Yesterday’s post was all about delegation. And so I delegated today’s post to my other half, as if to test myself out on how well I could let go…
Honestly though, by the time I’d reworked and edited his work, I could have done it myself, seriously.
Ok, no, just kidding you.
Or am I?
Day 19 – A Sensitive Cynic’s Christmas Survival Guide.
Guest post by Jason Excell
Unrealistic expectation is an old enemy of mine and one that I know all too well, so when my wife asked me if I’d like to contribute to her Christmas Survival Guide, I knew the perfect topic to go with.
I expect she knew that would happen 😉
Picture the scene:
I leave the office for the day, feeling happy and just a tad smug because I love my job and I’m exceptionally good at it, I find it extraordinarily interesting and it pays well to boot.
The short bike ride home allows me to enjoy the sensation of using my toned muscles and gives me a chance to reflect on the fact that I pretty much have all the answers and that my life is lovely and wholesome and neat.
After putting away my bike in the spacious shed resting on my neatly trimmed, bright green lawn, I walk into my perfect little house to be greeted by my happy children (taking a break from their homework) and spy my gorgeous wife sitting at the table waiting for me to join her for dinner.
That idyllic existence is not my life (with a couple of exceptions – my wife is gorgeous [why thank you – Ed.], my children are mostly happy and I do own a bike), but rather it is the existence that I expected to have when I was a child looking ahead into adulthood. Some of that was just me and what I thought being a grown up was like, some of it was Hollywood and its perfectly-crafted happy ending. And part of it was believing the masks of faultless joy that we all tend to wear outside of our own four walls. Whatever the cause though the point is that my expectations were way off the mark, they were unrealistic, ill conceived and doomed to failure.
I’m not saying you can’t achieve your childhood dreams – though I was sure that when I grew up I would be a wrestler, a boxer or a writer and I’m too old for two of those now – but lets be honest, there’s nobody out there who has all the answers. In fact, far from having all the answers I find that I actually just have more questions, though with age comes perspective and the ability to find it amusing – “hey, I know nothing!”
Expectations that can never be met then – that’s something that I struggled with immensely for most of my life, until a couple of years ago actually. It boiled down to this; in approaching a situation, an occasion or an event, I would have a picture in my mind of how it would go (usually without a blemish) and of course it would never work out that way – the sulking that would follow my unmet expectations (yes I was a sulker) was the stuff of legend.
A good example for you is marriage – as we grow up, books and films often imprint upon us the script of wonderful, effortless, joy filled marital bliss, but when reality bites you find out that marriage is really hard work that requires dedication, compromise, self-sacrifice and whole shed load of grace. I firmly believe that Hollywood (and a few other spinners of yarns) has a huge red hand in our society’s rocketing divorce rates, but that’s a blog for another post…(seriously, don’t get me started!)
Okay, so I expect you’re wondering what this all has to do with a Christmas survival guide. Well, to my mind, there aren’t many occasions that we approach with such high (and let’s be honest, unrealistic) expectations more than Christmas right?
I mean think about it – we gather our (frequently extended) family together in one room (disaster recipe if ever there was one) and expect everyone to get on beautifully.
We expect (and feel expected) to be able to produce a meal of Hagrid-sized proportions covering at least 3 courses all of which must be prepared to perfection and is to be served at the exact right temperature, on a table set with posh tablecloths, beautiful decorations and festive napkins (shaped like swans to make people say “ahhh”) along with the stunning silver cutlery that someone in said extended family bought and sees the light of day but once a year.
We expect to give wonderful and thoughtful presents and we expect to receive the same in return.
We expect our children to open a pile of presents, be stuffed full of sugar, be bombarded with excitement and yet behave wonderfully, always minding their manners and being grateful for the socks and pants that somebody wrapped in such an exciting way.
See a theme emerging here?
Why is that? What is it about Christmas Day that it has become such a high bar of Little House on the Prairie-esque faultlessness? The honest answer is that I don’t have an answer (bet you didn’t expect that!) But I do know that down that path lies misery. If you allow your mind to paint with vivid colours of perfection on the canvas of expectation then you will probably find yourself feeling a bit let down come Christmas evening….feeling a bit flat, a bit empty at the whole anti-climatic day that you had built up so much. Honestly, read through that list of expectations again real quick – it sounds to me like a pressure cooker of stress and time squeezed madness that would crack even the Brady Bunch.
Reality check – there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas (despite what Hollywood tries to sell you!) There I said it! And I say that because other than Jesus, there is no such thing as a perfect person. We don’t live in a perfect world – life is messy, people are flawed, mistakes happen, wires get crossed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing you down the path of pessimism here, not asking you to hop on the cynical cycle – that’s the other extreme and when I mentioned winning the battle a couple of years ago, it wasn’t by becoming a realist. Like I said, people will mess up, life isn’t perfect, things don’t always go to plan, but in all of that, there can still be an abundance of joy and happiness – just not if you’re expecting perfection from perfect people in a perfect world.
So, I expect you’re wondering – How then is it possible????
Well, for me the key was my relationship with God. By spending time with Jesus in prayer and in His word, the bible; He showed me not only the problems with the expectations that I had of others and of myself, but also how to respond when my expectations are not met.
Unrealistic expectations of yourself or of others has a tendency to result in anger, resentment and unhappiness (said in a Yoda voice that was – “hmmm”). This is because expectations are often centred around something we need, or think we need. We all have needs and it is important to us that those needs are met. But the problem lies in expecting a need to be met by the wrong person, situation or thing.
Let’s imagine, for example, a man who lost his mother as a young boy. He may look for that mothering need to be met by his girlfriend or wife in later life. Clearly, this is an expectation that she can never meet. Were she to try, they would end up with a a very unhealthy relationship.
Then there are some needs that we have that only God can meet – plain and simple – and if you project those needs on anyone or anything other than God, that will always be doomed to failure. I believe that we are all created to have a relationship with our creator, which makes that a very key need that only God is able to meet. Sadly though, many try to get that need met by a spouse, hobbies, alcohol, or “insert word here“.
So the first key thing is to look at the need/s that sit behind the expectation and for those needs to be met in the right way and by the right person – I started to look at my expectations and ask myself if they were centred around a need – and if so, was that a fair expectation of that person?
You’d be surprised at how many weren’t fair at all.
The second key thing to look at is realism. I know somebody who has an expectation of themselves to be able to do something the first time they attempt it and if that fails (and for obvious reasons it usually does) they won’t bother trying again. You don’t need me to tell you that that clearly qualifies as an unrealistic expectation, but what makes me sad about that is….. imagine all the things they might be exceptional at if they just tempered their expectations with some reality (and seasoned it with a sprinkling of grace).
Where does that come from? Why is that bar so high? In their case I don’t know, but as I mentioned earlier Hollywood has a lot to answer for as far as my expectations used to be. So take a look at your expectations – are they fair? Are they realistic? If somebody had the same expectation of you as you have of them would you be okay with that, could you meet it?
Thirdly what do you hang on those expectations of yours? As I’ve said I used to be a sulker – if my expectations were not met that would literally ruin my day or my relationship – I must have been a nightmare!
The bible tells us of a Messiah, a promised saviour who would come and lead God’s people. The Jews expected that saviour to arrive as a king, probably on a gold-embossed chariot and wielding a hefty sword with which to smite their enemies. Their expectations of what their saviour would be were so engrained and dependent, that when God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) they could not accept it and… well, you know the story.
How reliant on your expectations being met is your happiness, peace and joy? As for me now – I’m working at being like the apostle Paul, and finding contentment in all things because my most essential need (that relationship with God) is being met.
Finally – cut yourself (and everyone else) some slack! God really impressed upon me a couple of years ago the amazing depth and completeness of His grace and forgiveness. If God had expectations of me, believe me I would fail them, time and time and time again, but right there, even when I fail, He loves me and forgives me for it all.
As I’ve absorbed that, reflected and meditated upon it, as I’ve really let it sink in, it has had the effect of not only making me better at forgiving myself, but made me better at forgiving others too (often for doing nothing wrong except not living up to my expectations!)
Believe me when I tell you that there is tremendous peace in that, there’s immense freedom and I’m a nicer person too (bonus!) Try it – you won’t be disappointed.
So then, back to Christmas – let’s condense it down into a mince pie of meaning (sorry). If your hopes for Christmas Day are around the perfect presents, the awesome dinner, the harmonious family gathering….well, the chances are; you’re heading for festive flatness, friend. Approach it however with your needs in the right places and with the right people, with your expectations firmly centred in what is realistic, with your happiness not dependent on everything being perfect and with a heart to forgive when they aren’t, then you just might get the Christmas you expect.
Thought for the day
“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
― Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life
Task for the day:
Hmmm, I get to set my wife a task? Nice! Well, here it is:
Revisit your “Blue Skies Christmas” that you were tasked with on Day 1. Have a look at each thing you wrote down and run each one through a checklist of Need, Realism and Dependency. Make sure you’re still happy with what you went with and that you can approach the day with an air of expectancy that’s grounded in reality.
Complete the jobs that I normally do while you’re typing away like Jessica Fletcher….