Tomorrow, my partner and I are hosting Thanksgiving dinner — a first for us as a couple. My mom, brother, and sister-in-love will be visiting from Atlanta, and ... I’m uncertain what to expect.
While I’m sure we’ll all feel grateful to be together, I’m not sure that the food will turn out well or that the conversation will flow seamlessly or that the weather will cooperate. I don’t know whether we’ll be in good moods or whether Henry will bark too much. I have no idea if we’ll leave with a funny story that’ll be replayed at future holiday get-togethers or if the evening will be overall unmemorable.
Normally, all of these unknowns would cause me a lot of anxiety, but this Thanksgiving, I’m attempting something new. I’m trying to let go of expectations.
I am notorious for setting unrealistic standards for myself and others. I’ve hosted parties where I expected every detail to be just so, given presentations with a set idea of how people would respond, and done nice things for other people assuming I’d eventually receive a similarly nice thing in response. As you might have guessed, those expectations never quite matched up with reality. In fact, the times when I’ve had the highest expectations for other people or things beyond my control are almost always when I’ve wound up most disappointed.
In her 2015 book, “Rising Strong,” Brené Brown wrote about the dangers of expectations. “We have the tendency to visualize an entire scenario or conversation or outcome, and when things don’t go the way we’d imagined, disappointment can become resentment,” she wrote. “This often happens when our expectations are based on outcomes we can’t control, like what other people think, what they feel, or how they’re going to react.”
Brown explained that in order to let go of our unrealistic expectations, we have to be willing to explore them in the first place. “Rumbling with disappointment, resentment, and expectation is essential,” she wrote. “Wholeheartedness requires being conscious of the litany of expectations that hum along below the surface so we can reality-check our thinking.”
Reality-checking my expectations this Thanksgiving doesn’t mean I can’t put special effort into making food or creating ambiance. It means putting in a reasonable amount of work to make the holiday memorable. More so, it means doing those things because I find enjoyment in them, not because I’m expecting some kind of acknowledgment or reward. I’ll put care into setting the table because I enjoy arranging a pretty tablescape, for example, not because I expect that someone will compliment me on it.
(That’s a missed subject line for today’s newsletter! Set a pretty table, not high expectations.)
Anne Lamott famously said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” When I first read that quote, I shouted out loud. I’d never realized that by having such high expectations, I was creating the possibility of resentment for myself and the people I care about.
This year, I’m going to pass on the possibility of resentment. Instead, I’ll focus on gratitude — which, of course, is at the heart of Thanksgiving. I’ll give thanks for all of us being together, for the opportunity to create new traditions, for the food we’re eating and the memories we’re making, and for the chance to reflect on and reevaluate my expectations. Now, and going forward.
This section is a little lighter today. But don’t fear! I’ve got a big surprise full of helpful resources and exercises to share with you next week. Get ready, y’all!
Good job, brain
I'm reading: “Rising Strong,” by Brené Brown. This book offers a valuable approach to reframe your struggles and own your story. I’m learning a lot!
I’m inspired by: This wonderful and thoughtful guide: How to feel like you have enough.
I'm aiming to: Keep those expectations at bay.
For your sweet dumb brain
You’re probably finding time for gratitude this week. Take a moment and reflect on all the people and things that make your life better. (And don’t forget to give thanks throughout the rest of the year!)
This newsletter is written by Katie Hawkins-Gaar. It’s edited by Rebecca Coates, whom I’m incredibly thankful for, on this week and all the weeks.