by Christi Ashby
A few years ago, I experienced the grandest “a-ha” moment of my life – and it would change everything. As an eternal optimist I always pictured the perfect scene. Leading up to the subject of my vision I was blissfully happy and excited about what was to come. One Christmas when I was about 6, I anxiously awaited Santa’s arrival with my dreamed-about doll. I imagined playing with my neighborhood friends later in the day. When the big morning revealed an unanticipated surprise – a large, almost life-sized doll – I was crushed. I did meet up with my friends who all had new Barbies and I only felt depressed and left out. I had neglected to be specific and clearly communicate my wish. After that I started sending Santa very detailed letters, often with pictures of exactly what I wanted.
Unfortunately, I did not use that tactic in my life and continued on a roller coaster of exciting build-ups and disappointing let downs. This pattern included personal relationships, professional situations, birthdays, holidays and vacations. Post-college life found me searching for my Prince Charming – it sounds ridiculous now – and entering into one bad relationship after another. Finally, I told myself I just wanted someone who was kind to me and would treat me well. I was not going to be lured in by looks or swayed by status. That’s when I met my husband – we just celebrated our 37th anniversary.
Still that one “win” did not stop the unrealistic expectations. We’ve all heard the definition of insanity –doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I would stay in jobs thinking things would change, that people would be different, that I would be recognized, that I would achieve what I set out to accomplish. I gave employees too many chances to improve. I let friends continually cause me anxiety. I waited for bosses to see the worth in my work. I wasted vacations worrying about what wasn’t going right. I got into disagreements with the people I loved the most.
Sometimes, though, when I knew I was going to be in a challenging situation, I would imagine the worst-case scenario. Inevitably, it was never as bad as I imagined. But in just preparing for a less-than-perfect outcome I was ready for whatever played out.
But I didn’t really let go of the fairy tale visions until I was introduced to the Enneagram (nine personality types) as explained by Lisa Oz at a breakfast event. As I listened intently, I could not believe what I heard. How could I be a romantic. I don’t dress in lace and ruffles. I hate cheesy gestures. How can this be? But as the description continued, everything clicked.
In one of the definitions of this personality type, romantics believe you can regain the lost ideal love or perfect state by finding the love or situation that is unique, special and fulfilling. Consequently, romantics are idealistic, deeply feeling, empathetic and authentic; they can also be dramatic, moody and sometimes self-absorbed. There it was… me to a “t.”
I also realized how others important in my life were coming from different personalities. None was right, none was wrong, it just helped explain a lot. Immediately, my working relationship with my daughter Kate started improving as I better understood where she was coming from. And I vowed to start managing my expectations better.
One expectation I overcame was how entrepreneurial success is defined for many. You start a business, grow the business, expand your workspace and employee count while making more and more money. I had held that vision in my head for years after starting Orange Appeal until I realized those things were not fulfilling me. In fact, they were adding undue stress and keeping me from doing what I was better at and loved.
I am not 100 percent “cured” of my unreal expectations, but I am much better. I have learned to let things that will never be right go, to scale back the drama and self-absorption and to follow my three new rules.
Managing expectations has been particularly hard during the pandemic as there are so many unknowns. So, I have tried to keep my thoughts on what I can do, what is in my control and what keeps me fulfilled.