A few months ago, I came across an article about Actor Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future, Family Ties, Spin City). In it, he talked about his family, his new television series and his challenges with Parkinson's disease. His story was funny, scary and inspiring. I walked away unable to stop thinking about one of his comments. When asked what he has learned from his disease, he said that he has recognized that his happiness increases in direct proportion to his acceptance and his happiness decreases in direct proportion to his expectations. Read those two sentences a few times and let them sink in.
Happiness decreases in direct proportion to expectation.
Happiness increases in direct proportion to acceptance.
I found these thoughts about acceptance, expectation and happiness fascinating and started trying them on for size in my own life. Does this mean anything to me? Is that how it works in my life? As I examined my responses to life I found that when I expect something and it doesn't happen, there is disappointment or stress or anxiety. When I accept whatever comes along, whether it meets my expectation or not, I feel calmer, less stressed, more...at peace.
Michael's magazine revelation seems so simple, yet so profound. It has become a private litmus test for me in many situations. When I expect a client to like a draft of an ad, a letter or a brochure that I've created, their reaction holds power over me. If they don't like it, I often feel defensive, insecure, even guilty, that I was unable to give them what they wanted. Yet, when I enter the same meeting consciously, knowing why I have made the creative choices I have and leave myself open - and accepting - of whatever their reaction is, I feel less stress. If they aren't happy with what they see or read, I am open to the comments and ask questions about how we can better meet their requirements. If they love what they see, all the better.
I am continuously reminding myself that it's not all up to me. Every human interaction is just that, a relationship, a collaboration. I should not EXPECT to have it all right all the time in the eyes of another. I can ACCEPT that things are not always what I EXPECT them to be. This makes everything okay. We're all just doing what we think is best at the time. Perhaps there's another way to look at the situation or challenge and reach a peaceful solution in which both parties reach acceptance - and feel good about - the outcome.
This is wrapped up in the concept of not taking things personally. It's not all about me. However, for those of us who were raised to BE RESPONSIBLE, this can be a challenge. When I enter into a situation with my husband, one of my children, or a client, I feel responsible for the outcome. That feeling has been cultivated in me since my childhood and it's not easy to release. However, when I consider the honest intent of what my mother and father insisted on from the time I can remember, it was "be responsible for yourself." They never told me to be responsible for another person's happiness, reactions or feelings. They taught me to be kind, to finish my homework, to clean up my room. In hindsight, I understand that these simple things were designed to keep my own life moving forward in a positive way.
When I really consider the intent...they were saying, "Always do your personal best so that you can be comfortable in any situation." The key is to be comfortable with yourself, not to be right in the eyes of anyone else. If you are comfortable inside your own skin, then it is much easier to ACCEPT whatever comes your way. If you know you have done everything you can...open, let go, accept. This lack of tension and anxiety is a magical thing.
The only place that I differ with Michael is in the word "happiness." In examining his words of wisdom, I prefer to insert the word "peace." I am more peaceful when I accept what comes along and less peaceful when I expect anything. I find that to be less qualitative than "happiness," which I've been somehow trained to think is a good thing. Peace, for me, is simply a state of being in which you experience less conflict and less struggle. Peace is possible when acceptance happens and expectation ceases. What a powerful thought and lovely way to be.
So, in the future, perhaps I can sit with Michael J. Fox to tell him how much his words impacted me and to debate semantics on this. I will never expect this to happen, however if the opportunity presents itself, I will definitely accept.
Be well and revel in the peace you can create for yourself each moment of the day.