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My 24th birthday was really important to me.

I know. Most people in the U.S. really look forward to their 18th or 21st birthdays. Not me. I didn’t have strong political opinions yet, nor was I interested in smoking or drinking alcohol. So those dates really didn’t matter so much for me. My 24th, however, was massively important…because my 16-year-old self had written my 24-year-old self a letter.

That morning, after the hoopla with family, I snuck into my room for some alone time. I went to my memorabilia box, pulled out my letter, and cozied up on my bed. I looked at this letter…this time capsule…remembering all the stuff that was going on in my life at the age of 16. Also remembering all the stuff that happened afterwards, grateful that I didn’t know what was coming, and even more grateful that I survived it. I knew that before my 24th year was completed I would graduate with my MA, move out into my own life, and my first job. Just like me at 16, I had one year before massive change would hit.

My fingers trembled as I opened the seal…a little nervous to read what I wrote…not yet feeling the gap of eight years. As I read, I started to cry. I had been so hopeful, so idealistic, so cheerful and optimistic, so filled with dreams and a clear direction in life. Among many things, my 16-year-old self figured that by the age of 24 I would be married and contemplating having children. I would have graduated from college, be a professional musician traveling the world with a premier orchestra. My recording career would be beginning, and I would be contemplating starting a music mentoring school. As I looked at my life at the age of 24, only one of those things had actually happened, and my tears only increased. With a quarter of my life practically gone, I was an utter and complete failure.

Expectations. What buggerish things those are. As I have gotten older, and faced many more situations that could be classified as successes or failures, I repeatedly run up against expectations:

I should be taller; I should be skinnier; I shouldn’t have wrinkles; I should be gentle; I shouldn’t be powerful; I should hide; I should speak up; I should speak more gently; I should embrace my passionate nature; I should be tamed; I shouldn’t laugh in sacred moments; I should use the salad fork first; I shouldn’t drink too much wine; I should stay in my childhood religion; I shouldn’t question my childhood religion; I should work for my childhood religion and live in another country; I should be married; I should want to be married; I should be married to a man; I should be married to a white man who has the same religious beliefs; I should have children; I should want to have children; I should want to work; I should have a career…but not if I’m married; I should own a home…but only if I’m married; I should have a PhD; I should speak five languages; I should major in something practical; I should make a 6-figure income by the age of 30; I should be able to retire at 45; I should want what retailers want to sell me; I shouldn’t be good enough unless I have a particular car or a particular house or a particular piece of clothing; I shouldn’t want so much; I should want more; I shouldn’t live by myself…I need roommates; I should live by myself…it’s weird to have my mother live with me; I shouldn’t let my cat suffer; I should leave my cat alone; I should get another cat right away; I shouldn’t get another cat right away; I’m wasting my time; I threw away my career and security by changing work…and on and on and on.

They never stop. Someone, somewhere, always has an opinion on what I should be doing and who I should be. Isn’t that such an odd thing…that someone else has an expectation of me without considering me? Isn’t that what expectations are, inherently…about the other person and getting his/her needs met without caring about mine? What if I can never meet all of those expectations? What if who I am automatically disappoints those who have impossible expectations of me? What if I never want to meet all of those expectations? And, most importantly, what are my expectations for me…and do my expectation even belong to me?

When we experience life through a filter of expectations, we set ourselves up for a heap-load of unnecessary suffering. There really is a fine line between having goals and having expectations…and that line gets really blurry sometimes. But, it does exist. The key is to keep self-value and identity off goals. This way, when life doesn’t go the way we thought it would or should…and, let’s face it, it never does…we don’t have to evaluate ourselves in shades of failure. It can simply be that the goal changed, or it was no longer applicable or relevant. Our identity and personal value remain unchanged.

Life isn’t simple. It isn’t clean, it isn’t neat, there’s no user’s manual or clearly defined map. But, my 16-year-old self hadn’t learned that yet. She thought that there was some point in time when all the “right” things would fall into place and life would then be “perfect.” And, she proceeded to list all of those “right” things that would lead to that “perfect” life, completely unaware that happiness isn’t situational, and perfection doesn’t exist. To evaluate myself at 24 through those naive eyes was unrealistic and unfair to both of us. Life, so long as I clung to these expectations of mine or someone else’s for me, could only be a massively depressing one…one filled with endless striving, never being good enough. However, in releasing expectations, simply seeing them as beliefs that may not have continuing merit, I open myself up to endless possibility. In that opening, I now have space to create a new path…a new definition of life…and new expectations 😉

So today, I invite you to take some time to evaluate the expectations you have on yourself and your life. How many of them are actually yours and how many of them have you simply accepted as belonging to you? How many of them are relevant to you and who you are, and how many of them are simply archaic beliefs that no longer serve you? If you were to shed all of the expectations you currently carry what would happen? What if you pulled all your self-value points and identity points off these expectations and brought them into your Divine Line? What would happen then? What would you lose? What would you gain? Who would you discover?

And so it is.