“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
“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.”