It’s the day after Easter. I’m sitting on my back deck and enjoying my coffee for what is really the first time this Spring, and I’m restless. I don’t even know that that is really the right word to describe it, but it is the word that I have for today.
The past year has been a roller coaster ride to say the least. In just a little over a year, we have sheltered in place, worn masks, not worn masks, cancelled school, gone virtual, flipped education totally around, missed a junior track season and junior prom, missed graduations, missed the last third of junior and 6th grade years, missed 6th grade track season, worked from home, bought a boat, started a podcast, renovated an office, became part owners of a gym, gone back to work, changed to a faculty position, trained someone else to do my old position, taken it all back because that person left, taught way more hours than I should have, dealt with countless student issues, celebrated holidays in new ways, had snow on Christmas, turned 40, celebrated 20 years of marriage, ordered senior pictures, picked a college, quit track for the senior season, had wrestling for 7th grade, starting track for 7th grade, got some new furniture, had family to the house, said goodbye to David’s mom as she moves to Alabama, missed sports, watched sports, played with the dog, and that is just what I can remember. That’s a lot in a year. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon, but I am still restless. Waiting on the next big thing to come down the pike, but wanting to do it with peace in my heart.
I sit and I wonder about the things I still want to accomplish in my life, and some of those things seem like they will never happen. What is my next big thing? How many more big things will there be? I’m not being morbid, I just keep wondering that. You grow up and think of all the things you will accomplish by the time you hit a certain age or what life will look like when you reach a certain milestone, but do we actually hit those milestones and see the things we dreamed of when we were younger? I’m not complaining about my life. In general, my life is wonderful. I am blessed with family and friends, a job I genuinely love, and a home. So what am I waiting on? Why am I constantly dreaming of the next big thing? When do I look at the things I have now and find satisfaction? Is it the perfectionist in me that keeps looking for better? I’m sitting on the deck today, and although I love it, I am looking at all the things that I wish were different. I’m thinking about how much I wish I was in a different house and in a different part of town. How I wish I was smaller, and had more motivation to make things happen instead of wishing they would happen. It’s even the weird little things. Wishing I could take the dog off the leash and know she would stay instead of running off (she’s kind of an escape artist). Wishing I was motivated to work on my bedroom and make it a space that is welcoming and calming instead of chaos. Wishing I had paint and could paint my cabinets white today, but knowing that even if I went to get the stuff for it, I wouldn’t be able to get it finished because of too many other things going on.
I’m not writing this because I am sad or to get people to point out how blessed I am. I’m truly just wondering if we ever find satisfaction in life, or are we more like the song from Hamilton than we would like to admit? What gets us to the satisfied stage, the stage where we could want for nothing more and feel happy with ourselves and our surroundings and accomplishments? The point where we look around and say it is good. Does reaching that point mean we have given up? That we have lost our drive? Life is so confusing sometimes. I don’t want bigger or better necessarily, I just want different. I guess I’m just restless.
Well, Christmas has come and gone. It was different, which we knew was going to happen because of the pandemic, but it was also beautiful. For someone who thrives on tradition and control, this Christmas season has been unlike any other. It has been trying, frustrating, and even depressing at times but, as I sit here with all our Christmas celebrations completed, I see beauty, patience, and some self-realization that happened throughout this Christmas season. The snow may be melting, but the things that I learned this Christmas will be burned in my heart and mind for a long time.
So how did it start? What was the first lesson learned this year? It started back in November with the realization that I am not superwoman. I am one of those people that wants the trees up the day after Halloween. I have memories of the Christmas when I got 10 trees up and had everything bought and wrapped by Thanksgiving. I had decided that this would be the year that I would have everything done by the weekend of Thanksgiving, and I was going to start with surprising my kids when they got home. I worked it out with my mom that the kids were going to her house to spend the night after school on a Friday night so I could have all day on Friday and the beginning of Saturday to get everything decorated and the tree ready for ornaments. David was going to bring everything over from the storage building that Friday morning and we could get it all ready for the ornaments when the kids got home. The best laid plans … In actuality what happened was that he didn’t get home until after I had picked up B from school and Alyssa was home. They came home because Alyssa was ticked that I was asking them to go to mom’s and wouldn’t tell her why. That resulted in about 15 different reasons why she couldn’t go, then finally one more reason she had to come home. I finally just gave it up and told them they were coming home and to never mind. And that was how the Christmas season began. Plans that didn’t work out due to circumstances beyond my control. Not a great way to begin for a self-professed control freak. Lesson #1 – I am not as in control as I like to think I am.
With such an auspicious beginning, it then took me over a week to get motivated to get everything decorated, and it was not everything that I remembered decorating that wonderful year that I keep remembering as the perfect Christmas. Lesson #2 had to do with traditions. I have a ton of Christmas decorations, in actuality I probably have too many for my little house, and they each have a specific place they go. When I finally got motivated to start decorating, I realized/remembered that we had gotten rid of 2 big pieces of furniture this year. Those 2 big pieces of furniture typically house my villages and my dancing snowmen and cookie jars. I sat among the boxes of stuff for 2 days trying to figure out how to get these things out and where to put them once I got them out. Snowman central ended up on top of my kitchen cabinets, which I think looks even better than it did in the big piece of furniture. My villages ended up split into a residential and business district. I didn’t light the villages up this year, but I have already figured out how to do that for next year, so I am looking forward to that. Lesson # 2 – It is okay to make changes to what has worked before. Sometimes it will even turn out better with the changes.
The next lesson I learned happened on Black Friday. I always go Black Friday shopping, and typically get almost all my shopping finished when I am shopping that day. I don’t do that crazy overnight shopping, but I typically pick up mom or Lindsay around 5:30 and we hit the road. That was the plan this year, and we took off for Knoxville. I altered the route we normally take and started in West Knoxville hoping to beat the crowds. We definitely beat the crowds. In fact, most of the stores weren’t open, and we ended up waiting on Panera to open to go get breakfast before we ever got started. It was almost eerie how few people were out shopping. The ones who were out were pretty much all wearing masks. The longest line we saw all morning was the line of people waiting to get in a huge wine store. I’m not sure what they had on sale, but I definitely feel like I need to go back and investigate that store. It must be an amazing place to go because the line to get in was down the sidewalk, turned a corner, and blocked a few other stores. It was crazy. Mom and I shopped until I had totally worn her down (she’s not really a shopping fan) and I had almost everyone’s gift bought. The Tahoe was full, and we decided to stop at Target on the way home. I mean Target has Starbucks, and why would you go to Knoxville and not hit Target on the way home? This is where Lesson #3 was firmly cemented in my brain. Before we ever went into Target, I said something funny and we both ended up laughing until we cried. Lesson #3 – A good laugh should happen more often because it is absolutely energizing.
Lesson #4 goes back to planning things out. David and I decided we wanted to redo the office to make it more conducive to working from home because we are both thinking that we will be working from home again at some point in the future. We went and ordered a countertop to become our desks and it was supposed to be here on 11/24. We had already torn the office mostly apart in anticipation of this, and we knew that I was coming home to work after Thanksgiving because my school was going online after Thanksgiving break. The hope was that they could do the install really quickly after the countertop arrived and I would be able to work from home in the office for the month of December. Back to that best laid plans thing… The countertop didn’t arrive until December 11th, and they weren’t able to install it until December 21st. That meant our Christmas wonderland had an extra table in the living room for me to work from plus the decorations for the office that I had left on a part of the couch so I could decorate it as soon as the countertop was finished. Needless to say, the delay put my controlling tendencies into a tailspin and the extra stuff in my living room really got under my skin and left me not super focused. It was hard to finish the semester, and I ended up going into the office to do some of it because I couldn’t get in a good rhythm at home. Lesson #4 – Delays are inevitable, don’t let them totally ruin your plans.
We finally got the office finished (not decorated for Christmas, but finished), all the presents were wrapped, some plans for Christmas were different but everything was going along smoothly. I finally felt like we had hit the Christmas groove. Then the meteorologists started calling for snow on Christmas Eve. I live in the south, we don’t do snow. In fact, the past several Christmases have been about 70 degrees. They call for snow, but it is rare that we get more than just a dusting if we get anything. We all got excited about the possibility of any snow on Christmas, but knew that this was probably going to turn out the same way it has in the past and we were going to be snow disappointed. Christmas Eve got here, we had plans for that night, and it was raining. Then the rain turned to snow, and it started sticking, and it was a ton of snow, and this is the south where we don’t know what to do with that kind of snow. My aunt got stuck coming home from work, plans changed again, and we ended up loading the truck and heading to mom’s to spend the night (with the dog, another change in plans). The snow happened, and then it happened some more, and then it happened some more, and we had the first truly white Christmas I can remember. This was wonderful, but started changing plans again. Instead of going to my grandfather’s for Christmas dinner, we came home after opening presents and having breakfast at mom’s house. That sounds great, right? A low-key Christmas night at home. That would all ring true except for 2 things. When we got up on Christmas Eve, the lower half of the Christmas tree lights were out. That brought tons of tears from me. Problem number 1 with a calm Christmas evening at home was that I didn’t even want to look at my Christmas tree because it looked so horrible to me without half the lights. Problem number 2 was a little more of an issue. I had not planned to eat Christmas dinner at home, so I hadn’t gone to the grocery store. Luckily, we bought part of a cow this summer and still had some meat in the deep freeze. Christmas dinner became cubed steak, mashed potatoes, and deviled eggs. Did we end up having a nice night? Absolutely. Did I end up seeing some beauty in this old tree with half the lights out? Yes. Lesson #5 – Sometimes, when we think there is nothing there, we can put together a whole thing. We just have to think outside the box. Lesson #6 – There is beauty in everything, even when we have to struggle to find it.
This has been a crazy year. It is not getting any less crazy as time has gone on, and it doesn’t appear that it will get any less crazy in the next few days. There are so many more things than this that I learned this year, but I think 6 life lessons in a month and a half is quite a bit. By the way, that snow is still hanging around on the grass, and we ended up with between 5 and 6 inches of snow. That’s a ton for where I live. We did end up rescheduling Christmas at my grandfather’s, and David’s mom was able to come down for brunch yesterday morning. This Christmas has not been what we expected, but if has been an amazing Christmas season. The normal things that have marked Christmas in the past looked different or didn’t happen at all this year, but it was still an amazing experience. I have a feeling, once everything is said and done, we will look back on this year in much the same way I am looking back at Christmas. Things were different, and not everything happened the way we wanted, but we grew from it and became better people because of it.
It’s the beginning of a new semester. You have set new goals for the semester, gone into your classroom or your office and gotten organized, and determined how this semester will be even better than the last one. Or maybe you went into work and realized that this season would be harder than ever before, but decided to be positive and look at all the amazing things you were anticipating learning because of the unique situation we are all finding ourselves in this year. Perhaps you simply have great expectations for a new relationship or even when you wake up in the morning and have great expectations for the day.
We are a society of expectations. We set them high, and hope to get there. I spend my days teaching students how to set high expectations and get their students to rise to meet those expectations. We call our expectations all sorts of different things: SMART Goals Expectancies Prospectives Targets
You can search the internet and scour the library and you will find all sorts of information about setting expectations. Everyone and their brother has an opinion about it. How high should you set them? Should you write them down? How will you achieve them? You should set them higher. You should set them lower. You will never reach that goal. Don’t push so hard to achieve so much, you will never be able to top what you just accomplished.
But what do these expectations actually mean to us? Are we setting small goals that can be accomplished or are we setting huge goals that are going to take a while to finish? Are we setting expectations for ourselves or for others? Have we set an expectation for ourselves that will push us to success or push us to frustration?
There are a few things that we need to remember when we are setting expectations that will help us avoid excess frustration that could have been avoided. Make no mistake, I am not saying to set low expectations or to accept mediocrity, just that there are sometimes other things to think about when we are setting expectations. Remember, the piece that never changes, but can confound everything we try to do, is our our humanity.
So what can you do to help yourself set realistic expectations, regardless of if you are setting an expectation for the day or for a lifetime?
Think logically about the circumstances surrounding the expectation We all have desires and wants to improve ourselves in some way. Sometimes, our want is so large that the expectation that we set is not something that can logically happen. How many of us have decided we are going to start going to the gym only to be looking in the mirror and frustrated after only a few days because we don’t see a difference yet?
I have a friend who I am constantly telling to look at the entire situation and not just the momentary issue. If you are setting expectations based purely on your desires without looking at your life circumstances, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. For instance, if your expectation is for weight loss or toning, it is setting yourself up for disappointment if you are expecting results as quickly as they used to get them on that show The Biggest Loser. Logically, we know it doesn’t happen that fast. If you are setting expectations for your semester, you have to take into account what else is going on in your life. As a student, don’t set the expectation that you are going to study for 4 hours a day when you are also an athlete and working outside of school. There aren’t enough hours in the day. If you are setting expectations for a date, don’t expect to fall in love and to have that movie moment within the first hour of the first date. I’m not saying it never happens (one day I’ll blog about how David and I met), but I am saying it isn’t a healthy expectation to have. If you are a student, think about the whole of your life before you get upset about a grade. Perfection cannot be your expectation or you will always be disappointed.
Remember the Humanity Aspect of Your Expectation Most of the time when we set expectations, we are setting them surrounding something that involves humanity. The interesting thing about this is that it is one of those things that we absolutely cannot control, especially if our expectations involve someone other than ourselves. Humans, by their very nature, are not exactly predictable in every situation. If our expectations involve humanity, which most of them do, then we have to keep that in mind when setting them. Perhaps that looks like setting different levels of expectations based on outcomes. Perhaps it looks like doing a lot of self-reflection to determine if we are expecting our own qualities to show up in other people. We have to remember the qualities of the other people when we include them in our expectations or we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. So, what does that mean? If you are setting expectations for a date night with your significant other, remember who that person is at their core. If your SO is not romantic by nature, then having the expectation of flowers and a hugely romantic evening is probably setting yourself up for disappointment and will potentially lead to feelings of resentment.
Your expectations are your expectations, not someone else’s One of those things that has happened as social media has become more prevalent is an increase in comparing our lives to the lives of others. When you set expectations, they cannot be based upon someone else’s situation. It is okay to set your expectations and goals based on things that are inspired by others, it is not okay to set expectations to become another person. Remember that your expectation has to go back to what is able to be accomplished in your situation, not someone else’s. This is a great graphic that I found on verywellmind.com that speaks very well to this thought process and how to avoid making expectations based on comparisons between your life and someone else’s life.
So, why is it so important to keep these things in mind when we are setting expectations? Am I telling you that if you follow these three things you will always meet or exceed your expectations? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I simply want to encourage you in this time of craziness when almost all of us are having to reevaluate the ways in which we do things to set realistic expectations that have the greatest chance of being accomplished. The downward spiral that we can find ourselves in based on not meeting expectations is just one more thing that most of us don’t need to be feeling right now as the world spins around us. Setting those realistic expectations can help us gain control in a life that sometimes feels as if we are a pinball subject to someone else’s control of the pinball machine. Setting clear expectations can give us direction when we are floundering to find our way. Setting logical expectations can help us realize when something really is disastrous and when it is just something that is not the way we wanted it at the moment.
So give yourself some grace, create some expectations, and meet those goals. You’ve got this!
Are you unnerved by silence? I have been for years. I could be really funny and blame that on the fact that I have kids or the fact that I did band for so many years. I was never traumatized because of or during silence, so it isn’t anything that has happened in my past that caused this. I just don’t like total silence.
I have always heard people talk about meditating or praying and doing it in silence so they can hear the response, and I tried that, at least 2 or 3 times. I used to get so frustrated with myself because I couldn’t do “the thing” correctly. I have finally, at almost 40, figured out why I don’t like silence. You see, the problem is that I am one of those people that doesn’t like to pause. I genuinely like to be busy. It makes me feel alive. It helps me to know that i am doing something that is contributing to my world.
I can remember many basketball games with the UT pep band or UT Alumni pep band where the arena has gotten totally silent and someone, usually a trombone player, screams, “Awkward silence!” We all laugh and noise starts back up but, for me, that brings a sense of relief. It is like I can breathe again.
The strange thing about this is that I also love to be at peace, with not a lot going on. My favorite places are out on the boat in the middle of a cove or on my back deck listening to it rain. I am writing this very blog post sitting outside under the awning with the fire pit going and listening to the rain while I wait for the sun to rise.
So, if I don’t like silence, why do i crave quiet? I think I have finally figured out why the quiet brings me such peace. I actually crave the stillness. Yes, I love to be busy, and I love to work and think, and I actually love to go and do the things. However, when I can sit and just listen to the small sounds around me, I can work on things (like writing a blog post), recharge my personal battery, appreciate the amazingness of where I live, and, for just a small moment, find my peace.
In the Southeastern United States, many of us are living in areas that have entered into “first fall.” Now, if you aren’t from around here, we have multiple seasons (all 4 of them actually occur here) but sometimes those seasons decide to come and go like a pendulum swinging. First fall is a wonderful time of the year when the days are finally getting cooler (the high on a sunny day has gone from being in the 90s with 85% humidity to a lovely forecast of 71 today with rain stopping around noon), the air starts to get a little crisp, if you live near the mountains, you wake up to see lots of fog, and, oh yeah, it’s football season. For me, although I love summer and spending time on the lake, and I love Christmas with the glitter and glitz of the holiday decorations, Fall and Spring are my favorite times of the year. You see, these are the seasons when I can really sit outside and enjoy my version of silence.
So, why did I write all of this? Because sometimes, what we are needing in this hectic and crazy world is just the sound of silence. Whatever that is to you. For some people, it is true silence, and that is wonderful. For others, it is the sound of animals rising to greet the day or their sound of silence is waterfalls or traffic sounds. Sometimes it can be the sweet sounds babies can make or the peace that comes from watching a movie or listening to music with family.
I think the word silence could use another definition. I think, perhaps, silence is not just the absence of auditory noise, but perhaps the absence of the “noise” that goes on around us continually. Maybe, just maybe, the silence that we are looking for is much less about actual sound and much more about pressing pause on the world around us. For now, try to find your silence, no matter what that sounds like, and take a few breaths. There is nothing more vital than that at this moment in time.