Some say to keep your expectations high, that it will give you a high standard, and you will only get the best. Others say to keep your expectations low; it will help avoid disappointment. I disagree with both of these sentiments. I think it’s best not to expect at all. In my view, expectation is a vehicle to missed experiences. I would like to share a few ideas about why and how you should avoid hasty expectations.
Expectation Keeps You from Experiencing Things as They are
Bob Dylan once said, “I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.” This is how I believe you can appreciate things best. It is a gift to give any person, place, or thing to not define it before encountering it, but rather to let it present itself and be known without expectation. I would love to meet anyone who would greet me without ideas about who I am or should be, and I would love to return that favor.
It does not have to be so big as encountering another person. Even something so small as movies have gotten better since I have stopped expecting something of them. When I was a kid, I went into the theater anticipating something from films. Sometimes, I thought it would blow my mind. Sometimes, I just thought it would maybe have at least seven cowboys. Because of that, the movie couldn’t meet my wishes. Maybe it wasn’t mind blowing, just really good. Maybe it only had six cowboys. It left me disappointed, or, if not disappointed, it took me out of the movie a bit, because instead of appreciating the six cowboys, all I could do was wonder where the seventh was. Now, I don’t even read the back of DVD cases before watching a movie. I just let them be as they are, and inevitably, they’re not always great, but, overall, I like movies a lot better now.
Listen to Music Like a Friend Made It
One of the best ways I have found to appreciate something like art more is to imagine a friend made it. It seems people so often view art and hear music with the expectation that it will be good, because they’re used to seeing good art and hearing good music. I can’t say that that’s unfair, because when you listen to music, you are often listening to professionals, and, yes, professionals are probably good. However, I think this expectation hurts the viewing/listening experience and is unfair to the artist. It’s so easy to push art into the abstract, to expect it to be good, and then to move along without really appreciating it. But when I sit down and really listen to music, as though a good friend made it, I give it special attention. I hear the emotion put into it, because it seems so much more real, and it breaks that distancing expectation that the song has to be good or that it has to be anything. All of a sudden, it gets to be what it really is: art crafted in hardship or love or nostalgia by a person with emotions as deep and intimate as my own. When my best friend sings, “And they’ll kiss as if they know/ a baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone,” it simply hits me harder than when Iron & Wine does, because I understand what it means for my best friend, and I can see them putting the effort into making it.
Expectation Leads to Taking Things for Granted
Expectation is tricky, because it doesn’t just appear when you are going into something new and have expectations of what it will be like. It also appears in what is so familiar that it loses its magnificence. I grew up in a beautiful city, country roads meeting a lively downtown. However, I could not appreciate the vibrancy surrounding me for so many years, because it was simply what I expected. I saw sunshine through the leaves, or bouncing off the backs of horses, or gleaming in the streams every day, but what was it to me? It was taken for granted, and that was not fair to nature. I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but if I saw them every day, would they lose their shine? They wouldn’t, but I would lose the fresh eyes to see them. So, when I leave my house, I try to no longer expect the beauty of a vast blue sky, but I try to see the sky with fresh eyes, as though I had been dreaming of seeing it my whole life.
Practice Looking for Beauty
It might seem kind of cheesy or ridiculous to go outside and say, “Oh wow! A sky! I have never seen that before. Incredible! !! ! !” That is because it would be ridiculous. There’s no way to fool yourself into thinking you’ve never seen a sky, and I’m not encouraging lying to yourself. What I am encouraging you to do is to practice looking for beauty. Practice breaking your expectations. Look at the waters, the stars, the mountains. Acknowledge that they are just as beautiful as what travelers trek hundreds of miles to see. They are just more generously given. Nowadays, I always stop to see the sunshine through the leaves. I knew a girl in my hometown who told me it was her favorite color, and I have to give her credit. It’s really quite stunning if you have a moment to look.
Alright, so, now to contradict myself a bit. I know you must have expectations sometimes. Expectation may keep you safe or prepare you for an interview. It is impossible not to have any expectations. So, maybe do expect a bit, but look around, look at your life, find where expectations are holding you back, and take a step away. It’s refreshing to let things be as they are.