Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

The Tyranny of Expectation

“What would you do if your didn’t live here anymore?”

Sunday morning breakfast on the porch are usually rather easygoing affairs. A little Facebook here, a bit of the Sunday Times there. “What are your plans today” constitutes high pressure conversation. Not so much this morning after my darling Beth dropped this little bomb into my oatmeal!

“No, really, you’re not really content. You’re antsy and I can’t figure out why. We’ve been talking about winters, about the last chapter, where and with whom we’ll be and why. What would you do differently in Florida or Bluffton or wherever?”

Doubling down as that splashed in my coffee. What, indeed, would be any different anywhere else?

To answer that requires me to look in a very critical and brutally honest way at where I am, what I’m doing now, and why it seems to both of us that I am on edge. We have no real roots where we live, at least not the kind of roots that one is tethered to when you are living in a generational location where it’s not just you and subsequent generations that are presently domiciled. With two sons and their families here the seeds for that generation have been planted, and of course the opportunity for us to cultivate that exists. We have friends and acquaintances, most of whom are also not born of this exact soil. In our ever on-the-move society those friendships are the de facto family roots for many.

Why, then, the angst? Why not satisfaction, even a sense of triumph? As a couple we chose to forge our own path away from family at near and successfully launched 3 offspring into the world with no local assistance (note: we chose this; there is no criticism whatsoever of either of our families in that statement). We survived my leap beyond the leading edge onto the bleeding edge of business models in the world of my day job, avoiding ultimate financial calamity and arriving at a place of comfort and likely security. The whole “where do you want to be” and most of “what do you want to do” is possible because of this.

We spent a couple of hours this morning pondering this. Every place we might go there is something that Beth does, something she knows and loves. there to be had. As we went round and round looking at me, my choices as well as changes that feel like they were forced on me when they arrived, we inexorably return to the same conclusion: location, for me, is irrelevant. What matters is only what I decide to do there. And not only in those hours of the day when I am solely responsible for the filling, but also as the day carries over into our shared time as a couple. After all, the happier and more fulfilled and content I am coming out of those “solo” sojourns, the happier and more content I will be as a partner.

So what is it then? Could it be regret? Has my happiness urn stealthily been aerated by regret and become a sieve? I don’t think so. Regret, at least to me, seems incompatible with any happiness at all, and to be honest I am more happy more often than not. I’ve done one really big thing really well over the years and that’s my part in our marriage, our partnership. That makes me happy every day. It’s the kind of partnership where one of us can look at the other and say “what’s wrong” and not have it sound like “what’s wrong with you.”

No, I think it’s one of the other scourges that probably would get classified under the Great Seven Sin of coveting: expectations. I think that deep down I have a case of miss met expectations that are quietly gnawing at me. Again, these are not, and I certainly do not look at them, as true hardships. Not in the classical manner of hardships. Nobody has died prematurely. Not only do we have a roof over our heads, but that roof faces an inland sea. I eat well, and I eat of my own choosing. Heaven knows I drink well. These expectations are not existential. They are personal, emotional, almost entirely self-centered, and in many instances so nebulous that even the most caring, selfless and generous soul would be completely thwarted in any effort to resolve them.

These expectations exist despite a lifelong effort to live without any expectations whatsoever. Disappointment is a metaphor for miss met expectations. The more I think about it the more it seems like my state of mind is being driven by disappointments that have been created by expectations that I have either consciously or unconsciously created for myself and others. Some are nothing more than bad luck; I trashed my right shoulder in 2008 and haven’t been pain free enough to swing a golf club until very recently. Without a private club to call my own, I very much still had the expectation that I would continue to have golf as a core activity that would not only bring me joy, but also bring me people who brought me joy. Not only that, I very much expected that a I would continue to be a very good golfer. Not playing golf separated me from an experience I had expectations of continuing. I don’t know what to think about playing post-injury, just that I know it’s not what I expected.

I’m disappointed to find myself in the position of having to work. Sounds rather arrogant when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Still, the reality is that I have made a couple of decisions about my working life and work circumstances that were epic disappointments. If they had all turned out as planned would I still be working? Probably. I really do like what I do, and it’s always satisfying if you are not only good at what you do but are continually thanked by the people you do it for. What is disappointing is that I can’t really do it just for the pleasure of doing it, you know? All of the regulatory BS and the manufactured nonsense about what’s “wrong with medicine” would be so much more palatable if it wasn’t forced down your throat because it’s a job you need. Subtle point to be sure, but looking back it seems like I had a quiet expectation beginning very early in my adult life that I would be able to walk away at this stage if I chose to do so.

What’s next then? It’s a bit scary to be honest since so many of my expectations about where I’d be, what I’d be doing, and with whom I’d be doing them haven’t come to pass. Lives evolve and the game board changes, eh? We never lived around family and now we do. What’s that gonna look like? Likewise our friendships here in town and elsewhere. Everything changes as I’ve said so many times, and yet the most honest assessment I can offer is that I’ve probably expected that they would all stay the same as they were when our kids were in grade school. Or maybe they’d be like the ones my folks had, a stable group of couples who congregated around a couple of similar interests and a bucketful of shared, or at least similar experiences. What are ours really going to look like? Beats me. Past performance means that at least some of my unspoken expectations are already way off the mark.

So my Dollie, the answer to “why?” is disappointment. Expectations I barely knew I had weren’t met and I’m disappointed. What am I going to do about that, here at Casa Blanco, in South Carolina or wherever? Well, I’m not gonna get anywhere unless I man up, face the fact that disappointment is a damaging as regret, and move on. Like Rafiki said: it doesn’t matter; it’s in the past. I can swing a golf club without pain, however poorly, and that means I can hang out around golf and golfers again. My job is enjoyable, bureaucratic BS notwithstanding, I can see the fruits of my labor, and I come home with thankful people in my wake. Not everyone can say that. We have children and grandchildren to fill our days with wonder and love. Friends with whom we do, indeed, have shared memories and experiences upon which we can build, and a lifetime of practicing our philosophy that you can never have enough friends.

I don’t think the “where” matters. Not as long as I leave behind disappointments however big or small they may seem. Like regret, now that I’ve identified the issue of expectations I can address it. Go all Timon and Hakuna Matata on it. Or channel Myamoto Musashi: “Accept everything precisely as it is.” “Where” isn’t an issue as long as “where” finds us together. I’ll figure it out and I’ll make it work wherever it is we happen to be at any time. Because nothing about us has ever been a disappointment and no matter where we’ve been everything about us has always made me happy.

I feel better already.

4 Responses to “The Tyranny of Expectation”

  1. August 24th, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    Bill Faulkner says:

    Less than 1 month into “retirement “ (still working1 1/2 days a week), things are good, but never perfect. Naples home we bought less than a year ago ( tho we had a condo there for 19 years) is requiring extensive remodeling to please my wonderful but perfectionist interior decorator of a wife. She had knee surgery 8 days ago, left for Florida yesterday with cane, and arrived to disappointing news: parts ordered were incorrect on arrival, house is a plastic covered dusty mess, and construction indefinitely delayed due to lack of workers and timely materials. Just normal frustrations but may spoil our hope of having family and company to our new home this winter. Last patient of my last normal clinic day today was cornea foreign body which I easily removed but would not trust these hands to do a capsulorhexis with a now moderate tremor. Time marches on. My Florida cousin fell in the shower yesterday and fractured hip AND femur. But I work out every Am, either gym or bike, yard looks great, reading more, and loving Reds and imminent football season. There is never nirvana but I thank the Lord for my many blessings. Finances are set. I will send you photo of self and granddaughter who was selected to be lil nugget in Chick Fil A ad after 3 rd inning at Reds game last Thursday. Life is good and we are so blessed. You are so gifted and a role model for so many. Bill

  2. August 25th, 2021 at 11:09 am

    drwhite says:

    All’s well that will end well Bill! Thanks for your kind words and as always for being such a loyal reader.

  3. September 17th, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    Jeff Lewis says:

    Love these ‘Random Thoughts’. In addition to getting to know you, the human behind the role, as perceived from afar, your writing simultaneously provokes the reader to take the parallel journey along with you.

  4. September 18th, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    drwhite says:

    Thanks Jeff. It’s always a pleasant surprise to hear from someone who reads the stuff banging around inside my head. Here’s to a long journey.

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