One of my worst habits is that I worry. A lot. If I make an airline reservation, I imagine what I’ll do if I miss the connecting flight. A pain in my side must surely be appendicitis. I create entire dramas in my head as I work through calamities great and small that will befall me. (And I wonder why I can’t sleep.) I jokingly justify this behavior by telling myself – and, frequently, others – that by expecting the worst, I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.
I’m not truly a hypochondriac and really don’t expect to be killed in a plane crash (at least not anytime soon). But running scenarios about the worst that can happen – or the best – is, I think, a dramatic “what if” exercise that serves as a way to ward off my fears, by making them seem ludicrous, and temper my wildest hopes, by making them more realistic.
Most of us anticipate the future as it affects most everything, from what will happen if Joe Blow becomes president to how our colleagues will react if we wear that leopard print cardigan. Some of these assumptions we set for ourselves – marry the right man and we’ll live happily ever after – but often, we let others set our expectations. Our nearest and dearest will always act in our best interest; those we dislike or don’t understand will surely stab us in the back when we’re not looking.
We form our expectations through a combination of hope and pain, dreams and bad precedents. But if we’re not careful, we spend a fair amount of time being disappointed.
I’m not sure I can keep my monkey brain from projecting outcomes, but I’m slowly getting better at not leaping to conclusions when things don’t turn out as planned. “All that is gold does not glitter,” starts an oft-quoted passage from Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” In other words, not every result is what it seems. A perceived misstep might be the start of a wonderful new adventure; a tragedy might open a door to great joy.
Disappointed? Even ashes can spawn a phoenix. None of us can truly imagine what comes next.