There are days and times when our expectations don’t line up with our reality. Often, we go into a situation with expectations of how it will turn out, and then—for whatever reason—what actually occurs fails to live up with how we imagined it. At the same time, there are occasions when our expectations are quite low, and we are extraordinarily delighted with how things turn out.
I’ve marvelled at how so much of a life is a struggle to realize the expectations that we have for ourselves, or how we struggle with the disappointment of others not living up to the expectations that we have of them. And yet, is this really fair or reasonable? Who are we to impose our expectations on others? And why do so often fail to appreciate those things around us that are truly wonderful and sources of delight?
I have noticed this in my own life recently, as I continue to navigate through the transition from Alberta to Ontario. This transition is both professional and personal, and is something that got underway two years ago. Since that time, both my wife and I have been in a state of flux. There was the painful process of shutting down our business and transitioned our life from Edmonton. There was the realization of how much of my sense of identity and sense of purpose was inextricably wrapped up in my professional identity. And there was the gradual transition towards a settled state in Ontario, which only recently involved moving into our new house.
An event that stood out starkly was the first trip to downtown Toronto, after completing the move to our new house. For 20 months, our lives had been contained in a 900 sq. ft. condo, with most of our possessions in storage. Finally we found ourselves in a house with space, air and room. The contrast was significant.
While I was in Toronto, I was surprisingly resentful at times. I was frequently frustrated with the traffic, annoyed by the self-absorption of others and avoided much of the activity and bustle where possible. Now, for the first time a visitor, my perspective changed completely. A Saturday morning shopping trip that would in normal circumstances been frustrating was actually a delight. I enjoyed wandering the St. Lawrence Market. I stopped to talk to an artist exhibiting her paintings. I had a conversation with a dude on a vintage Vietnamese rickshaw while stopped at a traffic light. I was delighted to discover a place near the condo regularly offers an eclectic array of cooking classes. I was (and this will astonish many) patient with other drivers. In short, I was having fun. I was enjoying discovering the city, and the delights it had to offer.
Toronto had not changed. It was the same city, with the same people and the same pressures and opportunities. The only thing that had changed was my perspective. I had shifted my view of myself, and of my surroundings; I was looking at them through different eyes, and appreciating more what I saw.
The challenge many of us face is that our reality is socially constructed. And it is socially constructed by us. We choose how we experience situations, and we choose the degree to which we appreciate or resent our circumstances. We individually and collectively write the scripts of our lives, and in doing so we determine whether they will be tragedy, comedy or drama. The nature of the the energy we put out into the world is, largely, the nature of the energy we will get back.
While I have long been aware of the principles and theoretical structures at work behind these truths, that Saturday in Toronto was an interesting understanding of what it really means to construct our own reality. We determine much of our experiences, and we determine all of our perceptions of those experiences. We can choose to enjoy our circumstances, and we can choose to be made miserable by them.
I am a fortunate person in a fortunate place. I am going to try to remember that more.