"No Expectations, No Apologies, No Regrets"
"I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” Lewis Carroll
I was new to adulthood and impressionable, having spent most of my life in the confines of a religion that, to me, seemed to spend most of its time telling us to think only within the guidelines it deemed "safe" or "godly". As with any traumatic experience, I had spent the last few months trying to figure out who I was after being told to leave my parent's house over religious differences and the resulting snowball effect of stepping outside my comfort zone to try things that had been forbidden just a year ago. I had begun to ask myself some pretty big questions about who I was and who I could be now that I had broken free of the molded identity my previous environment had put on me. One of those questions that kept surfacing was on the subject of my life's philosophy, specifically how I was going to approach every second of every day going forward.
Because part of my blossoming into a more rounded human being involved coming to terms with my own sexual orientation, I spent a majority of my free time reading and watching everything I could on gay culture. It was the third season of Showtime's Queer as Folk that introduced one of my favorite characters ever and the person I credit with teaching me so much about myself: Brian Kinney. Brian was the guy every gay man wanted and wanted to be. I forget now who it was that first uttered his iconic approach to life, maybe the character Melanie or her partner Lindsay, but it stuck and stuck hard. "No expectations, no apologies, no regrets." Thinking back now, I don't know that there was ever a point where they put the whole phrase together in the same scene. That was something that likely came later when I started to really think about what that meant for Brian and how it shaped his life.
For Brian, this guide-to-life statement defined how he interacted with the other characters. He expected nothing from them and wanted no expectations placed on himself by others. In fact, he resented any efforts by his friends to place unwelcome expectations on him and would even go so far as to do the exact opposite just to prove his point. He rarely apologized for anything believing that he didn't owe it to anyone to be sorry for his actions. What did it matter what other people thought? Rarely do we see him regret anything he does. He is who he is with no intention of spending needless energy regretting what events happened to him or the actions he took that could have been different. He is who he is right now and that is all that matters. This powerful, careless, hedonistic attitude made his character immediately endearing to me and likely thousands of other viewers if a quick Google search tells us anything. Is he perfect? Oh hell no.
Adopting this philosophy has gotten me a lot of flak and criticism from people interested only in snap judgements. It's also delivered some beautiful and insightful discussions about life, and how we deal with it, from friends who paused long enough to ask more about it. I can't count how many of them have asked me to write it all down so they can go back and read it again and again claiming that implementing it helped their relationships with spouses, partners, coworkers, and parents. It's for them and anyone who is truly interested that I write this in three parts.
1. "No Expectations"
The idea of no expectations is really a two-part idea. You have to come at it from your own perspective and then from the perspective of those around you. There are so many pieces out there about how living life is greatly improved by releasing others from expectations. It works like this-
If I put an expectation on "Kyle" that, as a friend, he call or email me at least once a week to let me know how he's doing and to inquire on how I'm doing and Kyle fails to do that, the resulting consequence is a feeling of disappointment because of his failure to meet my expectation. Nobody wants to feel disappointed. It was also unfair of me to put an expectation on Kyle to behave or act in a specific way without communicating that to him and receiving his agreement to be held to that expectation. None of that disappointment I felt was Kyle's fault. It was all mine. It's at this point that I might choose to get angry at Kyle and hold that sense of disappointment against him as if that would pressure him to conform.
Exploring the alternative to this, what if we changed one thing? If I don't put the expectation on Kyle to call or email me once a week to catch up then his failure to do so causes no disappointment on my part because I allowed him to be exactly who he is and operate on his own approach to our relationship. I've saved myself some negative feelings and possible resentment. I've also set myself up to be pleasantly surprised when Kyle does call or email me to catch up and can enjoy it, fully involved in experiencing the moment with him. I like this option better already. I'm living in "the Now".
I found that adopting this was much easier said than done because of how I had grown up expecting certain things from people based on what society told me I should come to expect. But the minute I started identifying that negative pattern in my life things started improving. I could begin to let my friends be the flawed, beautiful humans they were with no pressure to be anything else. It was huge for me. What was even harder, though, was the resulting expectation that they would treat me with the same "no expectations" approach that I did with them. And when they didn't, I felt hurt. See where I screwed up? I was still getting stuck in the expectations cycle. I had to constantly stay aware of my thought processes and continually release others from my own expectations.
Even today there are times when this is a struggle. It's amazing how ingrained in our brains the reflex of expectations is. We expect people to smile when we smile at them. We expect the customer service rep to treat us with good customer service. We expect our parents to love us. We expect to get a good turn from people we treat well. We expect people to not kill us. We expect the guy with road rage to not cut us off, side-swiping us in the process. I struggle with keeping this in mind every second of the day, but more so when I'm tired or in a bad mood. What helps is to realize that everyone is a flawed human being and, in their multitude of flaws, completely unique and beautiful. If I can allow them to be authentically who they are right now with no expectations to be different or "better", I can experience life alongside them and respond intelligently to any situation I happen to be in.
Putting this into practice has done more for my sanity and positivity than anything else in my life. Living in New York City, I get shoved, yelled at, cut off, run over, ignored, and harassed multiple times in a week. Each time I am given a choice: do I react instinctively and shove back, cuss out, scream at, or glare at the offending party? Or do I step back a second and respond to the situation I'm in with a releasing of all expectations I might have had that that person would not yell at me, cut me off, stomp on my foot, or cut in line at Starbucks and allow them to be them with no judgement from me? Having chosen both paths on several occasions, I can say, without a doubt, that releasing expectations has always left me feeling happy or compassionate towards the people around me. And that feels really good. A lot better than five minutes of wanting to throttle people. Or a full day of hating someone I know nothing about simply because they chewed me out for bumping them.
I can't convince you that this works. You have to implement it for yourself. Give it a try and see if it works for you. If it does, let me know in a comment or a tweet and let's start a conversation about it.
Next time, I will continue with "No Apologies" which will tie into a lot of what I covered above.
- by Shawn Carter