get sucked in by the grand shoulds like "I should have a real job" and the daily minor shoulds like "This room should be clutter-free." We all need to give ourselves a break from those, even if they’re some of the hardest things to let go.

  • Reply Atilla March 10, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    love the post and you do have A REAL JOB! come on you have acheived so much.

  • Reply mdiary811 March 10, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this post! I am not at the same place in life as you (I’m in college), but I also struggle with ‘shoulds’ all the time! Many of my ‘shoulds’ are different, but I totally relate to your ‘yoga shoulds’! I can’t touch my toes either, among other things!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:22 pm

      🙂 thank you! i’m glad i’m not the only inflexible yogi out there . . .

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