Embracing the Unexpected

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I came across a quote that a friend of mine had shared: “It’s the unexpected that changes our lives.”

I was slightly perplexed at first. I am an avid planner and I like my life to have a degree of structure and organization. Hadn’t all of my greatest accomplishments and best experiences been planned for? As I delved into the storage of all my memories, however, I found that my best memories - the ones that truly changed my life - were those that were unexpected.

I have also learned, based on my self-reflection and my PSYC-100 course, that withholding too many rigid expectations hasn't provided me with much happiness or sense of fulfillment.

In PSYC-100, I was introduced to the concept of Expectation Confirmation Theory. This theory proclaims that when we hold a certain expectation of an object, the outcome of that object determines the level of satisfaction that we obtain. As a result, if we hold too many expectations and disconfirming results occur, we will experience more dissatisfaction. Essentially, if we hold too many (high) expectations, then we will never be truly satisfied, because more than often, life doesn’t play out exactly how we want it to.

What if we just stopped holding too many expectations? There is a fine line between holding reasonable expectations for others and yourself (being punctual or hard working, for example) and holding expectations that don’t have any wiggle room with their desired outcomes (such as a fully planned first date which includes no sneezing, no blushing, no coughing, no eating weirdly, and no saying anything stupid - if you can actually do this, hit me up). Expectations that are too fixed often get crushed in the face of life.

This is my proposal to you: reduce your expectations to the point of realism, and embrace the unexpected. Why?

1. Too many expectations equals dissatisfaction

When we have too many expectations, we focus on what life “ought” to be versus taking it for what it is. When we have these sorts of expectations, it makes our lives painful and emotional, especially when things don’t play out how we want them to. Essentially, when our expectations aren’t fulfilled, we internalize this as being a failure and as something that’s solely negative (which is completely wrong). We need to stop hoarding these unrealistic expectations. It’s time to clean out the expectations junk drawer, my friend.

2. It allows us to practice mindfulness

When we are solely focused on our life’s roadmap, we become too future-oriented. Having reasonable expectations without limiting timelines allows us to focus on the now. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to look back on how far we have come and to reward ourselves for it. Mindfulness allows our futures to be better, simply by not focusing on them. By thinking about the here and now, we can acknowledge how we’ve navigated these utterly complex yet extraordinary roadmaps of what our lives actually are.

3. Changing plans often can make for better plans

Just because there’s a change in your life that doesn’t match with your expected plans doesn’t mean that you have failed. Instead, it means there are newly provided opportunities for you, which is an accomplishment in itself. Although new directions may appear to suck, you will eventually end up getting to the right destination that’s meant for you.

4. You get to learn about yourself

Minimizing expectations allows for true self-realization. In fact, life’s surprises may reveal aspects of yourself that you have never learned about before. Perhaps your desires, dreams, and goals aren’t exactly what you truly want. The experiences that you haven’t yet had or planned for will typically open you to opportunities to learn just that. You get to figure out what your goals, dreams, and desires actually are through these unexpected events.

5. Life is fundamentally nonlinear

Continue to create structured, linear plans for ourselves makes our lives overly rigid. When this happens, we constrain ourselves within the walls of the archetypal outline of our lives, which essentially leads us to missing out. If we are too focused on the destination point, then we aren’t truly living. Allowing ourselves to hold reasonable expectations with a degree of flexibility will open ourselves up to not-so-expected events, which will ultimately make our lives better. Trust me, the best things in life come with a degree of surprise.

It is important to note that this is not an excuse to be lazy. You still have to hold a certain level of realistic expectations. This means that you can’t just wait around for things to happen. Instead, you need to work hard and create goals for yourself while incorporating your own values at hand throughout the process of achieving them. With that being said, you must embrace the concept of flexibility during the construction of a game plan for yourself.

You may not get to that envisioned and precise destination point, but you will get somewhere that’s meant for you.

Ultimately, unexpected events create some of the best parts of our lives. Embrace them.