“When you learn to accept instead of expect, you'll have fewer disappointments.” ~Unknown
Two days before, I had been in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, thirty-six weeks pregnant and screaming with pain. It was excruciating, the worst pain I had ever experienced, and I had experienced lots.
As the ambulance officer supported me out the front door and into the back of the ambulance, all I could think was, “How is this going to affect my baby?”
After two ambulances, two hospitals, and a barrage of tests, I was sitting on the hospital bed, absolutely exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
My thoughts started to go down the same well-worn path: “Why me? Why do I have to deal with this? Life isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t fair!”
It had been a common theme for me. I knew how life was supposed to turn out, and mine wasn’t it! It seemed like I had challenges to deal with that others didn’t—that my lot was harder.
I felt like all my energy and potential was being sucked up in dealing with adverse circumstances, leaving me no resources to do the things I really wanted to do in life.
For the last twenty-three years, I had battled Crohn’s disease, a debilitating and incurable illness that had resulted in increasing pain, illness, and limitation—until then. Four weeks before the birth of my second child, I had ended up in hospital with massive pain.
My doctors didn’t know how to deal with a woman having a Crohn’s flare up who was also pregnant, and wanted to induce labor to deliver the baby prematurely. I was faced with making choices about medical treatments that could have serious impacts on me and my unborn child.
As I sat there, I could feel the familiar frustration, dissatisfaction, and discontentment flooding over me.
And in that unlikely place, I had an epiphany.
Life is not the problem; expectations are.
I finally realized, looking back at my life, that every time I'd struggled to deal with the hand I’d been dealt, it was because my expectations were clashing with reality. I had created a picture in my head of how life should be and when things didn’t turn out, I didn’t cope.
It wasn’t life that was the problem; it was my unrealistic expectations. I had thought that being idealistic and striving for a goal was a good thing, but it wasn’t leading to a contented and fulfilled life.
If you are feeling hardly done by and frustrated about your circumstances, ask yourself if there is a mismatch between the reality of your situation and what you expected. If there is, you have inadvertently set yourself up for frustration, disappointment, and even anger.
While these emotions are natural when we experience adversity, they are not helpful to live with long term.
The only way to resolve them is to face up to the situation you are actually in and accept it. This does not mean we should not have any expectations but if we want to be content, we need to accept what is during hard times while trusting for something better in the future.
Instead of trying to change the world, change your focus.
While I was in the hospital, I talked to other mothers who had been there for the whole of their pregnancy or whose babies would need surgery as soon as they were born. It made me realize that while I was in a hard place, things could have been so much worse.
I realized that I was only seeing one side of my life. I was very good at seeing what was not there (that I thought should have been), but was ignoring what was there that was good.
In thinking about my illness, I was focusing on the pain and how it was stopping me from earning an income, and how my energy was limited, and how the whole situation was negatively affecting my family.
But I wasn’t embracing and being grateful for how other people, particularly my husband, cared for me, how I was growing in wisdom and compassion, and how the experience was teaching me more about myself.
If you seem to be coping with more than your fair share of frustration and disappointment, check your focus for a minute. Are you only seeing the gaps, where reality isn’t meeting your expectations, or are you also acknowledging the good that is coming your way?
It may be helpful to create a list with two columns where you can explore what you are feeling about your circumstances.
On the right side, write down where your expectations aren’t aligning with reality: where the gaps are, what sucks, and what you think shouldn’t be happening.
On the other side, write down what is positive: where the divine is in the situation and what is great about this. This is not about being falsely positive. This is about finding the moments of genuine joy and connection in the midst of pain.
Pay attention to how you feel when making each list. Having refocused the situation for yourself, you can now choose which emotions to take into the future about that experience.
The great thing about this exercise is that it frees you from striving to change the world to match your own expectations. Instead, all you need to feel happier is a little shift in your focus.
Embrace the pain and then take control.
I learned that I needed to embrace the whole experience, both the good parts and the gaps, and that gave me the ability to choose a more empowering set of beliefs and meaning for what was happening to me. This in turn helped me discover new possibilities that I couldn’t see before.
Having refocused myself, I was able to sort through a lot of complex information and options regarding medical treatment, define what outcomes I wanted, and make a constructive action plan that put me in charge of my health.
And the end result? That time round, beginning with circumstances that weren’t promising at all, I got all the outcomes I wanted, including a healthy baby and a natural birth.
The irony about accepting the situations we find ourselves in is that once we have, we are able to make decisions and take action that moves us toward the place we truly want to be. We stop feeling like a victim of circumstance and more like the captain of our own ship.
That doesn’t mean that we will get what we want every time. Life doesn’t work like that. However, coming to a place of acceptance gives us the strength and peace to deal with whatever outcome we receive, whether desired or not, and the ability to move forward rather than getting stuck in adversity.
Empowering questions we can ask ourselves include:
- What outcomes do I want? Write down every result that is important to you in the situation.
- What beliefs can I choose that will support me right now? Give yourself an empowering set of beliefs that help you feel hopeful in the situation.
- What action can I take? Outline actions you can take today, this week, and in the next month that will move you toward your outcomes.
You can soar above adversity.
These days, I still have Crohn’s disease but have largely given up my unrealistic expectations—and not living with that frustration has taken a lot of stress away from my life. I am in better health than I have been for years and achieving more.
It took a while for me to let go of my idealism and find the good in adversity, but by practicing it over a number of years, I have gotten better at it.
We all live with circumstances that are not ideal. Life is too short to live in frustration that things are not the way we want them to be.
Why you? Because there are important jewels you can discover in the midst of adversity that will reward you for the rest of your life. You are strong enough to embrace reality and perform the alchemy that will transform frustration into contentment and positive outcomes.
We’re all here rooting for you.
Go and make it happen.