Thursday, September 2, 2010

Coping With Unfulfilled Expectations

A while back the question arose in a discussion, "What do you do when your life doesn't turn out how you thought it would?" The man who posed the question expressed that he had many dreams and hopes in his life that were unfulfilled and consequently he was living each day with regret and self pity.

I spent the next few days thinking about his situation. I think all of us have dreams we will never see achieved. Maybe bad health restricts us from participating fully in physical activities, or the death of a spouse eliminates some opportunities. Maybe infertility has caused us to put away dreams of raising children, or the need to help out the family financially has put on hold a desire to stay at home with the kids.

I realize I don't have the answer for all those who feel they are missing out in life, but here are three suggestions that have helped me cope with disappointment.

Develop a habit of expressing gratitude.
I have learned that when I am unhappy, it is usually because I am focusing on what I don't have rather than on what I have. Initially it might be hard to express gratitude for what we have when we feel deprived of so many things, but like any other talent, we get better with practice. As I kneel each day and express gratitude for my blessings, I have become aware of many that have slipped by unnoticed. Expressing gratitude each day also helps me focus on what is good in my life and that brings joy and peace.

Redefine your dreams.
Although it may be true many of the dreams I had at 20 will never be achieved, I have accomplished much I never dreamed of doing in my younger years. Perhaps a dream of seeing all your children married in the temple does not appear likely, but maybe you have taught and influenced other youth through teaching Sunday School. Maybe your dream of finding the cure for cancer won't happen, but perhaps you have been the means of helping heal broken hearts through service.

Make a list of what you have done, enjoy the satisfaction from that, and then make another list of what you realistically would still like to do and get up and start doing it. Sitting around feeling regret and sadness for what we haven't accomplished while refusing to move forward, will only guarantee that at the end of our lives we will still be sad.

Realize the fulfillment of dreams doesn't always have a time limit.
There may be dreams that realistically need to be let go, but just because we are middle aged, or even elderly and have not done all we had hoped, does not mean it still can't be done. Blind men climb mountains and ninety-year-old women have gone back to college. It may take longer than we expected, and it may not even happen in this lifetime, but if it is possible to do, we should not give up. Life for most will last quite a long time, and eternity is even longer.

Most of all, the biggest lesson I have learned in life is this . . . there is time to accomplish a lot; we just need to be patient and in the meantime learn to find . . . joy in the journey.


Shannon said...

Lovely post. Thanks!

Momza said...

Oh Lori,
I needed this today. Thank you so much. There are examples everywhere of people making lemonade with lemons! It reminds me of the hymn line:
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

Hugs to you! Have a great holiday weekend!

Handsfullmom said...

Wonderful advice. I think our culture tends to emphasize individualism in dreams too much "follow your dream" "achieve your goal," with no thought to our Creator and the Giver of our gifts. I believe that God can help us discover better dreams and lead us to places where we can serve His chidlren.

If my life is acceptable to God, then why should I care if I haven't achieved whatever goal I wanted to or whatever someone else told me was important?

Marilyn said...

I'm so glad you are back to posting--fyi-my daughter and husband are definitely moving to your neck of the woods. If you hear of any inexpensive apartments/houses/townhouses will you let me know? They don't want to pay more than $800-900. They aren't moving for several months, probably not until Jan until after the baby is born.

Heidi said...

So much wisdom in this post. I agree that there isn't a person on earth who doesn't have unfulfilled expectations. I think, tho, that it is harder for the person whose basic needs aren't being met and who is living amongst people whose needs and most wants ARE being met. That's pretty tough. My heart breaks for people in those situation, though I agree that gratitude for what one has and all the other things you mention go a long long way towards developing contentment.

Sue said...

This is great advice. You are a wise woman.


Lisa @ Pulsipher Page said...

Great advice!

Dave and Camille said...

Thanks for the great post! It reminds me of Elder Bednar's talk where he said that sometimes he says prayers where he just gives thanks for all of his blessings and doesn't ask for anything. I think that's a great way every once in awhile to remember everything we have been blessed with. Love you!

The Crazy Coxes said...

Great post!
I'll be thinking about his on my long drive to Idaho tomorrow! ;)
It's always good to look around you and marvel at what IS going well and what you ARE doing right!!!!

Just ME the MOM said...

So inspirational - reminds me of a talk on CD from Michael Wilcox entitled the "fourth watch" I'm sure you've heard it, but it always reminds me we are on Heavenly Father's time schedule. It's comforting to know that he sees the big picture and creates the master plan. Hugs!