I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel a fairly constant tension between our hopes or high expectations, versus what we know realistically we can expect. There is a similar tension between not giving up hope, yet somehow also not having any expectations – the premise being that if we don’t have expectations, we won’t be disappointed by what is.

In the past several months I’ve consciously done my best to eliminate the “shoulds” from my speech and my life. Words are so powerful, yet it still amazes me sometimes how profound of an impact it had to get rid of the shoulds.

And I think that the shoulds are the dark side of expectations. The shoulds are what make it so hard for us to accept and be content with what simply is. The shoulds give us the language to dwell on what we wanted, and the fact that it is different than what we got or what happened. And thus instead of accepting and appreciating what is, we make ourselves unhappy and discontent.

It’s a balancing act, of course. Sometimes the simple act of recognizing that the tension is there, that there needs to be this balance, sometimes that is all it takes to help get us or keep us on track. And sometimes the way to find this balance is to get some space from it. This can apply to many things, and in many ways, but I’ll use photography as an example.

After I come home from some place and some time when I was taking pictures, I’m almost always disappointed the first time I look at photos. The reasons are varied, and sometimes it is as simple as needing to process the raw files to be able to see the potential of the final image, but most often I have set in my mind the pictures that I think and/or hope will have turned out really well. And so I flip through my pictures to get to that one, or the few, and almost always it simply isn’t as good as I’d hoped, as I’d had in my mind. Maybe this is something that will change as my technical skills improve, but I doubt it. I think it has more to do with the expectations and hope that I build up.

If I come back to the pictures later, I’m always (and I do mean “always”) surprised to find other pictures that I really like. Ones I hadn’t thought much about, often ones I hardly remember taking. The more time that passes, the more open I am to these other pictures, because the more I’ve forgotten the expectations I’d come home from the photo excursion with.

I find the mental process almost as interesting as the photographic one. I also find it interesting that this can actually apply to a lot more than photography. I think this is how we find contentment. We stop looking at what we think “should” be there, and we start to see the beauty in what is there.

sunrise in florida