What if I didn’t? Permission to say no to expectations

This post originally appeared on the Middle Places blog in March, 2015.

Lately I’ve been shedding expectations faster than most people are shedding winter clothes in the watery March sunshine.  A week or so ago, my therapist tossed the word “sabbatical” into the room the same way someone might throw a bouquet of roses at a dancer after a grand performance or a life preserver at a drowning person. Maybe I’m a drowning performer who needs a flowery rescue.  Either way, I snatched it out of the air and tucked it greedily into the pocket of my mind, turning it over and over, rubbing it, worrying it, smoothing it away with thought fingers.

I thought to myself, “All these expectations are swirling around me: some real, some imagined, some belong to other people and I don’t even know if I am failing or exceeding all around town without so much as a second thought.  But what if…well, what if I just didn’t? What if instead of failing, meeting or exceeding, I just started being? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I envisioned 3 scenarios:
1.) Some people would be very disappointed, and maybe even a little upset.
2.) Some people would be a little jealous of my new-found freedom.
But mostly
3.) Many would not even notice because the reality is most people don’t think of me often enough to have expectations.

We do ourselves more than a disservice when we allow what other people may think of us to weigh too heavily in our lives. In fact, I think we’re making ourselves a little crazy with all the measuring up, comparing, worrying and wondering. We’re robbing ourselves of both sleep and peace.  What if we gave ourselves permission to drop out of the rat race, to meander by the side of the road and collect daisies?

I’m not so naive to think we can spend the rest of our days in a hermitage on a tropical island (oh, don’t I wish that I could?), or that we can binge watch Netflix while eating cheetos until we become one with the sofa, but most of us have been caught in the same patterns of worrying and beating ourselves up for so long we’ve ceased living out our purpose all the same. What if we tried living differently?

I’m calling “Ally Ally in Free” which literally translates from the German phrase “alle alle auch sind frei” or “everyone is  also free.”  We are all free – me and you- free from the expectations, mostly unstated,  we have for other people, but most of all,  free from the weight of all the expectations I believe are placed upon me. For the next ten months, I’m only letting a few, wise, genuinely-invested-in-my-best-interest people have a voice in my life. I’m saying no, backing down. I need to relearn who I am when I’m not putting on a performance for anyone else.

Meanwhile, I’ll read books, and growing succulents, and write, and think, and serve within my calling, not because I feel compelled to fill a spot.  The real me will say her real thoughts, and feel her real feelings. Some people aren’t going to like it, but unfortunately I  left my concern in my other pants.

It’s time for Ally Ally in free, friends. Return safely home. We’ll lay in the grass and count clouds for awhile, but only if you want to. No expectations.

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