What to do when you can’t always get what you want and you don’t know what you need.
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
I have a little story. A few years back, my friend and I took her two young sons on a outing to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Now…I must admit that the San Diego Wild Animal Park has always held a talismanic power over me. As a child, I’d dreamed of visiting – of cruising in a safari truck and mingling with lions and tigers (and bears?) in this artificial savannah about 40 minutes from downtown San Diego. I’d built up wild visions of what the park was like. I imagined wildebeest roaming free, flamingoes taking flight, herds of zebras and gazelles; nothing less, ultimately, than the Ngorongoro Crater’s grand migration.
In short, I had expectations.
Of course, whatever the original concept or intent, the modern San Diego Wild Animal Park is not much more than a theme park combined with a zoo. And a tiered theme park at that! One price will get you in, but if you want to really mingle with the animals, or run around with cheetahs, or float above it all in a hot air balloon, you must be willing to pay extra.
In short, I was disappointed.
But we paid the entrance fee, and for a few glorious minutes the kids were entranced by the ducks and the monkeys and the extensive petting zoo.
The Sponge Bob Square Pants 3-D ride was a big hit.
Then the oldest spied something in the park’s gift shop, and the day suddenly took a dark turn. What he saw – what is still burned deeply into the recesses of my brain – was a fully turned out safari suit, perfectly tailored for a seven year old child. We’re talking the safari hat, the safari belt, the khaki shorts and matching shirt. There were official looking patches and there might even have been a pair of child-sized binoculars.
Once he set his eyes upon it, it was love at first sight and nothing could be done until and unless he claimed it as his own.
It was $85.
And we were on a budget.
In short…. we dashed his expectations.
There were tears. A tantrum. Hours of sulking. In the end, he went home empty handed but armed (or shackled) with a valuable lesson (that we remind him of….often).
You cannot let expectations get in the way of happiness.
Don’t get me wrong. I sympathized then, and I sympathize now. Partly because I have the same problem: I dream up best-case scenarios, conjure up daydreams, plan on speculation, and am then dashed when it all falls through.
I’ve had many of my own “safari suit moments.”
So what do you do when you can’t or won’t or don’t get that doggy (or safari suit) in the window?
What do you do in the aftermath of dashed expectations?
For one, you reframe. You treat your troubles as challenges and rebrand them as learning opportunities rather than bum luck. Sarah Ban Breathnach talks about blessing adversity, and while it’s the exact opposite of what you might want to do (which, if your anything like me, is let lose a stream of tears or epitaphs – or both – before stomping your foot and whining, “but it’s not fair!”), I’ve found that shifting your focus from indignation to gratitude really does help.
I’m currently having issues with my duplex neighbors, and just the other day I lightened my load by deciding to thank them (in my head…I’m not that magnanimous and they really are behaving like entitled jerks) for pushing me to look for a better living situation. Perhaps there’s a different setting that’s a better fit for the life I live now, something a little more adult than the crumbling old Victorian that appealed to me in my early 30s.
I’m willing to bet I can find a more appropriate abode – and when I do, it’ll be partly due to those neighbors who’s outrageous behavior finally compelled me to make a move.
So thank you jerky neighbors…. thank you.
But, let’s just say you’re not yet ready for gratitude. I think the ultimate goal is get to a place where you can be Zen about what didn’t happen, and energized about what still can happen. And the first step involves self-nurturing. Treat yourself like an athlete at the end of long training cycle, a jockey crossing the finish line five beats from first place, or a world weary traveler who’s just starting the long journey home.
Start out with lots of rest. Baby yourself. Eat mac and cheese (yes…the whole box if you want, you have my permission). Splurge on a nice bottle of wine. Get a massage. Wander a meadow. Play along a shoreline. Find your way back to the world.
Then reestablish some important commitments and daily guidelines (courtesy Ms. Ban Breathnach and Simple Abundance):
- Carve out an hour of solitude every day.
- Keep it simple.
- Create quite surroundings at home and work.
- Be instead of do.
- Set aside one day a week for rest and renewal.
- If you don’t love it, live without it.
- Stay away from negative people.
- Nurture friendships.
- Create boundaries.
- Savor Beauty.
One final note… I was reminded today that in the wake of Japan’s tsunami disaster, the citizens were urged to do away with formal attire. The idea was that ditching the suit and tie for casual clothes would not only physically loosen up their ability to rebuild, it would loosen up psyches as well, and help set the country on a quicker, more efficient road to recovery.
So while you’re in your own rebuilding phase, I urge you to ditch your artifice. Stop trying to be all things to all people. Don’t worry so much about looking “put together” and convincing people that you have it all under control. You don’t. I don’t either.
And that’s okay.
Let’s roll up our shirtsleeves and get to work!
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