Two conversations with friends this week have me thinking about expectations and fear. One friend is experiencing unexpected disappointment in his life. The other is experiencing unexpected joy. Both are terrified about the outcome and probably for good reason! Fear is your body’s way of saying “pay attention, something important is about to happen!” Whether its good or bad, it will be significant. Usually part of the fear is that it is something we hadn’t planned for, maybe hadn’t even imagined.
You see, so many of us still try to believe that we are in control, that we can plan our lives and then, if we work hard enough, or want it badly enough, everything will fall into place. We still cling to this belief even after years of experience tells us to expect the unexpected.
I wrote last week in Get A Life, about being powerless over our adult children. Jim LaPierre was so tickled by my admitting my powerlessness he could hardly contain himself. (Yes Jim, you were right, now stop gloating). In theory, I’ve been willing to accept powerlessness for years, but it has taken a lot for me to be able to actually put it into practice in my life. I am, in fact, quite powerless.
You see I am a planner, an organizer, and a worrier. So that means for most of my life I have had to have an outline, talking points, a plan A, and then three back up plans. Moving forward without all this in place was nearly impossible for me.
And then life happened!
That’s what is going on with my two good friends in the last few weeks. Both had plans for their lives that changed unexpectedly. Both had wishes, dreams, and hopes. One had a vision for this time in his life that consisted of financial security, family harmony and a silver wedding anniversary. It involved planning a comfortable retirement, and plenty of quality time spent with children and grandchildren. Then life took an unexpected turn and the picture in his head and the picture of reality turned out very different. That doesn’t mean that reality is not good, great even on some days, its just not what he expected when he looked ahead.
My other friend has the opposite problem. She planned this time in her life around being single. She planned to spend the next few years concentrating on going back to college and making advancements in her career. She planned to work on herself during this time, to be focused and motivated on her own development, both personally and professionally. Then she very unexpectedly met an amazing woman that she has a real connection with. Does this person now fit into her plan, and if so, how?
FEAR: Noun. An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Often, the thing that is holding us back from truly embracing and enjoying our lives is fear.We fear the unknown, we fear the unplanned for. We fear being caught without a plan and a back up plan. We fear it mostly because the unexpected catches us off guard, with our defenses down. We fear being hurt, or being hurt again. We fear admitting we may have been wrong, or that everything we believed in was somehow mistaken. We fear that others will find out how very afraid we actually are.
What we forget is that we are all afraid. We are all terrified of the exact same things. We are all afraid to show our feelings, afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to take chances, afraid not to know what’s going to happen next, or afraid of how it’s all going to turn out in the end.
I try to embrace that fear at this age. I know what it means. I even share my fears and my feelings with all of you every week! If you think that comes easily, if you think I am always comfortable with it, you would be wrong. What I have learned, however, is to tackle my fears head on. What I have learned, not because I always wanted to but because I had to, is how to move through my fear. What I have discovered through this is that there is always, always, something better on the other side of it.
That doesn’t mean we can’t plan. Of course, we have to put the work into our lives. We can’t just sit back and wait for life and opportunity to happen. What we have to remember is to be flexible when it comes to the unexpected. Those unexpected events and people in our lives often turn out to be gifts so wonderful we could not have even conceived of them in our original plan. Sometimes, even the most tragic events in our lives bring unexpected gifts if we are willing to be open, if we are willing to change our plan and our expectations.
If we can admit powerlessness, if we can let go of the need to know the outcome, we may find even the scariest of decisions just a little easier, the burdens just a little lighter. If we can find the courage to just take the next step, without knowing what the step after that will be, we often find ourselves very pleasantly surprised by the results. Very often, something truly significant, something truly important in our lives is just about to happen! Be open to it!
“And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.” Paulo Coelho