Every night, surrounded by twinkle lights, I flip the pages of my journal to a blank one and begin writing. Some days my pen scrawls back and forth across the page, moving slower than my mind can think. Other times my pen is still, eager awaiting my thoughts to formulate an idea, any idea.
We have expectations of different stages of life – high school, college, post-grad, etc. We cling to these fixed ideas of experience to get us through the tough waves of change and disorientation that comes with transition. Sunday morning, a friend and I had a chat. It was another rainy day in Virginia, and we were thinking about how close we were getting to graduation and thinking about the college experience we’ve had so far.
If you have been here awhile, you’ll know college has not been the best time for me. There have been highs, but dang, there have been so many lows. We ended up chatting about the expectations we had about college that crushed our experiences. For me, I think expecting a big friend group in college led me to believe that I wasn’t having a good experience because I didn’t (and still don’t) have the same people to hang out with. Friendships have shifted while I’ve been here and I’ve learned how to navigate that.
The thing is I know I’m not the only one who does this. Who comes up with this picture perfect idea of what the future is going to look like, gets there, and is disappointed. These fixed ideas and expectations are not necessarily about the big things. Maybe you’re meeting a friend of a friend and you’ve already decided it’s going to suck and you’re going to end up being a third wheel. Or maybe you’re finally going on a date and before you even meet him, you’re already dreaming about the wedding. Maybe you’re going to your grandparents’ house this weekend and you have the idea in your mind that you’re going to be miserable.
Fixed ideas can go either way. You can either build something up in your mind that the reality slams you down. Or you find yourself viewing everything new as a way for negativity to enter your life.
In reality, when we cling to these ideas we miss the grander scheme of the realm of possibility. If you have been around for a while, then you know one of my favorite books is called A Realm of Possibility by David Levithan. I recently reread it this summer and it gave me some reminders.
001: You can miss out on opportunities when you are so insistent on one idea of the future
One of the characters in The Realm of Possibility is too busy pursuing someone that they don’t notice someone else is interested in them. We get locked in on one view of the future that we don’t explore all that life has to offer. And this way of living leads to regrets. It leads to looking back and wishing we had open hands when it came to the cards that were dealt to us. There are times to commit and there are times to be open. Choose wisely.
002: We become resistant to growth
While oftentimes we find ourselves having fixed ideas about our lives, we should also be concerned about the fixed ideas we have about other people. This can be about politics, or our neighbors, or the club that we’ve joined for a niche hobby (anyone want to join my Dostoevsky reading club?). The wisdom in Beautiful Anonymous, my favorite podcast ever, is that humans are utterly complex and we can learn a lot from one another if we are willing to set aside preconceived notions and listen.
003: We forget the ideal in life
Sometimes I think we chase happiness a lot more than we should. And maybe that looks like pleasure in ice cream and hanging out with friends. Maybe that’s the cool job that will land you that awesome promotion. Maybe it’s the clothes in your wardrobe with a collection of accessories to match. In my controversial opinion, I don’t think the purpose of life is happiness. In fact, I have to question whether or not that’s even attainable (which is just another blog post in itself). If you are on this planet seeking endless pleasure, you will end up disappointed. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. There needs to be something greater in life and it can’t be fulfilling your every positive fixed idea or subverting your every negative fixed idea. Sometimes life just sucks. And there are days where that makes sense. And others where it will never make sense. Whatever your greater purpose is, move towards that. Forget trying to make your life as free from pain and as full as comfort as possible (Hint: it’s impossible).
When we open up our view of the world beyond our narrow expectations, we enter a new one. Full of wonder and questions and mystery. We get to discover new paths and turn around when we pick the wrong one. We get to rejoice in the mountaintop and cry in the valley. When we become free from the bondage of our unmet expectations, we head towards uncharted waters, holding both hope and apprehension in our hands. We are eager and discerning for what lies ahead.