The Zen Of Zero Expectations

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The Zen of Zero Expectations Leads To Happiness

Not a single one of the best things in my life were a product of planning, aspirations, or working toward a goal.

This realization hit me only in the last few days and I'm still reeling from it, to be honest, because so much of my life has been spent (wasted) making big, life-altering plans, failing to see them through, then hating myself because of my perceived inability to complete anything.

I spend a lot of time and energy hating myself for what I haven't accomplished, which is genuinely f*cking stupid because I have done A LOT of stuff I never anticipated at all that turned out aaaaawesomely.


I was completely committed to never wanting a kid, but I've been a parent to the best one I've met for almost a decade now.

I never aspired to be published in TIME, or to visit Graceland on a crazy overnighter, or teach at a college, or perform sketch comedy abroad (I literally saw the sign outside the room where auditions were going on at that minute and walked in, figuring "What the hell?"), or work as a food critic/restaurant reviewer, or model for various businesses/artists, or join a belly dance troupe — those opportunities just sort of appeared, and I got to jump in without pressure to perform at any specific level.

This is not to say I've never worked for anything. I played on a couple championship sports teams when I was younger; I graduated college; I earned some Girl Scout and piano competition awards; I took some crappy, crappy jobs because I needed to.  

And I've sacrificed and worked hard to afford things I didn't necessarily want as a responsible adult in a functioning family. That all required discipline and hard work. But none of those things fall into my "Favorite Things About My Life" file.

(OK, except that time I won a trip to Burning Man. I worked for two months on that 1,000-essay-question entry form. Worth it.)


I constantly make plans to change myself and am always left disappointed. This has gone on as a daily lifestyle for at least 20 years now. I'm always saying, "OK, I'm going to lose X amount of weight by X date."

Or "I'm going to have a draft of my memoir finished by the end of this year!" and then, when my manufactured motivation inevitably fails, absolutely loathe myself, instead of recognizing anything I've been doing successfully in the meantime.

For example, confession: I currently work part-time at a corporate art/craft supply shop as a custom framing specialist, and I really like it. I've been there for about 4 months, learning about framing a variety of art with an array of materials, color schemes, tools, etc.

I'm learning how to build frames, and I get to meet local artists and preserve people's priceless memories. I'm working with my hands! With power tools! And I'm really enjoying myself. I like showing up to a job I don't have to stress over. I like not really having to be in charge of anything or anyone other than my personal work.

I really dig being left to complete tasks by myself in the frame shop. I like having a gig that lets me be creative and helpful to people, but that I don't have to take home with me if I have a bummer day.

I'm not saving lives or changing the world. I'm not doing anything that will propel me toward magical legendary status. But I'm happy here right now. And, actually, that's how I felt working at a natural health shop, and a non-profit, and a community college in the last 5 years. These were all things I did that I really enjoyed while they lasted.


I'm aware my resumé is starting to get as much variety as Barbie's. But I'll be honest: a huge part of me has been all-encompassingly anxious at the notion that I haven't been "living up to my potential" for the last 9 years since I graduated college.

I've mentioned before I was a super-overachiever as a kid but I was constantly told I was "going places" and "destined for greatness," and I started having crazy anxiety because I don't know what those things f*cking mean. I mean, I know what society thinks "making it" looks like: vast wealth, accolades, maybe fame, but what does "making it" look like for me, personally?

This abstract notion of Greatness seemed too vague and improbable...and it seemed like something I wasn't yet and would have to work to achieve without any sort of clues as to how to get there. And since I didn't know how to become "Great," the whole idea of cultivating Greatness just got to be too overwhelming.

(I crashed and burned a lot as a result in my late adolescence. I still do to small degrees now. Just like when I was learning to ski and would get going really fast down a difficult slope and I would get freaked out and voluntarily wipe out before I wiped out for real and hurt myself. I've done that same thing in other circumstances, but I like to think I've gotten better in my 30s.)

Only in these last few days I realized that:

  1. It doesn't actually matter if I ever become what others consider Great if this ordinary, small town, non-wealthy, non-famous, non-distinguished life I'm living is making me happy on a day-to-day basis. Because day-to-day is what becomes my lifetime.
  2. I've happened upon some pretty extraordinary things in my 33 years without working to make them happen or having to change any/everything about myself. Maybe I'm already Great without having to try so damned hard.


And honestly, maybe we all are. And maybe Greatness isn't something we have to become, but that we have to realize about ourselves, exactly where we are at any point.

This article was originally published at The Suburban Bohemian . Reprinted with permission from the author.