[Started while living in Italy, the Lessons from Abroad series shares some of the life lessons I learned through my expatriate experience. Since moving back to the US, I’ve found the lessons from living abroad have not abated; just changed. This post continues the periodic series.]
Each of us has a different path through life. Each of us has our own choices to make. We should make the choices with our own hearts in mind, finding the best option for us in the moment. We should be watchful for where we might be choosing to live up to the expectations of others, rather than what’s right for us. This is an area I’ve done a lot of personal work, and feel stronger about ensuring that I’m not following someone else’s path for me. I’m not trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. That’s a good place to be.
The new problem, I’ve recently discovered, is that I’ve been full of my own expectations. Expectations I made for myself while in Italy, upon return home to the US. I returned with many “this is how it’s going to be” statements. I was so worried about losing the personal growth I found in my expatriate experience that I set a path for myself to follow. I made plans. And while I’ve followed those plans for the most part, it’s been with increasing struggle and frustration. I’ve come to realize why – the plans and expectations set for myself while in Italy (let’s call that version of me “Italy Kat”) were done with the best intentions, but without knowing the reality of the situation.
Only the version of me that exists now, in this place and this moment, knows the reality of the situation. Only I can choose what’s best and right for me now. But I’ve become increasingly aware of this little voice in my head as I make new plans, saying, “But you planned… expected… thought…” The voice is Italy Kat, and she’s constantly judging the decisions I make now against the plans I made then. She’s constantly on the lookout for places where I’m off the path she set for me. And she’s quick to make me feel as if I’m falling down on the job if things don’t turn out as she planned.
So I struggle. And I get frustrated. And I discover it’s due to nothing else but my own expectations.
I discover this because the last of my Italy Kat expectations are starting to fray. One by one, over the past months, I’ve had to unravel these expectations. I did have big plans for what life would be like upon moving home. I wonder if I wanted to recreate my Italy experience here. I know now, I can’t. We are in a different place, leading different lives, with different needs. My Italian experience was wonderful, beautiful and life-changing. But I can no longer live my life under the shadow of that experience, with the expectations I set for myself during that time. It’s time to hug Italy Kat, thank her for her only wanting only the best for me, and send her back to Italy where she belongs so that I can get on with the business of living my life the way it needs to be lived. Here. Today.
So I find myself learning another important Lesson from Abroad, almost ten months after repatriation: Living to please and follow the expectations of an older self is just as damaging as living to please others. If we live our lives to please others we only find ourselves empty and unhappy in the end. We lose who we are. It’s the same for our own selves, with the expectations set in another place and time. If we live the path we defined for ourselves in the past, we won’t grow. In trying to keep my Italy experience alive, I wasn’t allowing myself to grow into new experiences. I was starting to lose the very thing that was so important to me – the connection to my heart and soul. That connection must be ongoing, in the moment. It can’t live in the past.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think it’s only obvious to me because the dramatic differences in life that repatriation brought. Has this ever happened to you? Do you recognize yourself in my words? I’ve thought through some steps to help me move through this, and they may be helpful for you as well.
- If you are struggling in an area, not feeling satisfied because it’s not turning out “as expected,” take a close look at where the expectations are coming from. Are they from a plan that you created for yourself in the past?
- One you identify the expectation, acknowledge it. State the expectation, make it real. So often these are unspoken expectations, hiding in the background, and it takes acknowledging it to begin to deal with it.
- Forgive your former self for setting the expectation. Acknowledge and thank her for having your best interests at heart.
- Let the expectation go. A ceremony might be helpful here, in order to physically act out the letting go of expectations. I’m planning on writing all of Italy Kat’s expectations down on slips of paper and then burning them, letting the ashes blow away in the breeze. Even visualizing this has already helped me let them go.
- From this clear state, look at the choices you need to make and decide which next steps you want to take on your path. This may take some time, as there is no longer a guiding expectation from the past. As you create a new plan, recognize that you are setting new expectations. Make these openly and with flexibility. Give yourself permission to adjust along the way.
- Breathe deep, and take the first step on your new path, free and unburdened by the past.
I am still working through these steps for myself. I’ve recognized, acknowledged and let go the expectations set by Italy Kat. I have the blank slate in from of me now. I don’t know that the next step I take will be much different than the one that Italy Kat would have wanted me to take, but I know that I will be doing it for the right reasons now. I will be choosing with my whole heart and soul, in the moment, within the reality of now. That’s the best I can ever hope to do.