Expectations of Opportunity

I know a young man who was offered a job. He hadn’t been job hunting, mind you. He already had a job. No, he was approached. And when they told him the salary, he said, “I think I should get 10 grand more a year.” And they gave it to him. He works there still.

What blows me away is that it would have never occurred to me to tell a potential employer that I was worth 10 grand more a year. Even if I believed I deserved it, the thought of asking would never have crossed my mind. I was never taught that such a possibility existed.

I think that is what separates the wheat from the chaff of humanity. Some people are taught to expect, even demand, opportunities. The rest of us are taught to keep our heads down and be grateful for whatever it is we happen to get.

Women, minorities, the underprivileged, none of us are taught to ask for 10 grand more out of life. None of us are taught that we have negotiable value. And most of us don’t even realize that there’s another way to be.

It kind of makes you wonder what other opportunities never get presented to us, simply because we don’t think to ask.

Opportunity

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The Cultural Iceberg

I took the picture below at the Highline Heritage Museum. It’s really a densely packed topic, and I love how they have simplified it in a nice graphic display. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

They prefaced this image by saying that about 10 percent of most icebergs are visible above the surface, and that culture is the same way. There’s a lot of culture that’s hidden beneath the surface. Here are some of the cultural encounters I’ve had.

  • Body Language. In Turkey, raising your eyebrows means no. Once I mastered that, I was able to fend off many aggressive salesmen. But it never came naturally to me.

  • Personal Space. When I lived in Mexico, I never quite got used to how “in your face” people preferred to be. I’m sure I came off as rather distant and cold.

  • Self. I once dated a Maori, and his extended family was continually in his house, for weeks at a time. That would drive me nuts. I need my “me time”. I can’t be myself when I’m surrounded by so many people, but he didn’t feel like himself when he was alone.

  • Time. I’ve long been fascinated by the Aboriginal Australian sense of time, but try as I might, I can’t grasp it.

  • Animals. I’ve had many friends from many cultures who are horrified that I allow my dog in my house.

  • Expectations. A Hindu friend of mine once told me that we Americans expect to be happy, and are constantly disappointed when we aren’t. In other cultures, he said, no one expects to be happy, and they’re therefore pleasantly surprised when they are.

  • More Expectations. A friend from Spain once told me that we Americans always seem to think everything is solved with an “I’m sorry.” He was really surprised by that.

It’s amazing how different we are, deep down, one from another. The picture below really shines a light on that in a beautiful way. There’s more to individuals than the clothes that they wear and the accent they employ. It makes me really want to get to know people beneath the surface.

Cultural Iceberg

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Lowering My Expectations

The vast majority of the time when I’m really annoyed, the situation fits into one category. People are not behaving as I feel they should.

I have really high expectations. I think everyone should act with integrity. Everyone should tell the truth. Everyone’s motivations should be pure. Everyone should have everyone else’s best interests at heart. Everyone should be kind and respectful. Everyone should be reliable. Everyone should say what they mean and mean what they say.

“Should” is the most insidious word in the English language. Here’s the question. Where did my notion of perfection come from? Heaven knows I have not seen many examples of this behavior. This rulebook of mine is something I seem to have conjured up in my own mind. In fact, it’s been my experience that a lot of people behave quite abominably (see also: Washington D.C.).

If most of the crows I’ve seen in my life take flight, why would I expect them to suddenly do the breaststroke? If I know it to be true that dogs bark, why would I expect them to start singing showtunes? If your habit is to be a jerk, why would I imagine that you’d behave otherwise?

And yet I follow this pattern consistently. People don’t fit into my arrogant little box of perfection, and it drives me up a wall. It’s just so freaking frustrating!

Do I derive any benefit from my irritation? Does it serve me well? Does it change anything? No, no, and no.

I have no magical power to change people. I’m not the behavior police. The only thing I can do is work on myself.

Logic dictates that I lower my expectations of people. I need to stop measuring them by a yardstick that is clearly not of their choosing. I have got to loosen my grip on the steering wheel of life.

It would be so liberating to be pleasantly surprised when someone does something good rather than be irritated when he or she basically acts like he or she always does. It would be a relief to direct my energies toward those things over which I actually have control. It would be wonderful to just do me. I’d love to be less disappointed by others, not because they’ve straightened up, but because I realize it’s not my place to sit in judgment, and because I’ve come to accept the fact that people, as a general rule, don’t change.

Now, the trick will be to figure out how to lower my expectations without crossing that fine line into the land of no faith in humanity whatsoever.

Pardon my dust. I’m still under construction.

Expectations

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Those Pesky Pedestals

I’ve always admired the Dalai Lama. For me, he seemed like the epitome of enlightenment. He’s dignified. He’s compassionate. He remains calm in the face of grave injustice in the form of China stealing Tibet. He doesn’t even seem bitter about the fact that no country is willing to step in to correct this outrage. He’s all about love and acceptance. He doesn’t judge.

But it seems that he’s also just a man of his generation. And that breaks my heart. Because as a man, he’s inherently flawed.

According to this article, he has said on more than one occasion that if a woman succeeds him, she should be attractive. Because if she’s not, no one will want to look at that face. Even when he is told that this comment offends people, he sticks by it.

This enlightened man just doesn’t get it.

You’d think that someone who has seen his country go through what it has gone through would understand that it’s wrong to require that someone’s most important quality be something that is so completely out of her control. It’s wrong to place hurdles in front of one group of people that you don’t place in front of another. It’s an incredible waste to completely overlook someone’s vast inner value based upon the arbitrary yardstick that you use to give a seal of approval to their outer shell.

It makes me sad to now see the Dalai Lama as an old man with occasionally outmoded, wrong-headed ideas.

But perhaps that has more to do with the rickety pedestal I have placed him upon than it has to do with the man himself. What right do I have to expect perfection? Just because he has failed to meet my standards, that doesn’t mean his inherent value as a public figure has changed.

Let’s try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as he seems so willing to do. But give me a minute to mourn the fact that I am having to lower my expectations, here. I, too, am only human.

Dalai Lama

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The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Encountering Fame

I’ve crossed paths with several famous people in my lifetime. Each encounter was different, of course, but they all had one thing in common: I always walked away ever-so-slightly disappointed.

Part of that is due to my own expectations, I’m sure. If you watch a person enough, you feel like you know them. So when you talk to them and they don’t act as if they know you, it feels weird. What’s your problem? We hang out every Thursday night! Oh… that’s right. You’re on TV.

And it’s always a mild shock when someone’s public persona does not match their private one. But of course, it wouldn’t, would it? I’m sure you have to hold parts of yourself back for sanity’s sake.

Even in those encounters I’ve had in which the person was very gracious and kind, I’ve gotten the sense that they wanted to hurry me along, and get it over with. I’m sure I’d feel the same way, if I were in their shoes. But I’m in the shoes of someone who is meeting a personal hero for the first time, so I don’t want to be shuffled out of the way, politely or otherwise.

But let’s face it. Everything I say, they’ve probably heard a million times before. And there’s this unremitting wave of people coming at them. That’s got to be exhausting, and a bit scary.

I think it’s probably better not to meet your heroes. But if given the opportunity, I don’t see how I could resist taking it. Because, I mean, maybe one time there will be this connection. We could be pen pals. Yeah! Not.

Some of the famous people I’ve met with varying levels of success: Jacques Cousteau, Arlo Guthrie, Hillary Clinton, Rick Steves, Glynn Washington, David Sedaris, Tom Cruise, and one of the Harlem Globe Trotters (and he was rude as hell, so I won’t name him.)

Fame

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Hallucinations

I’ve written a lot about reality and the perception thereof. I used to think of reality as a solid entity. I thought there was one reality, and all of us had varying abilities to see it. Now I’m not so sure. Reality seems much more fluid these days.

I know that the things I see out of the corners of my eyes when I’m severely sleep deprived aren’t real, but they sure seem like they are at the time. More than once, I’d swear I’ve heard someone call my name, only to look up and see no one who knows me, or, worse yet, no one at all.

When my mother died, I missed her so much that I swore I saw her several times in a mall, or in a train station, or rounding the corner on a crowded city street. Apparently that’s a very common part of grief. But it sure gives you a jolt when it happens.

I’ve had entire conversations with someone only to realize that due to a misunderstanding, we were talking about two separate things. That can be hilarious. But surely there have been times when we’ve both walked away without realizing we were not only not on the same page, but in completely different books. And there’s no way to know how often that happens.

According to this article from the Atlantic, entitled Hallucinations Are Everywhere, a lot of hallucinations come about because your brain anticipates what is about to happen, and that can make you believe it is so. It’s a fascinating read. But it leaves me wondering how much of my reality is crafted by my brain out of whole cloth. That’s a little scary.

Another thing the article says is that a lot of hallucinations are harmless. Whew. That’s a load off.

So much about the world these days seems to be built upon a fragile, shifting foundation. I can’t really blame my brain for trying to fill in the blanks to make sense of it all. But I long for something solid. Something logical. Something I can count on.

Hallucinations

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