My Mama Told Me to Keep My Expectations Low

One night before a first date, with my hair combed and perfume dabbed on my wrists, I ripped through the hangers in my closet, while talking to my Mom on the phone. As I blew out a candle, turned off a light, and walked out the door, my Mom advised me to: “Have fun, but keep your expectations low.”

It might not sound like a good thing. Having low expectations. But if you go into a situation having low, or no, expectations, often you’re pleasantly surprised (“He’s not Elephant Man-meets-unemployed-serial-killer? Yay!”).

When I drive home from work sometimes, the lagoons look like sheets of copper, amber from the light of a dying day. But I don’t totally see the lagoons. Instead, I see manicured hands grasping cappuccinos. Hilary Clinton’s red, white and blue pants. Oprah has posted her summer reading list, her “favorites lately,” at which I call bull*&%&. If Oprah does all that she does, and she reads more than I do, I’m actually hiding under my bed for the next seventy-five years.

So-and-so has 64K followers with a full-time job and a kid, and her wardrobe is amazing, but she’s probably a terrible person (no, actually, she’s probably super down-to-earth, damnit).

We live in a more meritocratic society than ever before. In the past, people tended to look upward when they wanted something to worship. Nowadays, we worship people. The Prada bag-toting, higher up at Twitter, who had box seats to Swan Lake last weekend and works eighty hours a week, comes to mind.

There’s this atmosphere of “you can do anything.” No matter who you are and where you come from. The collateral damage of that, though, is a sense of guilt when you don’t become Bill Gates.

It’s like this dam broke, and flooding in is too much to keep up with. Everyone knows what each other is doing. It’s a time in history when I’m only a few clicks away to listening to JFK’s voice, decades after he’s died, but comparing yourself to others is also off the charts. And I think that now, more than ever before, that age-old question you’re asked at dinner parties next to the platter of mini-quiches: “What do you do?” It has some teeth.

What I would caution against is letting your goals suck the air of your life right now. Putting off your happiness for an imaginary future.

If we write off what we have now as not good enough… If we set tough-to-reach, slightly-insane expectations for ourselves, and it takes us years to reach them – or we never reach them – what happens then? Was that time wasted? Maybe not, but could we have lived those lost moments better? Likely.

Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to reign in our expectations. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to want what you have. Maybe it seems unnatural at first, like wearing your t-shirt with the tag in front. “But my job doesn’t pay me enough,” you think, and “I have fifteen pounds to lose,” and “I’m not who I want to be.”

But if you thought of twenty people in your life – friends and family – and you held them to the same standards as you hold yourself, would they measure up? Didn’t think so. And would you treat them with compassion if they didn’t? Or would you chop their heads off at the Sept of Baelor (sorry, GOT carried away there…).

Maybe it’s a little like a dance. A recipe that requires one cup of ambition, one cup of gratitude, and a teaspoon of presence.

It’s “summer” in San Diego, which I only know because of the return of the nightly Sea World fireworks, and San Diego summer is the best. There’s a lot to look forward to.

I want to and will move forward with my plans, but as I do that, I want to enjoy now. I think part of the ticket to that is managing my expectations. Keeping low expectations, and wanting what I have. Which when I really think about it, is quite a lot.

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