There has never been a time when we were more in thrall of our expectations. Or perhaps there has: how can we know? Perhaps it is an essential part of the human experience, the jostling pull of social status, that we are forever looking over the next hill, measuring ourselves against our neighbours, plotting and planning exactly how our life should pan out, what we should be capable of, that our life will follow the master plan and have all the things in it that we’ve ever possibly wanted, that we will be forever young and healthy and admirable in our being.
Expectation has been playing heavily on my mind recently. I have just started running. I have started running because I have been disabused of my expectation that I will be forever as thin as I was as an eighteen-year-old, that I will always be able to run up the stairs without becoming breathless, that I will never get backache or high blood pressure (an expectation I was disabused of some time ago). I have started running in the expectation that eventually, though not immediately (I am not quite that deluded) I will begin to lose weight, I will grow stronger and my general fitness will improve. I have been running now for three weeks. I am following the Couch to 5k programme, the NHS podcasts, and it’s a gentle introduction to running starting with very little running at all and working up over nine weeks to being able to run for thirty minutes. So far, aside from the first run which I needed several days to recover from, it’s not been too terrible. I can run for three minutes continuously now. Three minutes. It’s a small number, but an achievement all the same.
So far I haven’t lost a single pound. I am no thinner than I was before I started though I am more bruised and my heel and toes are a little tender. My knees ache, now and then. I marvel at my body’s ability to maintain a constant equilibrium of mass no matter how little I eat or how much I move. I wonder if I’m over-compensating in other areas. Maybe I sit around more. Maybe I sleep more. Maybe I secretly eat more, though if I do I’m sure I don’t observe myself doing so. Perhaps it is so secret that it is a secret even to me?
It is early, still, in my running experience and the lack of weight loss isn’t a terrible issue. I still feel I am making progress on fitness. I can definitely run for longer and I am not horribly exhausted by my efforts. But I wonder: if at the end of nine weeks, when I can run continuously for thirty minutes (assuming that expectation is reached), if I still don’t lose any weight how will my expectations cope with that? What is the point of energetic activity if a slender, toned and muscled physique does not naturally follow?
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Once I start thinking about expectations I realise how pervasively they rule my life, like a secret rulebook programmed into my mind at birth from which I can never deviate. I expect if I work hard I will be rewarded. I expect my employers to honour my work contract and I expect to be able to retire, someday, on the spoils of my pensionable salary. I expect my children to do well at school, that they will make friends and be happy and find rewarding employment (as, no doubt, my parents expected for me). I expect my husband to love me. I expect the sun to rise (the earth to turn) each day. I expect to go on holiday once a year, or more if I’m lucky, and I expect it to be relaxing and joyful and for the hotels to be wonderful and the food delicious and the sun hot or the snow cold and each day to be flowing with exciting new experiences. I expect my mother to be healthy and independent. I expect my pets to be non-hostile. I expect my house to be weather-proof and in need of minimal maintenance. I expect my whims to be satisfied and my days to be without boredom or tedium. I expect to enjoy movies. I expect people I encounter to be pleasant and respectful and I expect that no one will ever make a negative judgement about me. I expect to be healthy and I expect to remain that way, even whilst sitting on my backside surfing the internet and chowing down a pack of Pringles having not raised a finger all day except to change channels on the TV. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. I can’t remember the last time I had Pringles, and the chance of having possession of the remote is slim to none, but the internet surfing and sitting around is probably reasonably accurate.
There is a gulf in my life between my expectations and what I am willing to do to achieve them. I forget that anything possessed needs to be maintained. Perhaps that is the expectation of youth, a status I left behind some years ago but which my expectation is still catching up with, that nothing ever changes or if it does it only changes for the better. I am not adept at losing, as my failure to lose weight attests to. But I can revise my expectations and, perhaps, in so doing my experience will improve.
I could expect that there will be days of tedium.
I could expect that work is just work and it might not always be rewarding. Sometimes it will be a slog. My employers will be duplicitous and will strive to take more from me than they are willing to pay for.
I could expect to get old, that my body will slow and deteriorate but that there are things I can do to stay strong and as healthy as possible. Japanese radio exercises are worth learning.
I could expect that a bowl of soup is a satisfying dinner (I tried this today, and it is).
I could expect that I will never retire, but that my career choices will change as I get older.
I could expect that spending a portion of the day uselessly surfing the internet is not a total waste of time.
I could expect to enjoy running.
I could expect to subvert my expectations every day.