Monday, February 20, 2012

In Praise of Expectations

I came of age in an era in which things like this--named "the Gestalt prayer"--were actually considered profound:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

Now, no offense to all Fritz Perls, who thought this thing up...but it's a crock.
It's always been a crock.
And somewhere in our soul of souls, I think everyone knows that it is.

Please understand...I'm not saying that we need to live our lives through, or for, others.
I'm not saying that others' demands need to stifle our own lives.
But we don't live our lives "by chance," either...not if we ever expect to do anything of consequence with them.
And the same goes for expectations.

There are two schools of thought on expectations.

One is, the unrealistic "attachment" view--the one that causes children untold anguish as they try to grow up and do "the family business" even though they hate it...or they try to become the children their parents "actually want" instead of the children they truly are...or they try to do any one of a number of things to earn someone's love, when love isn't supposed to be "earned" at all.

This is wrong on several levels--not the least of which is that without individual, personal autonomy, life is meaningless.

(That's why God gave us that pesky free will, incidentally. Because obedience to Him that was commanded, or willed, or manipulated, wouldn't be real obedience or love at all; it would simply be coercion.)

But equally unrealistic is the "detachment" view taught by so many New Age Western and old-age Eastern philosophies: the idea that you really have nothing that is "your own" on this earth. That you really have no "right" to expect anything of life...or of anyone else. That you are happiest, and you bring the most happiness, when you really expect nothing. You leave others completely free to be, or do, anything they like; you accept and embrace it all, it all rolls off your back and leaves your inner core pretty much untouched, and thus you sail through life serenely, and...

Needless to say, this doesn't work either. And it's not because we're not "evolved" enough yet to make it work...but because that's simply not the way human beings are wired.
Not if they're conscious and slugging it out in the trenches.

And I thank God that He wired us that way.

Because life is much, MUCH richer when one is expected to do great things.

I have that experience right now in my musical life.

I've spent a life in music. It's gratifying to realize that and say that out loud--because for a long time, I didn't believe or understand that that's exactly what I've done.

For a long time, I considered myself a failure at being a musician. I was a "talented amateur" who was well-trained, who occasionally was paid for a gig...but I wasn't full-time paid for it, I wasn't supporting my family with it, and I wasn't walking around with infinite letters behind my name and dignities all over the place connected with it. I never got my Master's, much less the doctorate I thought I was going to get.

Yet I still loved to sing. (Which was what I really loved about music in the first place.)
So I sang all the time, but most of the time I sang for free, in places where hardly anyone came to see or hear us, and sang music even my own family was hard put to understand. Needless to say, many times, I felt like a wannabe. A failure. Someone who never achieved what she was "gifted" to do.

Now, however, I know that's not true.

That has changed over the past two years, because a director has come into my life who has high, high expectations--and works harder than any of us to equip us to live up to them.

I haven't had that combination of a director who demands, who expects, and who will not let you get away with anything but your best--and makes the experience exhilarating--in a long, long time.
And I love it.

I love the meticulous care. The detail work. The repetition until it's as right as we can make it.
But the biggest blessing of all?

This man's approach, and his care for us as singers--not just as "chorus members" in a volunteer, community chorus, but as singers--is giving my voice a new lease on life as well.

This is no small thing.

I'm going to be 60 years old this August...and I'm still singing clear, and strong, and high. :-)
I cannot thank my voice teacher enough for the foundation that enables me to do this--but I also have to admit I've fallen into some bad habits. When you don't have regular voice lessons, it's easy to do so.
And when you're not treated as a real musician every step of the way...but only as an amateur, so much of the's easy to forget that you are something more, and fail to give yourself permission to be so.

Under this director, I'm not only expected to be a musician...I'm permitted to be one.
A real one.
And I'm not a failure.
All because someone who is a brilliant musician himself--possibly the best musician I've ever had the pleasure of working with--expects me to succeed.

The power of expectation, in my case, gives me more than "obligation."
The power of expectation, in cases like this, gives you back gifts you already had...but you forgot you had. Or neglected to remind yourself that you had--until someone says, "Tap into this. I expect you to be this good. I know you can be."

He knows we can be this good.
He knows we can even surprise him, and exceed his own estimations--because we did it last spring. :-)
An immense amount of external expectation has also been placed on his shoulders, and  a great deal of "reputation" is riding on our next performance.
It's important.
It matters.
We're expected to do well...and we need to live up to that expectation.

I can't wait to do this guy proud.

How can that kind of expectation possibly be a bad thing?
Answer? It's not.
Because being expected to be somebody and to do something of value is way, way better than "if by chance..." any day of the week.

Gestalt if you want to.
I'd rather be expected to be great.
That is living up to the autonomy God gave you...and cashing every bit of the body, mind, and spirit checkbook you've been given.

That's singing.
That's living.
That's being blessed.

And that's what's really profound...and beautiful.


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