Expectations and Realities
Trading expectations for acceptance.
“We can make our own plans and judge them by our narrow expectations, or we can experience life as the boundless reality of the One who created it.”- Holly Sprink
On August 16th, my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary!
I surprised him with a little getaway to a small, beautiful place on the South-Western Shore of Nova Scotia, called Arcadia. (Interesting fact: The word Arcadia (utopia) is traced back to a Greek province named Arcadia, which refers to a branch of agriculture, land of peace and harmony with nature).
I wanted to “awe” my husband with the perfect, and most relaxing, weekend escape.
Our stay was described as an Ocean Breeze Tiny-home.
The Tiny-home — situated on a magnificent 1/2 mile Atlantic Oceanfront secluded property. The space had a 6’2” high, main floor hallway that opened up to the sight of a beautiful hand-painted wall mural, which then opened into a 10’ ceiling — with wooden stairs leading up to the small, but intimate loft.
After booking this sweet little Airbnb, I was asked by the host if there was anything she could do to provide us with the most special weekend — even offering to provide a variety of excursion experiences, including a dinner by the ocean.
Sounds amazing, right?
Given the occasion for booking this quaint, and picturesque getaway, it spoke to the very simple, yet sentimental vision I had for our weekend away.
Now, let me stop right here, and have a quick conversation about EXPECTATIONS.
Expectations are our brain’s strategy of making sense of the world and our experiences within it, and of course, as part of our brain’s function, it is continuously generating expectations. These expectations are often cultivated from our individual experiences, knowledge and the personal belief about occurrences that may take place in the future. There are potential consequences to holding expectations, including the impact our beliefs have on our thought processes — how we think, feel and behave, which ultimately impacts our mental health.
When reality is aligned with our expectations, it feels great, resulting in the release of dopamine — contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. However, if there a lack of alignment or discrepancies with the expectation, our brain which is hard-wired to react to stress, signals a threat, releasing the stress hormone called cortisol ( I have extra cortisol if anyone needs an additional dose … *sigh). Long-term activation of our stress-response system and over-exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones (i.e., adrenaline), can significantly disrupt our body’s processes and puts us at in increased risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.
In my own experience, certain expectations would often cause a considerable amount of stress, especially if my expectations didn’t add up to reality. If I am constantly expecting life to always turn out the way I want it to, I am guaranteed to experience disappointment — triggering anxious thoughts and feelings. I’ve been faced with this over and over again, in terms of how I anticipate things to unfold. Sometimes things go as planned — other times, I’m led to great let-downs.
Most of us have this idealized vision of how our lives and various situations within it are ‘supposed’ to turn out. When those ideas do not come to fruition, it can often lead us to feelings of disappointment, sometimes regret, and even resentment.
We live in an unpredictable world. Things happen unexpectedly and it’s important to remain aware of this fact of life. However, because we know this, it doesn’t mean that our brains will automatically readjust our expectations to avoid disappointment. One of the most effective ways I have found to manage the expectation vs. reality trap, is through awareness. Greater awareness, provides us with the opportunity to realistically refine our expectations and outcomes, with a clearer and more effective approach to responding.
Awareness is part of how I am attempting to repeatedly re-wire my expectations by providing my brain with a different choice of experience — this is how we build new brain pathways, through the act of repeating a new behaviour. When we understand our old circuits, it give us the power to redesign new (and more productive) pathways.
Last weekend was a prime example of this:
When we arrived to the Tiny-home location, instantly, I felt a sense of disappointment. I expected to see the ocean from our spot, instead, I found ourselves surrounded by forest, with no ocean to be seen. Rather than letting this bring me down (which could have potentially taken me into a spiral of discouragement) — I reminded myself of the opportunity that was in front of me — to escape the city and relax.
I asked myself, “Did this spot not provide a sense of peace and calmness?” Of course it did. There were no expectations from my husband (at this point, he didn’t even know any of the plans for the weekend), and he too reminded me that we were away together and will make the best out of whatever the weekend holds for us. It’s amazing what tuning into gratitude can do to help alter your perception of a situation and manage your mood.
That evening, we prepared to set out on a walk which would lead us to the very special anniversary dinner I had planned for us.
Retreating to a secluded property on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean — surrounded by wildlife; the wind softly whistling through the trees, competing with the sounds of the waves, drifting in and out from the shoreline. I pictured us journeying on this distinguished path — surrounded by flowers and stepping stones covering a small ravine, leading us to the horizon of the land meeting sky. And there awaits, our table lined with white linen, ready for a delicious lobster and steak dinner.
The path, which had seemed so inviting only moments earlier, became narrow, and rocky with interlacing roots. The path, was largely dominated by lush greenery and overgrowth, with intermittent areas of water-logged soil. The path, slightly twisted and at times invaded by grass, forced us to leave stakes along the way, to help guide us back. And instead of walking hand-in-hand to our destination, our hands were actively swatting mosquitoes and clearing branches along the way.
(*Side note: Our Airbnb host, explained to us before the journey, that the walk would be tricky at times, and on the morning of our walk had indicated that the conditions were not ideal for dinner at that location. It was 30 degrees with the humidity, little to no wind (which was unusual), and many more bugs than normal. However, knowing this, we thought we would be able to handle it — after all, I had this idea all planned out for a special evening and we were going to make it happen!)
As we were walking on this very rustic path, I couldn’t help but to reflect on our wedding day, eleven years ago — and the influence of my expectations then.
I was 18 years young, when Chris and I officially met and started dating — and as you could imagine, at that point in my life, I had very limited life or romantic relationship experience. I was 23 years of age, and he was 27 when we got married — on that thunderous and rainy day — August 16, 2008.
The original plan for our wedding ceremony was to be held at the stunning, Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens in the beautiful town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia. However, due to the torrential downfall forecasted for the week, we were forced to move the ceremony to a new venue. I remember feeling disappointed that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to share our vows in one of the most gorgeous, unique habitants of the Acadian region. The Botanical Gardens is a popular tourist destination — and if you have not walked through the lush, elegant gardens, I highly recommend you check it out.
I was saddened, as I had envisioned what my “perfect” wedding day would look like:
Sun glistening; birds signing in the distance; butterflies fluttering about, welcoming our guests, as the sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon played softly in the background — leading me down the petal-lined aisle to meet my future husband, as he awaits my hand in marriage.
Stay with me now … as I lead you out of my fairytale world, into reality …
Instead, my reality evolved into a whirlwind of stressful energy that completely took over. I remember sitting anxiously in the limo with my mother and bridal party, with anticipation of the wedding events that were about to take place; while at the same time, sitting in frustration at the fact that mother nature decided to open up the clouds to let all the rain out on that particular day.
My wedding would be ruined. My guests would be drenched and unhappy. We wouldn’t be able to have our wedding photos taken outside. The rain would destroy the very special design of my wedding day that I had always imagined.
So I thought …
But in reality, did the rain have any bearing on the outcome of the wedding?
In that moment, my expectation of what a perfect wedding day would look like, clashed with the realities of the actual day that was present and in front of me. As it drew closer to our ceremony, I forgot about what was transpiring outside, and I accepted that my expectation of having a flawless wedding day was not going to impact the purpose of the day — the union between my husband and I.
Imagine us telling our wedding guests that the wedding is delayed (or cancelled) until the rain stops, or until we had ideal weather. We didn’t — we carried on with the plans, adapted accordingly and made accommodations to the unpredictable weather systems in Nova Scotia. Weather conditions were not going to guarantee the success of our marriage, anyway … even though, some would say that rain on your wedding day is considered good luck.
Our wedding day was serendipitous.
We shared our vows on the beautifully lit stage at Festival Theatre in Wolfville, surrounded by over 500 of our family and friends, who despite the outrageous weather, showed up to show us their love and support.
It may have been raining outside, but inside was reigning adoration.
During our cocktail reception, we discovered the rain had held off for a bit, which provided us with an opportunity to shoot some photos outside. So then, it was off to the Botanical Gardens to get as many photos as we could before the rain started again. As we finished up the last set of photos, we felt tiny drops of water landing upon us — and in that moment, I remember feeling thankful for the weather changing — allowing us the time to have our wedding photos taken in this stunning garden.
Fast forward 11 years:
I find myself in a similar space of acknowledging expectations and accepting reality.
I looked up a few synonyms for the word, “Expectations,” and came to a compelling discovery — expectations are not definitive.
Expectations: the anticipation of things hoped for. Expectations are intentions and the possibility that things will work out as anticipated. Expectations are less about promise and more about trust. Trusting in the process that is intended as part of the journey (whether we planned for it, or not). And as I have experienced many times over in my life, expectations of things outside of our control (mother nature, other people, etc.), cannot be controlled, but we can control how we respond and let it impact us.
We carried on our journey together, laughing and making jokes about how I planned this ‘hike’ of an adventure to our dinner. Chris made a few jokes (of course) about how years before this moment, I wouldn’t have dared this expedition, and probably would have had a meltdown — considering how the events of the day were unfolding … he’s probably right.
Hey, I’ve grown, ok!
Emerging from our walk, we had a private view of the captivating, Atlantic Ocean. We made it. Despite unfavourable walking conditions, we did it! We took a walk across the large rocks that lined the shoreline and enjoyed the spectacular views as our dinner was being prepared.
We disconnected with the world, and reconnected with one another, as we laughed about each experience — the walk, manoeuvring around the tiny-home, and the growth of our journey in general. Reflective of our eleven years of marriage — and trust us, it has not been an easy walk in the park — but the hills, and valleys that we have already travelled, make it all a part of our special and unique journey together.
Our anniversary weekend away was a great adventure that I wouldn’t change. It wasn’t executed as “perfectly” planned — but in the end, the plans turned out perfect for us.
This was an experience.
This was our experience.
Founder, Life Out Loud
Martina has over 10 years’ professional experience working as a Personal Development Counsellor and Instructor and holds a diploma in Social Services (Addictions Counselling concentration) from the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), as well as a BA (Hons) in Psychology from Mount St. Vincent University. In addition to her education, Martina is a certified and active Mental Health First Aid trainer, a national, certificate, training course through the Mental Health Commission of Canada.