Thursday, August 26, 2010

Expectation: In Life and Writing

“When I grow up I’m going to be a...”

What? Astronaut? Ballerina? Rock Star? I had so many answers to that one statement. Of course, writer was the most common answer, but as a linear person, it was always easier to chart other courses. Do this, then this, equals success. Recently, I had a conversation with a lovely friend of mine who is doing her residency to become an orthopedic surgeon. I marvel at her dedication and ability to work insane amounts of hours, but, when we were talking, we realized that in some ways she is lucky to be on her linear path. I work almost as many hours as she does (between the day job and my writing), and she has the certainty that if she keeps working hard, she’ll get to her goal. For me, there are no guarantees that all that work and effort will get me to my goal. That has been one of the biggest struggles for me, being linear with a fictional goal, but like so many things in life, I think I needed something to put me off the expected.

I’ve always been a little too enamored with expectations, blueprints, timelines, and everything seemingly controllable. But the truth is, nothing about life is controllable and even those who seem to have it all together can watch it fall apart through no fault of their own. Best laid plans get rocked by life. It’s impossible to look at the world and not see this, and yet, I’ve held onto expectations of what life is supposed to be like. And I can tell you, from my own experience, that that is the quickest way to suck the joy out of life and is a recipe for a future of murky wallowing.

Some of the things I always thought would happen in my life haven’t. And these are the hardest things for me to share publicly, but for whatever reason, I think I should. Ever since I was a teenager, I expected to find that perfect person and get married (for a while there, I even expected to marry John Taylor of Duran Duran... funny how that didn’t work out). But that expectation hasn’t happened and the expectation itself poisoned a great many moments of my life. I felt for a long time that I had been denied something, left out, left behind, not picked in the great dodgeball game of life.

Now, I see something different. The expectation itself is the problem, the thinking that things are supposed to work a certain way and if they don’t, life is deemed cruel and whining ensues. And instead of taking the time to be grateful for the life we have, we throw out our gifts because they simply can’t measure up to our expectations.

It is true that I have never found the love I dreamed of, but I am so happy to be alive every day. This is what renouncing expectations and ending the feeling of entitlement have done for me. I am healthy, energetic, a dreamer, a writer, and have had the good fortune to be surrounded by an excellent family and absolutely wonderful friends. Life isn’t about what we don’t have, but what we do have and how we share the gifts we have been given.

I believe that expectation and entitlement in publishing goals can be just as toxic as in relationship goals. The ultimate question is: why we write? Is it for the glory and the fame or is it because we can’t imagine not letting loose the words lining up in our minds and hearts?

If expectations aren’t reined in, where do they end? It’s not like the relationship expectations end after finding someone? How do we expect to be treated? Do we communicate our expectations or simply judge the other person for failing to meet them? Do we have entirely unrealistic expectations about what marriage means? Do we expect marriages to be like the movies and when they aren’t, do we walk away from the people we promised to love all our lives? Do we expect for another human being to be responsible for all of our happiness in life? And while we’re busy expecting in our direction, do we do and give enough to our partner, who might be filled with as many unrealistic expectations as we have?

And in publishing, what is the expectation for success? How much do we expect from agents and editors? And our future readers? And our next books? Do we expect to be the next Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling, and if we don’t reach that goal, are we failing? Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. Can you imagine if she felt like a failure for not publishing another book? Are we going to allow expectations (mostly unrealized... because they are impossible) to taint all the steps of our journeys?

I’m here to say that it is possible, because I know how many moments I spent feeling let down by a life that has given me so much. I don’t want to be that person anymore, and I certainly don’t want to be that kind of writer.

Quote for the Day from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Rhett:

“There's one thing I do know... and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we're alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd. But able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.”

11 comments:

Valerie at City|Life|Eats said...

I love this post. It really hit home with me. Thank you so much for your insights - I know I don't comment often, but I always read your blog and learn so much from it :)

Clarissa Draper said...

You said: "The expectation itself is the problem, the thinking that things are supposed to work a certain way and if they don’t, life is deemed cruel and whining ensues. And instead of taking the time to be grateful for the life we have, we throw out our gifts because they simply can’t measure up to our expectations."

That is so true. I'm fortunate to have no full-time day job and I get to do something I love. If I died without publishing a book, at least I'd have written.

CD

Debra L. Schubert said...

"But the truth is, nothing about life is controllable and even those who seem to have it all together can watch it fall apart through no fault of their own." Um, yeah. That.

Jemi Fraser said...

Life has its own ideas of what's going to happen to us and sometimes it likes to have a laugh or two at our expenses.

For the most part I'm able to do things one step at a time, one day at a time. I'm glad.

Julie said...

Valerie,

Thanks so much for the comment and I know how it is. I'm a lurker sometimes and a commenter others.

On a side note, are you as excited for squash season as I am. I've avoided them during the summer because they are my special fall thing. I'm pining for that kabocha squash recipe you posted last year. :)

Julie said...

Clarissa,

I feel the same way. I love the writing process so much that to worry too much about the next step just sucks away the joy. And that is something I don't want to do anymore. Accepting the path for whatever it brings has really made me a happier writer, and a more content person as well.

Julie said...

Debbie,

"Um, yeah. That." is absolutely right. Another reason to just accept the path for all its twists and turns and find happiness in every day, regardless of what it brings.

Julie said...

Hi Jemi,

One day at a time is a good way to go. You then don't build things up to be artificially sized and can be grateful for the good and endure the not so good. :)

Tricia said...

Love Duran Duran, but I thought I'd marry Meatloaf -- kidding. Just making light of "expectations".

There's a fine line between ambition and expectations. Sometimes the latter gets in the way of our enjoyment of our small achievements and victories.

I need a constant reminder not confuse the two. Thank you.

Julie said...

Tricia,

Meatloaf... I swoon. :) And don't forget that he'd do anything for love... except "that." I'm pretty sure that "that" involved putting the toilet seat down (just FYI).

I am right there with you because I'm trying to navigate how to be dedicated to the craft of writing without tying into the spoils. I'm definitely a work in progress. :)

Valerie @ City|Life|Eats said...

I am pining for kabocha squash (turns out there's orange-skinned and green-skinned kabocha, who knew?) too! Though for some odd reason, I am so not pining for fall, just squash and a few crisp apples. I am loving summer more than usual this year. For the first time ever, I find myself wishing I lived somewhere that was reasonably warm year-round. Crazy of me.

I can't wait for squash to make that very same recipe, as well as a kabocha squash and avocado sandwich. I am making it with sweet potatoes now but I bet it is even better with squash.