How Letting Go of Expectations Enables You to Live Better
Expectations can lead you astray, and hanging on to them can lead to disappointment and angst. The author learned three lessons from her peach trees about unmet expectations—and how letting go of expected outcomes can lead to a better life.
We moved into our new home in December. The two peaches in our front yard were, at the time, dormant. The barren branches showed no sign of leaves, buds, or fruit. Yet, I found myself anticipating what the trees would look like in spring and summer.
I expected them to change and bear fruit. And they did. It was exciting to watch the changes over the next few months. Small leaves appeared, telling me the trees were, indeed, alive. Soon there were buds and, gradually, the unfolding of peach blossoms. I celebrated their appearance and, awed by their beauty, took pictures to share with my daughter. By then I could almost taste the peaches. They would be juicy and sweet. They would look and smell so delicious. I started making plans for the peaches: I would share some with the neighbors; I would have sliced peaches over oatmeal; I would find the best peach cobbler recipe.
Finally, small peaches appeared on the trees. I checked on them daily. I watered them several times a week. ... And then I started to notice the birds. They were eating the peaches—my peaches! I hung strings of bright beads to scare the birds away. I wrapped the trees with netting. The birds were not deterred.
Soon, almost all the peaches—hundreds of them—were eaten by the birds. I was so disappointed. The peach saga, however, taught me something about expectations: They can lead you astray. I was so focused on what I anticipated would happen in the future (enjoying the peaches) that I forgot some lessons I had learned from previous experiences.
Here are three lessons I learned from unmet expectations and how letting go and lead to a better life.
Lesson #1: You’re not in control.
My experience with the peaches was humbling. I thought I could control the outcome, but I lost the battle. I’ve been there before, where I thought I could make something happen, anticipated an outcome that never materialized, and allowed myself to get upset. I now ask: “When will I ever learn?”
Lesson #2: Nature’s gifts don’t really belong to us.
We bought our house several months ago, and the peach trees are in our front yard. I thought they belonged to us. Nature doesn’t think that way. The birds never honor names on a deed; neither do the rain, the sun, and the air. We sometimes talk about nature’s resources and may even think those resources are ours for the taking. But, I now ask: “What of the Earth really belongs to us?”
Lesson #3: At times, letting go may be more productive than hanging on.
We might define expectations as “strong hopes or beliefs that something will happen or that you will get something you want.” That definition fits my initial experience with the peach trees. It took me a long time to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to get the peaches I expected. But once I stopped hanging on to the expectation, I was able to move on to something more productive.
I removed all of the partially eaten peaches from the trees and from the ground around the trees, which took care of another problem—swarms of ants the partially eaten peaches had attracted. Once the peaches were gone, so too were the ants.
I’m now a little more careful when it comes to expectations. Hanging on to them, I realize, can lead to disappointment and angst. While I never received bodily nourishment from the peaches this year, I did find food for my soul.
I’m already thinking about next year—but am keenly aware of the pitfalls of expectations. I believe there’s an “isness” that I need to consider. “Isness,” to me, means accepting things as they are. I intend to still work toward goals (even toward the goal of enjoying next year’s peaches), but I hope to do so without being attached to the outcomes.
Not minding what happens is, of course, a difficult thing to do. In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle acknowledges this difficulty. He speaks of the importance of being in alignment with what is or what happens. He refers to this alignment as an “inner nonresistance”—meaning not labeling the “what is” as good or bad. I know those peaches would have tasted good, but accepting the “isness” of life offers a different form of deliciousness.