A strange thing happened this morning. I woke up giddily excited about the day. The day. Not anything it contains, not anything that will happen in particular. Just the day itself. The fact that it exists. I haven’t felt that way for a very long time and I am pretty excited about it.
There are a few reasons I think this might have happened (and hopefully will continue happening). I’ve been really focusing lately on the way I think about the events in my life and how I chose what things I do (and don’t do). I have learned a few things since moving here (ok, re-learned the same things again, for the millionth time) that have made me approach my life and my attitude differently. It feels good. It feels fresh. It feels like I am walking through a forest, smelling the pine trees and fresh dirt and feeling happy to be alive. It’s really nice.
I’ve been wanting to share a few of these ideas with you (I’ve missed our chats!), but as I started writing about each one they got long enough to be their own post. So I will just start with the one that is on my mind most today: expectations.
Moving to London
When I moved to London, I was SO freaking excited. I could barely contain myself. But in the last couple of months leading up to the move, I also felt some serious fear and frustration because, although I was DYING to get there, I couldn’t picture what my life would look like at all. I had no idea how to envision it. I knew I would be studying and that’s about it. I had no idea where I would live, who I would live with, what friends I might meet, what my classes would be like, what my university would look like, nothing. Absolutely nothing. And looking back, although that really caused me a huge amount of stress in the lead-up to the move, it was the greatest gift I could have been given.
I walked into London with no expectations at all. Not one. It was amazing. I truly made every day my own. Everyone was a new friend waiting to be met. Every street was a little present waiting to be unwrapped. Every walk was an adventure. I watched every day play out however it chose to and not only appreciated that I was there for it but experienced unbridled joy at the thought that I was lucky enough to be in the middle of it all. It was really one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had.
Now, let’s compare that to my most recent change.
Moving to Muscat
The first month in Oman was really hard for me. After such a glorious, magical move to London, I expected the move here to feel the same. I thought I would bounce down the streets meeting new friends right and left, that I would have a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my time here the minute I landed, that Chris and I would get off our flight and settle into big fluffy sofas and their accompanying domestic bliss.
In reality, by the time I got here I was totally spent. I was really truly scraping by in London and it destroyed my confidence, my courage and my resolve. Those last few months I was running on fumes, and by the end it felt like I was dragging my way to the finish line, using every last little bit of energy I had to get myself through until we got on the plane.
The image I had of our lives unfolding like a picture book, unaided by any mental or emotional exertion of my own, did not exactly match reality. And it sucked. Having spent all my energy just getting here, I had nothing left to work with. But for those first few weeks I had no choice but to keep on pushing; to spend day after day trying to find us a house; to drive around every inch of the city tracking down all the things we needed to make our house a home; and to spend the little time I could with Chris when he wasn’t busy working twelve-hour days. It was exhausting – far from the refreshing, rejuvenating evenings in on the fluffy sofas I had imagined.
So What’s Made this Time So Different?
It might be tempting to put the difference down to Oman being a developing country with some complicated and illogical systems to navigate. But if you’ve lived in the UK for any length of time you’ll know it has its own special, convoluted way of doing things that creates similar frustration. My delicate emotional state this time around could explain the difference too, but, although the move to London was blissful once I arrived, it was a really difficult one to make. I left behind the first truly tight group of friends I had ever had in my life, and I was terrified I would lose touch with them.
What really made the difference between these two experiences was my expectations.
When I set an expectation, I paint an image in my mind of what the experience will look like. If it is something I am really excited about, the image gets decked out with little frills and embellishments that make it even more enticing.
The problem is that it is impossible for my expectations to match reality completely. Ever. There are just too many factors out of my control, too many things I have to account for, to know about, and to understand in order for me to know what the experience will really be like.
Because I can never paint a realistic picture of what my experience will be in advance, there will always be a difference between reality and the image I’ve concocted. And the chances are, when I’m actually in the moment, what I’ll see is not the reality of the experience I’m having, but the differences between it and what I expected. It’s the gap between the two that brings me frustration, anxiety and, in the case of personal expectations, crippling bouts of self-criticism.
Expectation Undermines Experience
This is exactly what I was guilty of doing that first month here in Muscat.
Looking back, a lot of good things happened then. I learned the city really well because I was out and about in it all day every day. I found some of my go-to cafes and writing spots when I was sitting around waiting to buy people’s washing machines or dining tables. I made the decision to start down a new career path and serendipitously enrolled in the classes I would need to do it the same day. The weather was absolutely perfect and I had a few opportunities to go out to the beach for some nice relaxing swims by myself. And the first weekend in our new house, Chris and I went on an absolutely gorgeous hike that made me ridiculously excited to explore more of this beautiful country (see the picture at the top!).
A lot of good things happened that first month. But it took another month to recognise it because I was so busy noting the lack of fluffy sofas and relaxing nights in (both of which we frequently enjoy now).
So my advice for any of you out there who have recently (or not so recently, even) missed out on the good parts of something because you were busy comparing it with your expectations is this: in every situation, in every place you may find yourself working, or living, or studying, or going out to dinner, or meeting up with friends, the best and most wonderful way you can go through any of it is with absolutely no expectations. Zero. Zilch. None. Give yourself the chance to experience it for what it really is. You’ll see a lot more good in it than you might expect.
Postcard of the Week (or Quarter)
Another expectation I have had a really hard time diffusing is the amount of writing I want to be doing both on this site and in postcard form. I think about it multiple times a day and take notes all over the place for things I want to talk about. Then when I don’t meet my own expectation of writing at least one post(card) a week, I get utterly despondent that I am putting off what I love doing and missing out on the opportunity to meet really interesting new people at the same time. Cue the crushing self-criticism.
I am currently trying to work out exactly where the balance lies in the triangle between writing when I feel like it, pushing myself a little with goals and deadlines, and being a domineering asshole with a heart of stone. I’m aiming for that middle one if it’s possible.
All that to say that I still plan to send postcards with every post I write. This week, keeping with the idea of abandoning expectations, I took the photo of this card with a little art project that came to life while we were watching tv last night. I started playing with these bits of paper, just to see what they did and what they looked like, and they kind of emerged into this flower that I thought was really cute. I never would have thought of it in advance, it just came of its own accord. I kind of love that.
Anyway, this week’s card will be in the post as soon as I can get it there and it will hopefully arrive intact in Utah a couple of weeks from now. I’m looking at you Wendy!
Want a postcard? Send me your details here and I will send you one!
See you next time!
2 thoughts on “Fluffy Sofas and Domestic Bliss (or not)”
Thanks for the reminder. I would also add that you should stop asap to compare things with “back home” makes adaptation easier and faster.
Glad that you have nice things to say about Oman and I’m waiting for pictures too. I tried to whatsapp you a while back but I guess that you have ditched your UK number now. Hope I can post this message somehow it’s always hard on your blog.
Hi Jameela! I definitely agree about the back home thing. I was just having a conversation with a friend about that comparison and she said a really wise thing that “you have to live where you’re living.” It made me really see that sometimes I am trying to make my life here an extension of one back home instead of something on its own. It’s a hard challenge but I think really worth it.
I’m sorry it’s hard to post comments. I will look into the process and see what I can fix to make it easier!
I did switch from the UK number but I just sent you an email with the new one. I hope things are going well for you in Jeddah!