When I was seventeen, I auditioned for the school talent show.
It was a terrifying moment in my adolescence. After all, I had never played my original songs for anyone, much less the music teacher and a bunch of fellow students. Vulnerability was at an all time high, and confidence was at an all time low.
The good news is, I didn’t die. The audition went fine. And the teacher even had a few positive words to say about my song. Rock and roll.
But here’s what I didn’t see coming. The next four days were the longest of my life. I completely turned my guts inside out waiting to hear back if I got the part or not. I couldn’t sleep or eat or study or even have a normal conversation with my friends without obsessing over getting into that stupid talent show.
Expectation lurked as this horrifying backdrop to even the happiest of moments of my days.
Friday afternoon, though, there was a school wide announcement. The talent show cast list had been posted on the choir room door.
My stomach dropped like I was falling two hundred feet.
This is it.This is going to change everything. This is going to be shining moment.
After the final bell rang, I speed walked down the hallway as fear soaked my back. When I arrived at the door, I pushed my way through the crowd and gazed at the list.
But something was wrong. My name was mysteriously absent.
Wait a minute. This must be some kind of mistake. Do you have any idea how much I obsessed over this audition? Do you know how much pain I endured for the last four days? Don’t you understand that this talent show was going to change everything for me? Where the fuck is my name?
I was crushed. Tears started welling up in my eyes. My life was over. And I spent the rest of the weekend sitting alone in my room, cursing and comparing and chastising myself for not being good enough to make it.
Of course, my life wasn’t really over. But try telling that to an earnest seventeen year old songwriter foolish enough to put his whole heart on show. Try explaining to a young heartbroken artist that when he plants expectation, he reaps disappointment.
Maisel’s book on mindfulness meditation addresses this very issue. The psychologist writes:
While it is wonderful and necessary to have goals, dreams, hopes and ambitions, it is a mental and emotional mistake to have expectations. Desire as much as you like. Plan as carefully as you like. Try as hard as you like. But expect nothing. It’s better to let go of the idea that we can control anything, because as soon as we let go of our desire to control, we become more honest and aware, and also more in control. And by not attaching to even reasonable expectations, we begin to force ourselves to live life in a more present way. But remember, by expecting nothing, you are not giving up. You are making a decision to focus on what needs to be done, rather than outcomes.
That passage changed my life. For better and for always. I probably wasn’t ready to understand those ideas at age seventeen, but as an adult, it’s my watchword.
I’ve given up the illusion that I can control anything. I’ve emptied myself of all expectation and gracefully surrendered to the facts of existence. And I’ve accepted that just because I spent all that time worrying about it, doesn’t mean I’ve earned anything.
What a great release and relief.
Next time you start planting expectations and reaping disappointments, for the sake of your mental health, the best thing you can do is assume you didn’t get the gig as soon as you walk out the door.
Otherwise you’ll agonize over it, day after day, poised in a great ballet of anticipation, white knuckling something that’s completely out of our control.
Let it go and get on with your life.
If they want you, they’ll call you.
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That Guy with the Nametag
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