One of the most common themes that I see my fellow path walkers struggling with these days is expectations vs. reality. You know, as in having your expectations being completely out of wack with what you are actually living? While it’s a year-round task to keep the expectation demons under control, it’s an even greater challenge as the holiday season approaches.
Why not take a few moments before the holidays are upon you and shift through your thinking about expectations? Remember, life isn’t like what we see on TV, and in Hallmark commercials. The media goes into overdrive to sell us the illusion of happy, well-adjusted families, getting along perfectly and sharing in holiday yule. But how many families are actually living that? The images we see on TV are of paid actors, working off a carefully crafted script, with the advantages of many rehearsals and retakes. If the director doesn’t like how it looks, they can yell “cut” and a rewrite or reshoot follows. When the final product reaches our view space, it has been edited, re- edited, scored, and polished. Most of us forget that this simply isn’t reality. And it leaves us with a final picture that creates a very unrealistic expectation.
So stop for a moment and catch yourself. What expectations do you have around the approaching holidays? Do you expect everyone in your life to get along? Like you see on TV? How has having these expectations effected your previous holiday experiences? Is it reasonable to continue to hold yourself invested in this outcome? Look around at the very makeup of the people involved. Do they like and appreciate each other on a year-round basis? Is respect a word they understand? Possibly yes, but more likely no. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the “players” at your holiday table were willing, rehearsed, well paid professionals like we see in the commercials portraying an ideal family? Unfortunately, they are not. And the same tensions that exist in these relationships during year long, day-to-day life continue to exist on the holidays. They may even become magnified as different sets of expectations begin to collide.
I have seen some very reasonable people set themselves up with some highly unreasonable expectations when it comes to holidays. It is an emotionally charged time to say the least. So this year, why not try something different? Move yourself from out of the passengers seat and into the drivers seat in your own ‘car of expectations.’ Make a plan to evaluate your expectations now, before the added stress of holiday pressure takes hold. Ask yourself if it is fair and reasonable to expect new behaviors from those who are not capable of demonstrating any on a daily basis all year round? See them, like yourself, as having their own unique filters and expectations. Are you a willing or unwilling participant in fulfilling anothers’ expectations? If the communication lines are open, have a discussion with them about what their expectations are, as well as yours in advance. This is not to “win” them over to your line of thinking, or vice versa. Not at all. It is more of a sharing and research mission. A chance for you to see what areas of overgrown expectations need to be scaled back, pruned and adjusted for your own personal mental health and soul growth.
Give yourself permission to try new things and grow. If your past holidays have not been joyful, than sit and examine why. Chances are your expectations were not meeting the reality of the situation. Or perhaps someone’s expectations of you were unreasonable. Remember, you can never control anyone else, souls were given the free will to control themselves. It is part of Universal Law. So make a conscious decision that the only person you can change is you and formulate a new, more realistic plan. Be in your own driver’s seat. You may even decide that what you really need and want isn’t the smell of a decorated pine tree sitting beside the glow of a warm fireplace, but rather, a suntan, a warm beach and the smell of Hawaiian Tropic. And that’s ok.
If loneliness is your chief complaint about holidays, then the fastest way to healing is to find some others who are even lonelier than you are and be with them. Adjust your expectations and embrace the idea that you are really a member of the world family, and a valuable one at that. Volunteer your time, which you likely have an abundance of, to assist with the many and varied roles needed during holiday seasons at shelters, children’s agencies, assisting the elderly and the infirmed. Consider starting your own tradition of inviting in other dangling friends. Or plan a yearly hike of introspection. Deliver homemade cookies or plants at a nearby hospital. Don’t have anyone to shop for? Contact your town’s social services department and offer to become an “angel” for someone in need. Call your far away friends and leave them happy messages of gratitude that they are a part of your life. Visit a church. Serve coffee at a rest area. Volunteer to pet sit. The possibilities are endless if you are willing to shift your focus.
Holidays can be stressful, emotionally charged events, but they are also just another day on the path of your earth mission. And that means growing and understanding. By examining and adjusting your expectations to better fit your reality, you are committing a very loving act toward yourself. There is no limit to what you can discover about yourself with this approach. And as a wise person once said, “you cannot hold water in a clenched fist.” So take a deep breath, relax, and let go. You will find that your holidays and every days are easier and enriched by becoming more aware of your expectations and how they fit the reality of where you are. It’s not only a good idea to understand and monitor your expectations, it’s a downright necessity for peace of mind. And remember folks, we don’t really need one day a year to tell those we love how we feel about them. It can be done anytime…