Dreams Come True When We Free Ourselves from the Tyranny of Expectations

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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Dreams Come True When We Free Ourselves from the Tyranny of Expectations

I’ve been falling prey to the tyranny of my own expectations in writing my book — which I want to be inspiring, touching, moving, canonized as great literature, funny, witty, ground-breaking, etc… Yet it can be difficult if not impossible to sit down to write a page if you hold the expectation that this book must be a masterpiece.

Perhaps I need to learn from Salvador Dali here who said, “Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.

Even Spiritual Leaders Aren’t “Perfect”

I just read a terrific memoir by Brad Warner (Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: A Trip Through Death, Sex, Divorce, and Spiritual Celebrity in Search of the True Dharma). His specific purpose in writing this book, as he describes it, was shattering the false expectations and ideals that people have about spiritual teachers in our culture.

Yes, they are human, he says. Yes, they sometimes screw up. He didn’t hide his own difficulties or mistakes — he laid it all out there for the reader to experience.

Letting Go of the Need to Look Good

Reading Warner’s memoir helped me because part of what I am confronting is letting go of the need to “look good” for the reader when recounting stories from my past. I’m revealing some raw and frightening episodes from my own life, and when you do that, you have to let go of attachment to image.

Warner shattered the reader’s possible expectations of a “perfect” spiritual teacher by acknowledging that he wasn’t one. I am going to have to release my own need to look good and shatter the illusions anyone out there might have that I’m anything less than totally imperfectly human.

Of course, I am probably the only one who ever harbored any delusions that I am or ever could be “perfect” (whatever that means!) — most people probably saw through that act long ago. I just had to release my expectations for myself of this imaginary ideal of “perfection.”

Differentiating Between Expectations and Possibilities

Meditation teacher Phillip Moffitt distinguished between expectations and possibilities in a 2004 Yoga Journal article that I read while working out on the elliptical machine last week. I’d just plucked the magazine randomly off the rack at the gym – funny and wonderful how the right article always shows up at the right time!

Moffit says, In contrast to expectations, possibilities are based in the present moment, where you’re alive to the mystery of life. You live as fully as you can in the present moment based on your values, which reflect your preferences for the future, but you do not assume that the future will come to pass, because you realize that the future is unknown . . . Real joy, then, is that which is available to you right now.”

Living Life As It Unfolds…

Moffitt adds, “Living a life that is open to possibilities is more like a request, a prayer, or an act of witnessing your faith in life. Your well-being is not contingent on the future. Your mind is open and inspired in this moment. You therefore have more access to imagination and intuition. Your mind is clear and less reactive, and you make better decisions. You respond rather than react to life as it unfolds.”

Moffitt says we can only we be free when we are released from the tyranny of our own expectations — and I agree.

Moffitt ended the article with a favorite poem of mine by the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz:

poem by the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz

That to me is what the experience of love, dreams, and life, is all about.

Can you practice releasing expectations of yourself and others this week, and see what arises? I find so much more joy when I have no attachment to what happens and simply show up for life.

Let me know how it goes for you this week too! When have you freed yourself from the tyranny of expectations?



  • H

    Nice dress!

    When I got our of my own way, my jewelry ended up in an Italian store. I released myself from expectations and one of my dreams moved forward.

    See you very soon Miss Troy!

  • Aww thanks Cath :) I agree that perfectionism turned outwards *can* be good sometimes (i.e. the quest for excellence!) – turned inward it can be paralyzing.

    Remy – aww you’re beautiful sweetie! Love yourself too! I know, we can all be SO hard on ourselves. Our greatest critics. Those who love us view us with loving eyes :) (as Rachel pointed out…). And anyways we’re ALL beautiful in our own way. I have to remind myself of that too, I think we all do…

    Rachel, I am SO proud of you for putting yourself out there with PinkTruth and the TV opp… Totally courageous of you to share your story! I think the world needs more people willing to speak our truth… about everything. To stop pretending. We’re ALL human, we’re ALL real, we ALL make mistakes… every single one of us. This perfection facade society wants us to keep up is frankly bull$$$$.

    And Leah – love you doll! You are just the sun sometimes :) that’s a good role too… Just know the love is coming back to you as well from here in NY (who loves ya? I DO!).


  • Leah Ferrer

    Similar to your experience, I read this article just when I needed it. I’m currently suffering from PMS brain and convinced that my life is a glass completely empty. I was enveloped in weepy self-pity stemming from me giving too much and receiving so little in return. The poem you posted was exactly what I needed to snap me out of it. Thanks!

  • Veronica

    Great post……

  • “Letting Go of the Need to Look Good”

    That is so key. And it’s so much of what I was just writing about (to be published soon) over at PinkTruth. It took years, and not only the easy access to information, but the *anonymity* of the internet to bring out the kind of information we have on that site.

    In order to expose a confidence scheme, you have to admit you were dumb enough to get conned. To explain what goes on, you have to admit to your own failure; your bad decisions. We have come to realize together that those bad decisions were the result of normal human reaction to bad information and expert manipulation, but we also know that not everyone will understand that. Most of us didn’t understand it ourselves until we spent a lot of time talking to each other. And most of the folks who do the talking use cute usernames, and don’t want people to know who they really are.

    Recently, we had the chance to tell our stories on a national T.V. show (to air most likely in June.) This was a long held dream come true for many of us. However… they needed us to identify our real selves. They are not only going to use our real names, but they’ll broadcast pictures of us, for Pete’s sake. Almost no one was willing to step forward and do that. Why? I honestly think the biggest reason is that we were afraid of not looking good. At least, I know that’s what was holding me back. Not just the concerns I mentioned already, but the worry that I would stutter and forget what I wanted to say and generally look stupid. I had to overcome that so that PT could realize a major and important goal.

    I’m rather proud of myself for doing that.

  • Remy, the photographer

    Lis, first off, great poem (and photo, how cute) and fantastic timely blog! I had an experience lately of coming to grips with me in “reality”. I needed a photo taken for a company I consult with – they needed it for their website so ultimately this will be see by anyone who wants to look at it. I hate having my picture taken for all of the icky reasons you can name. Although he session was fantastic (cause it included Cath and Heather and wine and cheese) I literally cried when i saw the unedited shots. (Not cause Ray took them wrong apparently they look Just like me) We see ourselves differently not just cause we are backwards in the mirror. So it was a turning point for me in terms of how I want to be seen, and now, how just a few changes can start the path to reinvention. Congrats on starting the journey. You are strong and I’m confident it will be a great one…Rem

    • Remy, I completely recognize that feeling… wanting to believe I really look like what I see in the mirror (immediately after doing make up and hair, and before putting on the glasses, of course), and NOT what I see in pictures. I’ll never forget looking at a vacation photo a few years back, admiring the scenery, wondering at how there was a woman right in the middle as if the picture were of her, and then realizing… my god, that fat woman is me!

      But I think we also have to realize that everyone who sees us in real life is not looking at a photo, but at a person. Most of them also see more than comes across in those photos.

  • Catherine

    I think (oh good lord I do sometimes think ;-) that perfectionism turned outwards can be a good thing. For example, look at how you help me catch all the little details on this blog that I miss. Your “trained eye” for catching errors is wonderful and helps me to relax knowing that someone has our back.

    But (I think) when we take something that is a strength and turn it on ourselves (where we can’t be objective) then our perception can be skewed.

    Think about how much we revere Meryl Streep and look at how she appeared in Julie and Julia as Julia Childs. She is a fine example of someone who takes her acting perfection and casts it outward instead of at herself.

    This makes me think of something funny Remy said to me one evening. We were talking about the blog, the design and the stats, mulling over our return visitors, when she suddenly says, “Oh good God I don’t know anymore! I’m too involved it it now!” I laughed so hard, as this was such an honest admission and an example of how hard it is to objectively look at ourselves.

    I am sure the town of Troy loves you – who wouldn’t?


  • So, the pic featured here is from Troy’s Flag Day Parade last year – that’s me in the little red dress with my dear friend Emily Menn, head referee for our local roller derby team, the Hellions of Troy:

    They’ll be helping us promote efforts to bring Google ultra-high-speed broadband to Troy, NY:

    Anyone inspired by this initiative who wants to help should email me at lisa.powell.graham at gmail.com

    Gotta say, it’s a fun little city that I live in… Troy will actually be one of the “characters” in my book, as will my other soul city, my beloved SF…

    Have FUN this week everyone!

    “Miss Troy”