Monday, June 20, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: Paralyzed by Expectations

Paralyzed by Expectations 

by Guest Blogger Michelle Rayburn

Some days, I’m paralyzed by expectations. I wake up each morning to a daunting to-do list and each item represents someone’s expectations—my own and those of others. As I face the list, I confront the reality that I cannot possibly accomplish that many things in one day. I begin the day with a sense of failed expectation.

Shortly after scanning my to-do list, I open my inbox and see all of the e-mails to which I haven’t replied. I know these people expect a reply, and soon. I flag a few messages and think, I’ll tackle that on my lunch break. Then I move on to start a project from my to-do list. I choose one that I think I can finish on this day, but as I wait for the creative energy needed for the project to fire up, my obsession with what still needs to get done just snuffs it back out. And so, I sit, too paralyzed to be productive, and too overwhelmed to meet expectations.

Somehow, tackling a project that’s free of expectations seems less overwhelming. So I scrub the bathtub. Sort the junk drawer. Hose off the deck. There’s no pressure in these tasks. I can deceive myself into believing I’m productive because I’m busy. Yet, tomorrow, I’ll still wake up to a huge to-do list.

If, like me, you’ve ever felt like you were spinning in a cycle of expectations with such centrifugal force that you can’t seem to get out, you know how it consumes you emotionally and spiritually. You know how hopeless it feels. I’m working on learning how to manage expectations.

A little while ago, I set some ambitious goals and shared them with fellow writer, Kathy Carlton Willis. A few weeks later, I sent a desperate e-mail to her whining about my lack of progress. She sent back wise words advising me to figure out what was the most important thing I needed to do and focus on that one thing right now.

That to-do list represents infinite opportunities to fail to meet expectations, and the only way I can get through it is by breaking it into manageable pieces and chewing on one piece at a time. I think it’s time for me to learn to do less multi-tasking and more uni-tasking. Today, I’ll write several letters and e-mails that need to get done. If that’s all I do, I’ll have finished something.

About Michelle:
Michelle Rayburn is a mom of two teen sons, wife of 21 years, and loves helping people connect their dots between faith, creativity, and everyday life. She is a freelance writer and speaker for women's events, conferences, and writers groups.


Friday, June 17, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: Defining Expectations

The more I think and talk about expectations, the more I wonder if how we interpret or define the word "expectations" determines whether it's healthy or toxic?

  1. A strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
  2. A belief that someone will or should achieve something
  3. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. An expectation about the behavior or performance of another person, expressed to that person, may have the nature of a strong request, or an order.
If we have high hopes for someone else, our expectations are based on a motive or desire for them to be successful, content, happy, blessed, etc. Our hopes are not based in any sort of self-fulfillment, but only for the other's well-being. To me, this is a healthy expectation.

Sometimes we expect others to produce a benefit in our lives because we have already paid out in some positive return in their lives. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. The problem with this is that sometimes, our motives aren't just for business (you pay my fee, I provide a service according to our contract). Sometimes our motives are based on selfishness—we manipulate the other party because we have an end result in mind. We compliment them and give them flowery praise, hoping they will recommend us for that position we hope to get. When we give to get, that's a scary place to be. A cheerful giver gives for the sheer joy of seeing the other person light up, for the incredible blessing of knowing it pleases God—even if no one ever finds out we gave of ourselves in some way.

Whether we say it or just think it, when we have a long list of "ought tos" and "should dos" we are on dangerous ground, manipulating another person to do something out of guilt or shame rather than out of a willing heart. When God gave us the Ten Commandments, they were a list, yes. And He expects us to follow these and other rules of life as set up in the Bible. He set these up, I'm guessing, partly because He knows these "10 Expectations" give us a formula for the best possible outcome in our lives. But I also know from His scripture, that He loves it when our obedience comes from our love for Him rather than out of fear. His Law spells out a recipe for reaping and sowing, rewards and consequences, etc. But His Law more than that sets up a way for us to know we are NOT God and that we need a Savior in our lives—they are a map to the only perfect one. We strive for righteousness, but know that the only true righteousness comes through Him. So, that's God's system. But who are we to think WE get to have a list of expectations similar to the Ten Commandments in another person's life? We are not God—in fact we are still very flawed, just other journeymen on the same path. So—setting up a list of rules for someone else (whether expressed or implied), using manipulation and guilt-trip tactics is a sign our expectations are toxic.

Do my expectations in others come out of a motive of hoping for something good in their lives, or hoping they bring something good to MY life? Could that be the bottom line on defining whether an expectation is toxic or healthy?

Monday, June 13, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: My Expectations are Showing...

Before we move into another aspect of dealing with expectations, I thought it might be helpful to identify some. I've made up a partial list. Have you ever wanted to say one of these to someone else (a friend, a family member, a co-worker, a client, a church member, a neighbor, you name it!)?

I Expect You To:
·               Desire to grow and progress as an individual
·               Have a code of ethics—integrity
·               Put God and others before self when it comes to priorities
·               Be honest with me
·               Work hard—not try to get by with as little as possible
·               Ask permission first, not assume you will merely ask for forgiveness later
·               Care about what’s important to me, even if it’s not important to you
·               Not just hear me, but truly listen
·               Nurture me
·               Affirm me with your words and your actions
·               Give me the benefit of the doubt
·               Treat me as you wish to be treated
·               Communicate truth rather than what you think I want to hear
·               (Well, that, and just plain COMMUNICATE!)
·               Realize I have work hours and play hours, my life isn’t just a hobby
·               Know how to give me service if you call yourself “customer service”
·               Know that poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on my part

Add your own expectations in the human race in the comments section below. When is it wrong to have expectations? Is it ever right?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: When Tough Love is Tough (expectations)

As I am using this time I’m calling my June Journey to pray for more wisdom and discernment regarding expectations, I’ve learned some new things (or been reminded of what I already knew but don’t always practice).

I can sum up some of these words of wisdom this way:
·                Sometimes others will do things that are not acceptable—that’s not judging, it’s just discerning.

·                God wants me to still love them, but I don’t have to love their attitudes or actions, and I don’t even have to LIKE the person right then! Often, I don’t like the person they are becoming. But I can still be hopeful that they will realign more with God’s principles (not out of legalism, but because I want His best for their lives).

·                My prayers for these times should be more about how I can best show God’s love to them rather than praying they respond in a way I find acceptable. I should evaluate, what does God want from this? How can I share the truth in love? How can I release my feelings so they aren’t invested in this? How can I be okay if this is never resolved to my satisfaction? The answer is, like another friend said, “it’s not about me.” It’s about me reflecting God’s Light even when others don’t.

·                This also requires discernment to know how involved to be with someone who isn’t going to be a positive part of my life. Maybe they are toxic to me. Or maybe they are going through life stuff and choosing the wrong path. The words “mark and avoid” come to mind from scripture. I know that sounds severe, but sometimes loving the way God loves requires tough love. He doesn’t expect me to hold their hands when they are slapping mine!

·                There are times that no matter what we do to make something right, the other person isn’t going to do right, and we have no control over that. All we have control over is our response. The way we deal with our feelings. Our choices. I can choose NOT to keep doing favors for these toxic ones if they’re going to treat me poorly.

·                Love doesn’t mean we roll over and play dead. It means we will release them, much like the prodigal son, to find their way back to what God wants in their lives. And being willing to receive them back when they come with repentant hearts. And in the meantime, NOT getting worked up about it. I can’t let their poor communications skills or their inconsideration render me ineffective for God's use.

I’m learning!

(c) 2011 Kathy Carlton Willis

Friday, June 10, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: When It Comes to Expectations...

When it comes to expectations…
I truly am learning to give the benefit of the doubt—but I’m also praying a little differently today based on some discernment.
I’m learning:
  • To communicate more clearly and not expect people to read my mind, or attempt to read their minds.
  • To realize everyone has “stuff” that comes up that keeps them from fulfilling their commitments, and I need to be as flexible with others as I hope they will be with me. That Golden Rule again!
  • When others reply or react in a way I find unacceptable, I have several options in handling the situation. First, I need to take it out of the realm of “feelings” and put it in the realm of godly thoughts and actions. Choose to react and respond AFTER I have a plan to do it the right way. I must be intentional in disengaging my feelings from the response so that I’m not allowing my buttons to be pushed.
  • Sometimes when others respond in ways that rub me the wrong way, it’s because I had in my mind a more acceptable response and they missed the mark. Here’s my expectations showing: my first goal in any misunderstanding even in a short e-mail or by phone would be to reassure the other party and alleviate their concerns, so I expect others to be that way with me. Only after I reassure someone, would I tackle the issues. When others don’t do that, they let me down. I need to realize others aren’t as in tune to affirming others.
  • My timetable is not the same as others. My priorities aren’t the same as others. I need to give grace on that, and be okay with the differences, even thanking God that we are all different.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been praying how to better handle my expectations because it’s not healthy to wait until I’m in the middle of a disappointment to come up with my game plan. I have to plan in advance to have a strategy how to handle issues. Otherwise, “in the moment” I might let my feelings mess things up (for me, or for others).

(Tomorrow I'll write about when to walk away...)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY: I Expect to Hear from You!

At least five times a week I find myself mulling over the question, "Why aren't they e-mailing me back, calling me, texting, or touching base on facebook?" Lack of communication. I expect them to reply in a timely manner. Why? Because I try to reply in a timely manner when people contact me. For business: urgent issues, same day, and non-urgent situations hear from me within a week (I have time slots each week to deal with each client's projects). For friends, they get a return reply in the first 24-hours (unless I miss a text since I don't check it often).

What happens when I don't get a reply in the time I expect? I start to worry with "What ifs." "What if I did something wrong?" "What if they don't like me?"

Then I confess, I check their facebook to see what they're up to. If it seems like they are responding to everyone but me, I start to get insecure. "I don't matter to her." "I'm at the bottom of her list."

See where expectations get me? I go on a downward spiral that's no good for anyone.

I've learned several lessons from this ongoing problem of mine. 
  • E-mail can be glitchy. My e-mails aren't always delivered to them, and their replies aren't always delivered to me. If in doubt, double-check by sending a "touching base" e-mail. If that gets no reply, try a direct message on facebook, a text, a phone call. Don't assume they are not replying.
  • Some situations paralyze people. They want to respond but they don't know where to begin. So they keep it on their "to be done later" stack. And they find every reason to do other things first. People avoid conflict, misunderstandings, and resolution because it requires transparency and truth in communication. It's not that they're mad so much as they don't know how to proceed.
  • I need to give the benefit of the doubt more when it comes to lack of communication. Rather than jumping to the wrong conclusion, since I'm not a mind-reader, I need to cut some slack. The Golden Rule comes in handy here!
  • Sometimes, people have a different priority system for communication than I do. People don't have to be like me in the way they handle their life stuff to be right or wrong. We're just different. No need to judge and no need to assume the worst.
  • People get burned out over communication. It's too much input. Too much to keep up with. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming, it's like a hoarder's house--it just piles up with the communication hoarder having no idea how to whittle away at it a little at a time. So, not hearing from someone doesn't mean they're mad or hate me, it might mean they are overwhelmed. And maybe, because I'm such a nice girl, they figure if anyone will understand them not having a timely response, it's me.
I'm still working on this one. Can anyone relate to this struggle, and if so, how do you handle it?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

JUNE JOURNEY (Expectations): They Don't Understand Me Lord!

When Greta rebuked me right before prayer meeting for not attending a function she chaired, I could feel the blood rush to face, my temples throbbing. I made a lame attempt to explain that in addition to my full time job, I was writing two books. When her only response was to stare at me in silence, I stuffed my hurt and indignation. At least, during the one hour prayer meeting. But the next morning found me complaining to my Father. 

Read more from "They Don't Understand Me Lord!" at The Pastor's Wife Speaks.

JUNE JOURNEY: Should I Expect Less?

This month I plan to jump back into blogging (after taking time off to move) to write about an issue with which I struggle. Expectations. It all boils down to this—I tend to expect people to act, react, and think like I do (or BETTER). 

Pastor said something in his sermon Sunday just HOURS after I had the same realization in my own heart-to-heart self-talk: To expect anything of others is to not have unconditional love, and it is a form of judging. OUCH. Yes, the Bible and God have expectations for Christ-followers, but that's not my job. 

I can lead by example, teach principles, mentor and come alongside of those who are still on the journey (and I hope others come alongside of me, because I need work too!). I can even step out on a limb and say "thus saith the Lord" (well, in real-life speak it would be more like "God says...") But when I expect something outside of my control, I set myself up for all sorts of frustrating emotions, and it doesn't really help the one on whom I'm projecting my expectations.

Expectations tend to let me down, disappoint me, cause me to act out of wrong motives, and push all the wrong buttons. I know that. How do I fix this problem? I'm going to spend this month working on it, and will post my observations here.

If you struggle with this too, would you like to go on this June Journey with me? Feel free to post your comments as we go along, or if you want to remain anonymous to the blog, write me directly at: kathy@kathycarltonwillis and I can post your thoughts anonymously. That way we can all support each other.