Auditioning to Suffer - How to handle unmet expectations

At eleven-years-old, I lined up with a group of ballerinas in front of a mirror. We stood there, a prepubescent bunch, bubbling with excitement at the prospect of snagging the role of Clara in the Nutcracker.

More than anything, I remember this: the feeling of elation when I looked in the mirror—a South American beauty twirling around in her pink, flowy skirt.

That girl admired her reflection. That girl danced with confidence. That girl didn’t care what the others thought about her.

You can imagine my surprise when North Atlantic Ballet Company chose me—me!—to star as Clara. The selection was like a slice of lemon dropped into ice cold water: unnecessary, but totally appreciated.

In high school, I just kept going. My Latina hips didn’t lie and it only made sense to pursue cheerleading. I found myself in a room full of girls (again), only this time we had all hit puberty.

The room was mirrorless, yet somehow I was aware of how I looked. I felt awkward and chunky amidst my peers, struggling to do things that appeared so natural. I couldn’t touch my toes and was too heavy to stand on anyone’s shoulders. I was convinced the coaches secretly referred to me as the “fat tan girl.”

Tryouts turned into teenage nightmares. Not surprisingly, I didn’t make the squad and I took that fail hard.

You can’t always get what you expect

It’s an erroneous belief that life is easy when in fact the opposite is true: life is hard (and whoever says it’s easy needs a #truthbomb!).

So why are we surprised when things don’t go our way?

I see this a lot with my clients: the disappointment (and sometimes heartbreak) that occurs when it didn’t go the way they expected. This rings especially true for relationships, where “unequal” exchanges happen all the time.

It’s a very common arrangement, and it’s setting us up for suffering.

In my practice, I help people search for ulterior motives and hidden expectations that were attached to their efforts. If they’re thinking along the lines of “I’ll do this and you’ll do that for me” or “I’ll love you and you’ll love me back,” then it’s a telltale sign that suffering is on its way.

Here’s the key to handling unmet expectations: let go of expectations.

Now, hear me out: that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards; it just means you have to relax around the things you can’t control. Ease into the possibility that however the cards may fall, there is a good reason for it—whether it’s a lesson you need to learn, a realization you need to have, or an event that kicks you into the next chapter of your life.

HERE ARE 3 TOOLS FOR MANAGING EXPECTATIONS:

  1. Abhyasa. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the key philosophies is to take action, surrender, and let go of the results. It means accepting whatever the outcome is without judgement. We are guided to check in with ourselves prior to taking action by asking this key question: “How will I feel if I get nothing in return?” If we’re honestly okay with no reciprocity, then we should go ahead and do it. However, if we know we’ll be upset if we don’t get the desired outcome, then we should hold back and wait until it feels right to take action (or don’t take the action at all).

  2. Prevent future pain. Pantajali was wise; he offered a second sutra that helps us understand expectations. In this one (2.16), Patanjali asks us to notice thoughts, words, and actions that produce unnecessary suffering; so if we’re smart, we’ll avoid those thoughts, words, and actions in the future (consequently avoiding future pain).

  3. Consider that what is meant for you will not pass you by.  With this knowledge, you can learn to accept the people, opportunities, and outcomes that don’t work out for you and embrace the ones that do work out with grace and gratitude.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Valentina Verani is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Marriage and Family Therapist, and registered yoga teacher who runs her own private practice based out of Boston, MA. Her advice has been featured in Boston Magazine, Dr. Oz's The Good Life magazine, Medium, and Well+Good. She is a wife and mother of two who has traveled the world and enjoys spending time with her family on the South Shore and Cape Cod. Valentina loves lying in savasana at her local yoga studio.

For more about Valentina, visit her website and Psychology Today.