Today is my birthday. Which is something I don’t normally share about. I’ve been told that I’m an enigma — and I like it that way.
You see, if people know something about you, they may or may not use that information, to your advantage or disadvantage. If someone knows about your birthday, you might hope they will recognize it; that they might celebrate it; that they might wish you well or even tell you ‘happy birthday.’ If none of those things happen, or perhaps not in the ways you expect, disappointment will naturally set in.
Back when social media told you the day of my birth, I would count how many people happened to see my name among those with birthdays and write on my wall. I would take careful note of who did and didn’t wish me well. No matter how many people said kind things to send me into my next year of life, there was always a disconnect between my expectations and my reality.
So, I took my birth date off of Facebook. I put up some walls, literally and figuratively. I stopped sharing things unless I REALLY thought they needed to be shared. Personal thoughts, opinions, preferences or dreams weren’t shared unless they REALLY mattered in the moment or I REALLY trusted the people around me. I was managing my expectations by not giving the people in my reality opportunities to know me. My somewhat logical, but completely ridiculous thought was: if I’m not vulnerable, I won’t be disappointed if people’s actions and reactions don’t live up to my expectations. This was a rather selfish and protectionist mindset that I’ve realized often stole more joy than it gave. It gave me the false security that I was invincible to the disappointments that will inevitably pop up in life.
Of course, that mindset set me up horribly for when reality gave me ruined plans, unkind people, financial setbacks and personal failure. No amount of positive thinking could protect me from experiencing heartbreak, disloyalty, illness, unemployment or family drama. No amount of anti-vulnerability can stem the waves of sadness, grief, anger and confusion.
This week, I’ve had the stomach flu. All week long. It ruined plans with family and friends, plans to travel, plans to bake myself a fancy cake, to make art, to read books. Reality sucker punched me almost all the way through the holidays and into the new year. Every expectation for the week was dashed and disappointed and my bleak reality was weak tea and saltine crackers. Most of the week I’ve wallowed.
But, I’m getting older, hopefully wiser and constantly having epiphanies about life. This flu provided me with a forced stop that has given me a new mindset.
As I start the penultimate year to closing out another decade of life, I’m choosing to focus less on expectations and reality, and more on grace. Grace for others when they intentionally and unintentionally disappoint me. Grace for myself when I accidentally foil plans; when I selfishly chose my way over that of others; when I just don’t give something my all. And grace for when life just plain gets in my way.
Expectations and reality will forever be at odds with one another, which can be terribly upsetting. But grace, kindness and selfless love can bring joy back into a frustrating reality. All three characteristics are founded in trust and the ability to let people experience life with you.
My expectation for this next year is that reality will most likely get in my way (just hopefully not with the stomach flu again). My birthday wish this year is that I would be authentically me – even if I have to share personal details. Most importantly, my intention is to get better at showing grace, kindness and love to other people, to help them navigate the tensions between expectations and reality and find more joy.