The daily routine of “setting intentions” is relatively new to me, but I’ve found it to be a practice that feeds my soul and nurtures fledgling hope. Those few quiet moments of looking at the big picture and remembering what’s important, have done much to balance the frantic pace with which I often tackle my to-do list. The trouble is, some days, those good intentions can morph into expectations of how the day will go, and I don’t need to tell you what that leads to.
This came to the forefront for me, ironically, on our vacation last month. I knew better, of course, but it’s easy to think that vacation will free us from all those pesky logistics that bog us down in the day-to-day. This was our third trip to the Pacific Northwest. On one hand, the beautiful thing about a third trip anywhere is that you have thoroughly crossed-off the “must-sees,” so we felt no need to repeat the Space Needle or the Aquarium or the EMP. We did, however, have a handful of favorites we wanted to re-visit, all food-related of course, and all were a bust for various reasons. Each was a momentary disappointment, but we found new favorites: giant platters of nachos drenched in cheese, sour cream and guac, bourbon cocktails, smoked salmon pizza with feta, and plate-sized molasses cookies. Without a doubt, our time was much better spent remaining open and creating new experiences than trying to re-create past experiences.
As a leader, I’m constantly talking to people about expectations. Clarifying expectations is a necessary part of doing life with other people. At some point, though, we all have to learn: We can only control ourselves – and sometimes barely that, right? – and we don’t get to set intentions for anyone else. We don’t get to force anyone or anything into our little map of the day. All bets are off living in this crazy world.
The best relationships are the best not because we have achieved perfection, but instead because we’ve freed ourselves from the expectation of perfection. We’re different and it can get messy and we have off days, and it’s OK. We apologize when needed, but most of the time, if I say something ungraceful or they say something that doesn’t feel great, we just get past it. We let the history we have together cover it. We grow together in learning to navigate the messiness.
Setting intentions isn’t about manipulating or manifesting behaviors in others, it’s about deciding how we want to show up in our day.
This can get especially tricky when it comes to the expectations we have for ourselves. They’re subtle but persistent, and logistically, situationally, relationally, everything can go smoothly and yet, sometimes, an experience just doesn’t live up to our expectations. For example, I’ve been focusing on more creative pursuits, and I’ll have these visions of myself sitting at a coffee shop with words tumbling through my mind faster than I can capture them on paper. I’ll arrange for a quiet evening, get my chai tea latte, find a cozy window table, open my notebook and then… nothing. Well, sometimes. The trick is, when the cascade of beautiful words and ideas doesn’t come, you can’t give up – don’t switch to e-mail or Facebook in the absence of inspiration. Instead, dig in to your intentions. Look for inspiration through prompts or art or a blog you love. That loving attention to your creativity will eventually coax the words to come. The same goes for any other expectations we have of ourselves. As long as you don’t check out, you’ll eventually get where you need to be.
What is most important to you this week? When you step back and look at the bigger picture, what do you see? Does this change your perspective on any aspect of your current circumstances?