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Acceptance vs. Expectations: Lessons in Letting Go

"I'm slowly learning how to let go of expectations and accept things as they are."

I've been thinking a lot about the difference between acceptance and expectations.

When I was a young woman, before marriage and children, I was part of a volunteer program in St. Louis, MO. Six young adults lived in a house together, and we did various volunteer jobs in the city. It was a great experience, and I gained many life lessons that I still use today.

One of my housemates once told me that he didn’t have any expectations when going into a situation. I was stunned. It was as if he was speaking a foreign language. How can a person not have expectations about everything in life? I needed to know what was going to happen or what I thought would happen in any situation I engaged in. I now realize this need for control stemmed from the uncertainty and chaos I experienced as a child.

I'm slowly learning how to let go of expectations and accept things as they are. Letting go of expectations means that when I enter a situation or relationship, I don't decide how things will go ahead of time. I can prepare myself and do what I need to do, but I hold these expectations lightly. I make space for things to unfold differently, and I don't have to manage a situation if it doesn’t go as I believe it should.

One simple example of this is with my partner, Tim. For years, I always had a vision of how things should happen—whether it was a trip, a project, or dealing with our children. If Tim veered from my vision, I would let him know. For me, this wasn’t just a suggestion of how something should be done; it was my reality. But the truth is, these were just my expectations of him and how things should be done. This created a lot of discord in our relationship.

Now, after almost 40 years with him, I’m beginning to accept the way he does things. I realize he is a smart, thoughtful person with great ideas. When the urge to impose my expectations arises, I can often pause and remind myself, “He has his way of doing things, and it’s okay.”

I don’t do this perfectly, and I don’t do it all the time. But I’m learning and making progress. It’s a journey, and I try to be gentle with myself when I start to control situations.


How do your expectations interfere with your life and relationships? Are there ways you can create more acceptance in your life and go with the flow? As with so many things, it starts with loving and valuing ourselves. Loving ourselves helps us love and value others too. When we value ourselves, we don’t need to prove our worth by managing those around us and the outside world. If something goes wrong, we know it’s not always our responsibility to fix it. Through self-love, we can relax in who we are and let others be who they are too. Just as we have gifts and strengths, the other people in our lives do too.


This week, try to let go of expectations and accept things as they are. When you feel the urge to take control, pause and take a deep breath. Breathe in and out 12 or more times. Then ask yourself, “Can I let go of this and let the other person handle the situation?”


To help us with this process, we can also practice gratitude. Be grateful for the strengths and gifts of others, as well as your own strengths. Remember, when you do this, you are developing the strength of letting go and creating more peace and calm in your life. You’re only one person; you don’t have to carry the whole world on your shoulders.

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