A friend recently said to me, “I didn’t expect life to be this hard.” That one little sentence got stuck in my head and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Awhile back, I came to the realization that I’d been living my life with the expectation that, at some point, the shit would stop. Expecting that life wouldn’t be this hard. That eventually, life would even out and the ugly, painful bits would stop their broken-record cycle, and that at that point, I would be able to take a deep breath, and then a huge sigh, and then just be happy. 

Well. The moment that I realized I’d been carrying around that expectation was the same moment that I realized what an empty hope it was. The shit’s never gonna stop happening. So rather than being angry at the universe for not tossing it in the rubbish bin before it has a chance to enter the reality-sphere of my life, I decided that my only option was to change the one thing in my life that I can control: my expectations. 

The only reason that we’re ever disappointed by something is because we had an expectation that it would be different. For example, I’ve had expectations that my health would never be compromised, that I wouldn’t be betrayed by people that I trust, that heartbreak would lead to a love that made it worth it rather than leading to more heartbreak… you get the idea. When cold, hard reality collided with these misplaced expectations, I would be devastated—and that devastation can last anywhere from days to years, depending on the situation. What a drag.

I was a captive to those expectations.

“It should have been this way… That should never have happened… If only, if only, if only…” became the litany of my existence, and I held a pretty serious grudge over the fact that the true reality of my life wasn’t as ‘pretty’ and didn’t feel as good as the picture painted by my expectations. I felt ‘gypped’ somehow—as if I actually were owed something. I know—ridiculous. But honestly, that’s what expectations are—a belief that we’re owed something, whether from a person or from the universe.

Freeing my heart from expectations has been a challenging but incredibly peace-inducing process (I say process because it is—and probably always will be—ongoing.) Living free of expectations doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt or grieve—or even get angry—when shit happens. Those are all normal and healthy emotions to express when walking through a difficult situation. Living free of expectations simply means that when the shit does happen, as it inevitably always will, I’m able to accept it, embrace it, feel every bit of the ugliness, and walk out on the other side, rather than being caught up in anger and self-pity over the fact that it happened in the first place.

There have been times when I, too, have said ‘I didn’t expect life to be this hard.’ But I also could never have expected how incredibly beautiful, rich, and inspiring it would be. And I find that since I’ve distanced myself from my previous litany of expectations, those things—the beautiful and inspiring things—somehow seem to be much more predominant in my life.

What are some of your expectations, and how have they positively or negatively affected the reality of your life? 

**I originally wrote this for publication at Elephant Journal. You can see the original posting here.