I’ve been a conscientious person for as long as I can remember.
From matching outfits since age 2 to feeling sickeningly anxious about going into school without my homework finished, that sort of became my reputation. I liked order, sensibility, and using time – as I saw it – well.
I always had expectations of myself. And that often transferred to me having expectations of (and desiring some control over) how I spent my time – and, specifically, what results I gained from it.
That creates some problems.
When Thomas and I went to separate colleges, we talked for days about how our weekends together would be. If I made the trip north, I imagined dinner together, splitting a gelato at our favorite coffee house, then waking up early to make breakfast and go to Target and imaginatively pick out what doormat or desk our first house would have.
But I’d get up there, and we’d be indecisive on a restaurant. Then the gelato place would be too crowded with chai latte sippers for us to sit and actually enjoy said gelato. We’d stay up until 2 a.m. watching a movie with a terrible plot and wake up at 10 the next morning – my favorite time of the day sacrificed to sleep. And pretty soon it would be time to leave and I would think, “What happened to our weekend?”
My expectation wasn’t met. The result wasn’t enough.
I was so fixated on the “perfect” plan, making me unavailable to letting the weekend unfold for what it was. An informal dinner, yes. A late night, yes. But still a precious weekend. Not wasted time.
For many of us, the natural reaction is to face new (or even routine) situations with clenched fists, demanding a certain result. Not a loud, openly assertive kind of demanding, but the quieter, passive-aggressive kind.
Maybe you expect vacation to restore you back to zero stress. Maybe you have high hopes for that new job with a vague title. Maybe you’re putting in a whole bunch of time to a project that doesn’t seem to be giving you the results you want.
When we throw weight behind these expectations, consciously or not, our exterior toughens.
Our fists close tighter. We become less open-minded, more resentful, and more tired.
Not that planning is a bad thing, or working hard is useless. I don’t believe that. But my expectations have frequently caused me to be closed off to opportunities that offer inherent beauty – the kind of beauty I don’t see because my hands aren’t open to it.
My goal is unclenched fists.
I still want to be a conscious person; that hasn’t changed. But instead of trying to force the outcomes in a certain direction – my direction – I want to loosen my grip. Accept what happens with grace and humility, rather than stubbornness and irritability.
If we do that, if we can risk not knowing and keeping an open mind and appreciating things for what they are, I think we’ll find beauty.