The other day I wrote about perfectionism. I like to think of myself as a recovering perfectionist. I no longer strive to have things perfect, as if such a thing ever existed for me to strive for in the first place. I have learned to make do, to meet myself where I am, to try my best, and to accept whatever outcome arises from my efforts, be it impressive or meh or better-luck-next-time. I do, however, still suffer from another illness that is related to perfectionism. This illness is the setting of expectations.
Most of the time, I don’t even realize I am setting expectations at all. I’m like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; I think I am just making plans, but those plans have expectations tacked on that might not be met. Tonight, we hosted a party for our neighbors. We hand-delivered invitations about a month ago with an RSVP request. Out of the twelve couples we invited, one kindly RSVPd to say they could not attend. Five couples RSVPd yes. We did not hear from the others. I planned for 10 guests and felt a little disappointment when one couple could not attend at the last minute. This was when I realized I had set expectations based on the RSVPs. I had thought, “Okay, with five couples we should have enough people to make the white elephant gift exchange fun” and when one couple had to go out of town unexpectedly, I immediately imagined everything would go to hell. I imagined the remaining four couples would be bored. All I could picture was it ending up a lame party that would be over 8:30. I was borrowing trouble I needn’t have borrowed. Because, as it turned out, one couple who didn’t text me with an RSVP showed up and took the place of the other couple who had RSVPd but ultimately couldn’t make it. All my consternation about a failed party was wasted. In the end, we had five couples after all. We had the right amount of food and beverage, everyone socialized with everyone else, and the white elephant gift exchange went well too. It was a Clark Griswold holiday dream.
It all got me to thinking about how much energy I waste putting expectations in place when I ought to practice having none. No one knows what any outcome will be because the future has yet to be written. So, we’re fooling ourselves with our perfectionism and our expectations because, in the end, we are in control of not a whole hell of a lot. I could have done everything “right”, thereby setting up expectations that everything would go swimmingly, and in the end there could have been any number of things to interfere with my desired outcome despite my best efforts. As it turned out, I imagined gloom and doom and none of that happened. In fact, everyone had a great time. Silly girl.
Now, to play devil’s advocate, it could have all worked out because we truly do have the best neighbors ever. It could have worked out because my careful planning set us up for success. Or it could have worked out because the stars aligned. In any case, my ability to control the situation was minimal. My ability to control my expectations, however, is something I can work on. I’ve heard it said that “expectation is the mother of disappointment,” and that is the only absolute truth of which I am aware (I mean, outside of the one that says that a piece of toast with jam that falls to the floor will land on the jam side every damn time).
You can work on curbing your perfectionism, but if you don’t work on bringing your expectations to heel you will still suffer. So, I guess I know what I need to meditate on and devote myself to next. It’s time to pull a Doris Day and sing Que Sera Sera.
“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.” ~Doris Day