June 26, 2012

How to Get More out of Life by Expecting Less. ~ Wendy Aron

Over the years, I have raised having unrealistic expectations to an art form.

I was convinced I was going to make millions off my blog if I could just get the empire-building Martha Stewart’s attention. All I had to do was go into the pet store and meet with Marc M.

An über animal expert, Marc had had a local cable T.V. program on pets, and Martha had discovered him and put him on her nationally-televised show, where he had gone on to become a minor T.V. celebrity with a six-figure book deal—as well as a very close personal friend of Martha’s.

Marc M. had also sold me a Burmese kitty 15 years before and I had kept in touch by phone sporadically over the years with existential questions like: “Why did Simba really knock her water cup off the nightstand?” Answer: “Because she really didn’t want it there.”

Simba had recently passed, so I figured I could tell Marc about that and then seamlessly transition into my home improvement humor blog and whether he could recommend it as a destination Martha might want to link to from her website.

My foray started out well.

Without prompting, Marc not only remembered my name, but also the breed of feline he had sold me, and I began shedding honest tears about the loss of her. I thanked Marc for selling me a healthy animal. He seemed genuinely touched. Expectations were running high when I broached the subject of my blog.

“Oh, they kicked Martha off the air and she’s not doing anything now but tending to her garden,” said Marc. “She’s 72 and basically retired.”

Major disappointment.

“And they fired the editor who bought my book right after it came out, so it totally bombed. I’m through with all of that.”

Another severe blow.

Let me point out here that the reason I experienced such an extreme letdown was because I had built this encounter up into something that would be a major turning point in my life, and I had not anticipated any bumps in the road on the way to my glorious, Martha-connected destiny.

This has been a pattern with me. Over the years, I have raised having unrealistic expectations to an art form.

It all started when I was a tween and my parents took me on a cruise to the Caribbean. On Captain’s Night, I waited on line to shake hands and take pictures with Captain Gregory, a very distinguished looking older Greek gentleman with piercing blue eyes and a round, deeply tanned face framed by a salt and pepper beard.

When it was my turn, the captain asked my name, we exchanged pleasantries, and I asked a few questions that escape me now. (Perhaps, “Do you know Captain Queeg?”)

When I got home I wrote Captain Gregory a note and sent it to him care of Holland America Cruise Lines. One month later, I got a card back from him. It had a romantic picture of a boat docked in a harbor at sunset on the cover.  Inside, Captain Gregory wrote me that he was now captaining a cruise ship that sailed from Vancouver to Alaska. He enclosed a picture and asked me to send mine. He told me he was thinking of me and wishing me well.

My parents were flabbergasted that someone I met for two minutes had responded to me.

But here’s the point: I expected the captain to write me back, so I was nowhere near surprised when he did. You wrote a letter to a charming stranger and he wrote you back. This was the way it was supposed to work. Wasn’t it? It was all a part of the natural flow of life.

And I was sure it would continue.

When I was in my early teens, therefore, I expected celebrities to date me. I even went to a Star Trek convention and in front of 1,000 people in a New York City Hilton ballroom asked William Shatner to kiss me. (Cue entrance of therapist to analyze crushes on actors stemming from an emotionally withholding father.)

William Shatner wouldn’t kiss me.

However, I continued to expect too much of all kinds of people.  I expected distant connections to either give me jobs or invest millions in my creative ideas simply because I wanted them to.  I expected friends to do personal favors for me and advance my cause when they were just trying to hold their own heads above water.  And every time I had a birthday, I expected the earth to stand still.

It never did.

The funny thing is that now, after half a lifetime of expecting too much from people, I have found that the only thing that gives me true pleasure is when something unexpectedly nice happens—a seemingly indifferent pet cat that jumps on my lap and starts purring, a call from an old childhood friend I haven’t heard from in awhile, or even a Facebook friend request from someone I thought disliked me high school.

At middle age, I have finally realized that the things you appreciate most are those that you don’t see coming.

So, I got ready to leave Marc M.’s pet store without an introduction to Martha Stewart or a major television, web or book deal, but I also prepared to go with the great satisfaction of knowing that Marc had remembered my name and the pet cat he had sold me so many years ago.

Saying goodbye, he leaned over the counter and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “Be well, Miss Wendy,” he said.  And with that kind gesture, my expectations for the day were actually exceeded.


Wendy Aron has written for publications nationwide, including The New York Times and Newsweek. She is an award winning humorist (Society of Professional Journalists) and comic memoir author. You can see her home improvement humor blog at http://theantijane.com and more of her work at www.wendyaron.com.


Editor: Alexandra Grace

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