Big days hold so many expectations. So much pressure. Of how things are “supposed to” be or about things you’re “supposed to” do. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. And also, weekends, evenings, vacations, mornings. So many ideas of what should happen, what we should be doing, how we should be behaving - many of them not even conscious, but driving the show anyway. These ideas weigh on us, drive us, lead us to judge ourselves and each other. Have we lived up to the expectations or have we fallen short? Have we nailed it or been a whopping disappointment?
This week has been filled with big days in my world – our anniversary, Father’s Day, my son’s birthday. I’ve had to work to be aware of my “supposed to’s” so that I could let go of them and allow whatever was or whatever we wanted to create to be ok, to be enough.
It has taken conscious effort to accept the reality of some situations. No, I will not get to celebrate my birthday with my son in person this year. My heart aches over that, but it’s just the way it is right now. So, what can I do instead? How can I find a way to celebrate him, me, us, this life, and the years we’ve shared and all that they’ve carried? What will work for me/for us in this reality?
I’ve had to work to choose to give us permission to spend our anniversary and Father’s Day the way we wanted to. It’s ok to share a nice lunch instead of a big fancy dinner. It’s ok to eat in and create a picnic that fits what I want to eat. It’s ok to choose not to do gifts, because we just don’t need anything more. It’s ok to make space to enjoy the day the way WE want – to decide together what works for us, moment by moment. It takes awareness and presence to grant ourselves full permission to do this.
I have had such high hopes for so many special days over the many years of my life. Too often I’ve found myself disappointed or let down when things didn’t measure up. So, is this settling now? No! This is simply letting go of all the conditioning that bears down on me about how anything is “supposed to” be!
These supposed to’s extend beyond these special life moments – they seep into our roles (“good” mother, friend, sister, boss, student). They permeate our ideas of what life is supposed to look like, how our plans are supposed to go, what this life’s trajectory should be like, how recovery should go, what a house is supposed to look like… on and on and on.
Often they lead to disappointment or a sense of failure because they carry the idea that there is ONE way or a RIGHT way to do anything. They close the door on what might be true or right for you in this moment. They limit us.
Slogans, mantras, and pithy sayings can keep us locked in rules given to us or rules we’ve taken on. Often, we don’t stop to examine them. We don’t bother to consider, “Is this still true for me? Does this work with where I am in my current life? Does it fit my present-day thinking? Does it make sense to me?”
Spiritual supposed to’s can keep us spinning with ideas like “I know I should focus on my blessings or on what I’m grateful for. I know I need to just let go and let God. I know I need to accept what is… to surrender. To trust. To have faith in a greater plan. God wouldn’t give me more than what I can handle. Everything happens for a reason. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger…” and on and on these ideas go. Sometimes these help get us through, but sometimes they are a spiritual bypass asking us to jump over a harsh reality. Sometimes we just need to be real. We need to sit in the messiness of human which may not want to hear these things in this moment. Sometimes we need to take a step back and examine these ideas – are they really serving and supporting me in this moment or are they just making me feel worse about what I now judge to be my less-than-ideal behavior?
How to deal with supposed to’s:
- Know what yours are. Begin to notice them when they crop up – often as a sneaky force running below the surface of consciousness but very much influencing your experience of life.
- Examine them. Get curious. Consider where they came from. Is this an idea someone else imposed upon you that you continue to carry? Is this one helpful or is it limiting your ability to consider other possibilities?
- Wonder about them – what do these supposed to’s tell us? They may carry a longing or desire that genuinely comes from the heart. They may reflect a sadness or grief (“it wasn’t supposed to be this way”) that deserves to be acknowledged and honored. They may invite you to sit with what’s been lost.
- Decide which ones you will keep and honor when you can and which ones you might be ready to let go of or reframe.
- Open yourself to possibility thinking.
Supposed to’s carry a sense of solidity, inflexibility, and certainty (which can be part of their appeal, I suppose). They are constricting, limiting, and often based on the past or past conditioning or other people’s ideas. They shut us down and close us off – keep us looking at the world through blinders. They stop us from questioning, evolving our thinking and being.
On the other hand, possibility thinking comes when we open our hearts and minds to consider what else might be ok. When we face the reality that is here, we can choose consciously how we want to live and be. We can open up and flow in a way that aligns with who we are in this moment – we can breathe in, feel into, lean into what fills us up with delight, satisfaction, or contentment. We can decide what is enough and to go back to last week’s piece on Boundaries, we get to choose what is ok and what isn’t, what we will do and what we won’t do.
When we open up to give ourselves permission to change and grow, we may release some long-held ideas of how things are supposed to go or what life is supposed to look like. We may discover new thinking or consider fresh ideas. We are more willing to consider someone else’s perspective.
When we can open our hearts, listen to the wisdom and knowing our own bodies and hearts, we can begin to live in a way that better suits us. We can find our own way – our own truth – to perhaps model, create, or teach a new possibility for others to consider.
So many supposed to’s… and I haven’t even touched on the health and wellness ones, the how people are expected to behave in any given setting…
What supposed to’s get to you? Are there any you’re ready to let go of, reclaim, or redefine?