Letting Go of Expectations and Letting Joy Find You

Letting Go

“The best things in life are unexpected, because there were no expectations.” ~Eli Khamarov

Are there situations in your life where letting go of a desired outcome could potentially improve the outcome?

I’d been invited to the Stern Grove festival, the free summer concert series, to see Andrew Bird. A friend of mine texted me the night before, letting me know he was setting up a picnic for it.

I was feeling agitated that evening after spending more than I’d wanted to at a birthday dinner (which I was happy to attend, notwithstanding), and I anticipated wanting to recharge the next day, in solitude. (Pretending to have more money than you do is exhausting.) So I turned him down. “Enjoy it!” I texted.

“Of course I will—it’s Andrew Bird!” he replied.

The next morning, I settled into a café to work. But I couldn’t even start. As I stared at my laptop screen, resisting the pull to work on a Sunday and mildly resenting myself for need-choosing to freelance, I found myself Googling the Stern Grove website.

I clearly wanted to go. So I closed my laptop and got out of there.

Here’s where non-attachment comes in, because I knew that if I were going to actually haul my butt to that show, I’d have to mind-hack the excursion every step of the way.

That part of me who resists working on a Sunday? She also resists not working. And going out. And being social. And stress in general, which of course is everywhere, relentlessly. So I do a lot of inner work on her behalf.

As I walked to my car, I thought, “Well, I’m just going to take a nice Sunday drive to a new part of the city. If I decide at any point to not go, I won’t. I’ll turn it into a joyride around the Bay, which I enjoy doing anyway and would probably be doing later today.”

That allowed me to relax, and I could take in the views, the landscape, even the traffic—because hey, I wasn’t on any timeline. “If I don’t make this in time, I just won’t go!” Win-win.

I navigated my way to the park; I’m a Bay Area native but had never been! I was pleased to put the different neighborhoods together for myself.

I drove past groups of blanket-clad concertgoers carrying coolers and maintained my detached stance toward my rising stress. “If I can’t find parking, I just won’t go. No problem.”

I drove around for five minutes and parked four blocks away, in a residential goldmine others were pulling into as I walked.

I arrived, alone and new to the venue. If you’ve never seen it, Stern Grove is gorgeous; you have ocean views as you’re headed there, and once you’re inside it’s as if the city doesn’t exist.

I breathed in eucalyptus and felt the cool San Francisco air on my skin. I observed the crowds spreading out on the ground level and nesting on tiered ledges facing the wooded stage.

Not a bad start at all. But I wanted to find my friend.

Again, the mind-hack: “If I don’t find him, that’s okay. I’m just here to check this place out and watch a show.”

The thing about all this self-talk is that I really believed it. That’s the rub: you have to sincerely buy it. There’s no gaming the system when it comes to enjoying the unexpected.

This is a story about a concert, but the concept applies broadly to the more serious, high-stakes parts of life, too.

What are your expectations in your relationships, for your career, of the world? What are you holding on to that letting go of might ease? (And understand that letting go does not mean giving up.)

The next time you notice yourself attaching to an expectation, pause and check out how that feels inside. I’ll bet that your mind and body probably don’t like it very much. How can you soften it?

As I wandered the aisles, scanning for my friend, I ran into an old roommate. We hadn’t seen each other for three years until the week before, at a house party. “Text me if you find your friend,” he told me. “I’m with a big group up front and we have plenty of space and booze and food.”

Well okay, then! I did find my friend (with another mutual friend who’d come along), and despite some minor stress over hand stamps and ground access, we joined my ex-roommate and his buddies for wine and beer, fruit, deviled eggs, and vegan snacks mere yards from the stage and Andrew Bird’s spinning double-horn speaker.

I stared at my surroundings in gratitude and awe. A perfectly unexpected Sunday afternoon with lush grove, loving company, and the atmospheric sounds of Andrew Bird and the Hands of Glory to match.

Letting go can be the key to letting joy find you. Try it out sometime—it’s worth it.

Man in the sky image via Shutterstock

About Shirin Shoai

A San Francisco-based psychotherapist, Shirin Shoai loves helping people become more fully themselves, particularly those working through anxiety, life and career transitions, relationships, and self-esteem. She provides a nonjudgmental, growth-oriented space for you to become the person you’re meant to be—while appreciating the richness of who you already are. Learn more at Restorative Psychotherapy.

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