The Tyranny of Expectations
“I was confident. Everything would go the way that I had thought it would. There would be no surprises. I would encounter no difficulties whatsoever and life would always remain the same.” These were the thoughts of my twelve year old self as I boarded the plane back to my homeland, Pakistan. We were leaving the UAE for good. I had just completed my sixth grade and it was only a matter of a few days after of me getting my report card that the luggage carriers came in, packed all of the family’s belongings and shipped them off in a freight back home.
Before this, we had often visited Pakistan during the summers and I loved spending my holidays there. I believed that since now that we were moving there, life would finally be exciting. No more of having to spend my Eids all alone and not being able to take part in all of the joyful occasions. I was thrilled at the thought of living in Pakistan where I could have cousins coming over my home every other day and that I could finally be a member to all of the wonderful family gatherings filled with good food, loving people and a delightful ambiance. Only when I actually started living there did I realize that I possessed a failed understanding of what was to come.
The reality of living there was nothing like my expectations. Pakistan was not a very safe place to live in. Children could not be left wandering alone. We only left the house when it was absolutely necessary. School was a whole different issue. I expected to blend in easily as I had a lot of good friends back in my old school. Instead, I was left alone with no companions on my side. The reason I believe, was my lack of fluency in the local language Urdu. I would often hear the people laughing behind my back at the way I spoke. Anyhow, I longed for my old home and for my old friends. I had formed high expectations of the future that I was not even sure of. It was then that life taught me a valuable lesson; a lesson that I shall never forget.
There existed a myriad of ways in which expectations undermined my life. They plagued me, causing me to be irritable, disappointed and disillusioned. Many times it led me to say unkind words, act unskillfully and make the wrong decisions. These expectations were so insidious that I persisted in maintaining them even after I had seen the clear evidence that they were unfounded.
Expectations, I found, are almost always the result of what in Buddhism is called “Wanting Mind”. This mind is driven by desire, aversion and anxiety in that it creates an illusion of solidity and control in a world that is constantly changing. If there is one thing I learned, it was to rid myself of the expectations that created rigidity in my life and caused me to react impulsively to any perceived threat to this future that I believed I deserved.
Instead, I began to search for possibilities. In contrast to expectations, possibilities are based in the present moment where one is alive to the mystery of life. I am able to live as fully as I can in the present moment based on my values, which reflect my preferences for the future. No longer do I assume that the future will be just as I can imagine it in the present, because I realize now that the future is unknown.
This new perspective on life has shaped me to finally know that my well-being is not contingent on the future. My mind is open and inspired in the present moment and I have more access to imagination and intuition. I now respond optimistically rather than reacting as a pessimist to life as it unfolds in front of me.
Today, five years later (and back in the UAE), I reflect upon my former shortcomings and am proud of whom I have become. Even better is that my mind can now recall all of the fond memories that I made in the place that I eventually had learned to love and I feel blessed at having to meet all of the beautiful people who I might never have the chance to see again. Now, when I finally look out to the life that awaits before me, I see it as pearly, shining promise of immense possibilities.