The Illusion of Expectation

Written by: Madeline McCallum, contributing writer and blogger at

I’ve always had a lot of trouble with the concept of “letting go.” That’s probably not particularly surprising, as giving up control is one of the major pillars in recovery. And I could probably write multiple books on the intricacies of that process, but that’s not the kind of release I have been thinking of lately.

The struggle that I think goes unmentioned is what happens after you’ve been to battle with control – the kind of darkness that seeps in through the side of the window pane, that makes you shiver even though you are staring straight into the sun. Recovery is so much more than just maintaining a steady ship. I have spent nearly half a decade building up my armor, strengthening my defenses; yet, I still can find myself exposed and alone in the middle of the battleground with no understanding of who I am or how I got there.

I recently ran head on into major life changes, and boy was I unprepared for how triggering that would be. In the midst of extreme stress, I found myself clinging to self-expectation and the dangerous cycle of would/could/should. How do you ground yourself when everything you thought you were, everything you have prepared yourself for, everything you think you should be, has gone out the window?

Pain that I thought I had buried a long time ago was unearthed, and I found myself drowning in an ocean of toxic coping mechanisms. I realized that crushing controlling thoughts in one area probably means that they will figure out how to pop-up in another. In order to deal with a whirlwind of change, I had switched into extreme stockpiling mode – making sure I was correctly positioning myself for the future, ensuring everything (from the daily grocery run to my career objectives) was perfectly calculated and set into motion. Here I was, like an empty wind-up toy, trying to fill myself back up by performing the motions of self-improvement. I was confronted with the notion that letting go is something you must do every day, over and over.

Now, there is something to be said for preparation, but that can easily slide into the realm of all-consuming control. This is where I sometimes get stuck – I know that my genuine self is strong-willed and extremely driven, so how am I supposed to just “let go” and throw all of my cares to the wind? The key is that letting go of rigorous expectations does not mean losing ambition. In fact, in stark contrast, it means grounding deeper in order to channel your authentic goals and desires. This is more difficult – obsessive planning allows you to go on a sort of hyper-drive cruise control in which you become disconnected from where your heart actually wants to go.

My need to control outcomes had morphed into a need to control the set-up, to micro-manage the scene – leaving myself with a false sense that I was then “letting go” as soon as action was called. This begs the question – am I just performing my life? By meticulously regimenting, I am actually removing my own agency. I end up just becoming paralyzed by wanting life to happen all at once, setting up all the spinning plates perfectly but then not being able to keep them all moving at the same speed.

I must let go of obsessive preparation that is based on some internalized metric of who I think I am/should be/could be/will be. Initially, I had to learn how to feel comfortable in my body when I could no longer rely on a skeleton identity. Now, after spending a lot of time becoming incredibly self-aware, I must let go of my own meticulous agenda in order to find balance – knowing my authentic goals but also leaving room for flexibility, for serendipity. To let go of the past, you must also let go of the future.

Right now is all you have, however cliché that may seem. Putting all of that pressure on The Now to dictate outcomes in The Later is unwarranted, not to mention exhausting. We spend so much energy trying to manipulate outcomes and resist what the universe has prepared for us – imagine how much more space our minds would have if they weren’t hypnotized by the siren call of “self-improvement.”

This month, I am focusing my energy on letting go of limiting beliefs.

I am letting go of to-do’s and giving myself the space to be.

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