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High Hopes For Low Expectations

life is now

by Hayley Doyle

2023 has arrived.

And my high hopes for kicking off the year doing 30 days of Yoga with Adriene have been dashed by a nasty fever and prickly body aches, confining me to my bed. Even typing these words make my fingers tired, but I was going stir-crazy transitioning in and out of sleep over the whole day. It didn’t seem like such a big deal, either. 30 days of yoga. I’ve done it before. Some days it’s just nine minutes. For some it’s a whopping 33. But even making that hopeful commitment in my mind, I’ve set myself up for a fall. Sure, I can start next week, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it as 1st January, does it?

So here lies the truth of lowering expectations. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, especially since the pandemic years. Rather than hope for all of my dreams to come true in the New Year, I’d settle for oodles of normality, please. Last year, I just wanted my kids to get through a full term at school, to see my family without any bizarre rules in place and perhaps wander up to a restaurant and get a table without having made a reservation weeks in advance. Every time these “normal” things happened, my heart soared. Crazy, right? That’s post-pandemic living for you.

Although, I have always been in favour of New Year. I love the glitter, the glam, the countdown. I have always surrounded myself with some of my favourite people. From a low-key cosy night to a big old knees up in a party dress, I’ve always done something. It drives me mad when people say, ugh, it’s just another night. There’s got to be a cut-off point. A moment of recognition for what has passed and what is on the horizon. Otherwise, we would just keep going without a chance to pause and reflect. It’s good to compartmentalise in some way. To look back at each era. Each chapter of our story.

Ever since I was a kid and I was allowed to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve felt that bubbling excitement, that tentative anxiety. I’ve bumbled about on nervous energy from 11 pm onwards, terrified I’ll miss the Big Ben bongs or that the first firework will catch me off guard. Because at the stroke of midnight, it's out with the old, in with the new. It’s a clean slate. You’re standing on the edge of possibility. A whole variety of experiences await you over the next 12 months. It’s only natural to feel hopeful. That this will be THE year. YOUR year.

I’ve definitely fell flat after high hopes of a year being “mine”. Big goals tend to come with big disappointments, even when goals are scored. That’s not to say we shouldn’t aim high. Instead, we should try to be mindful of how things can pan out. I landed my first West End job towards the end of 2004. As I celebrated the New Year at Hogmanay in Edinburgh, my friends fizzed with joy as we danced in the rainy streets, telling me, “This is your year! Think about what you’re about to achieve!” Yes, it was a biggie. It was a dream come true. But fast forward to that year and toxic behaviour within the company affected me badly during that job. It all looked incredible. At times, it really was; there were magical moments. But there were also miserable ones, filled with uncertainty, doubt and a huge knock to my confidence. It was hard to open up about because people expected me to say, “Yeah, it’s all amazing!”

So I poured my creativity into writing a book. I wanted to get it published so bad that after a few rejections, I self-published. That following New Year’s Eve, I got the tingles, thinking, this is it! Next year will be my year! The book will sell and I’ll be rubbing shoulders with Marian Keyes at book events. But alas. The self-publishing industry wasn’t going to do me any favours if I didn’t have the self-funds to self-publicise it. More than a decade later, I was offered a two-book deal with a major publishing house. Yep, it took that long. The year my debut was to be published was 2020, and as we kissed goodbye to 2019, oh, how blissfully unaware we all were. High expectations of an official book launch and tour were met with something called, Zoom. I never saw my book in a shop because shops were closed. Due to matters completely out of my control, the disappointment was atrocious. I soothed myself in the knowledge that everybody was suffering from the pandemic, in a multitude of ways, and many were in a much worse position than I was. I had a lot to be grateful for. But comparing ourselves to others doesn’t always help us feel better. If anything, it just creates a mask.

So this New Year is all about keeping my expectations low. This isn’t a negative option. In fact, it’s to bring more natural positivity into my life. Instead of dreaming big, the idea of meeting low expectations might be surprisingly refreshing. For a start, it will relieve the enormous pressure I’ve always put on myself. I don’t have to eliminate everything that I do, but I can aim to replace some of those things with new habits. Do I worry that by lowering my expectations I’ll prevent self-growth? Maybe. Or, maybe it will have the opposite effect. By attracting less disappointment, I might find I have room to flourish.

Perhaps you’re already of this mindset? And perhaps you have friends who you worry about who get over-enthusiastic about New Year? If somebody you know has had a truly awful year, taking the view of “Let’s make this new year the best year ever,” won’t make the emotional trauma just disappear. The problems are still going to carry over. While this mind-set can be good, it can also be - unfortunately - a little dangerous.

Erin Monroe recently went viral on TikTok telling viewers that she was lowering her expectations for 2023. The video got more than 2.4 million views in less than a week. After feeling rather flat about how 2022 wasn’t as carefree as we’d all perhaps hoped, she said, “When I’m connecting with people, everybody has something happening right now that is hard.” Kids are bringing home virus after virus from school. Friends are worried about their personal finances. Countries are hurtling into an economic crisis or worse, going to war. She added, “It kind of feels like we are running against the wind with cement shoes on…I don’t need 2023 to be my year; I need it to not be a soul-sucking drag through earthly purgatory.”

Global market research company, Ipsos, recently discovered that 65 percent of respondents reported feeling optimistic that 2023 would be better than 2022, compared with 77 percent a year earlier. So rather than starting the New Year with high expectations, many people are just hoping it doesn’t turn out to be terrible. Lowering the bar is necessary to protect us from further disappointment. Erin Monroe’s viral TikTok actually made its rounds on the internet with the accompanying hashtag #Don’tSuck2023.

So, does it matter if I don’t write another book this year? Of course not. Hey, I might stumble upon a wonderful idea and pace myself, remembering to be gentle with my workload rather than racing towards some fabricated finish line. Or, I might find enjoyment in something else entirely and recognise the moment, instead of allowing it to pass me by because I’m too distracted by my giant goals. Right now, I just want to get out of bed and reach for the paracetamol without it hurting… Although, my husband has just popped his head around the bedroom door. He feels ropey. He’s gonna be next, isn’t he? And the kids are due to go back to school tomorrow…

So 2023, it really is just one day at a time.

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