The Constant Struggle of Expectations vs. Reality – 2019 In Review

Through the ups and downs of the year, one thing is clear – 2019 has been a classic example of the constant struggle of expectations vs. reality.

Expectations vs. Reality
Me at Mars Hill, Athens this year – where reality was much better than expectations!

The end of the year is one of the most reflective times in our calendar. Please join me in looking back on my year with a lot of “oh yeah that happened” and “oh wow that happened?”, and hopefully in finding something useful reflecting on your own.

If you’re joining me for the first time, I usually like to write a review of the year that was – have a look at my reviews for the last few years: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014. Joining the ranks is the last time we will ever write “201” in front of the date until ten thousand years in the future – the end of the “Twenty Tens” or “Teenies” or whatever we’ve been calling the last 10 years and finally being able to use a more concise term like the Twenties again. Speaking of the Twenties, are we going to see a return to top hats and elegant gowns for a night on the town? I reckon with my classic haircut that I could rock a top hat with some effect. It’s also your last opportunity to use the “I don’t have 2020 vision” joke, so better get on that.

Across the globe, it’s been a tumultuous year indeed. A certain Swedish teen has dominating headlines. Major world cities including my own have seen daily climate protests during peak hour traffic – although no one glued themselves to a plane like they did in London a day before we touched down there. The Syrian Civil War has been absolutely abhorrent, with millions of people displaced or dying, and it hasn’t been much better in places like Yemen or Somalia. We’ve also seen a lot of innovations in technology and communications both in the business and personal arena. Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Assistant are all integrating more and more into life. And those hybrid Teslas are still gaining traction. Avengers: Endgame broke the box office in half, and many more streaming services have joined and left the fray.

In my country of Australia, there is heaps that’s been happening. My local town of Brisbane has seen a new Lord Mayor discretely introduced during the year whom I had the privilege to hear speak at a function just last week. ScoMo won the unwinnable election in May (yes, that happened this year), and has been as polarizing as any political figure is nowadays. There have been bushfires and high levels of smoke pollution, along with the usual floods and storms. Straya has been growing at its own steady little pace and I do enjoy the fact that it means there are more great food and shopping options that stay open late. And I’ve been mega stoked with the growth of a drinks company called Remedy Drinks who make some of the best sugar free drinks around cause it means they’ve released more drinks at more shops.

It’s also been another solid year for Walking The Shoreline. A few thousand readers every week are tuning in to read about the gambit of topics I like to write about, and I appreciate all the people who tell me how some little thing I’ve written has helped them find meaning or perspective in a situation in their life. Some of my post popular topics I wrote about this year have been about the Christian man drought, the lessons porn teach us about men (not a very PG read), the story of my life in how Easter changed my life, becoming a dog owner, and even my Avengers review – among many other topics, have a look at some of them here. I even dipped into travel blog territory in writing about How to Have a Great Time in New Zealand. Maybe we’ll see a few more of those in the near future for some of the other countries I’ve been to.

In my life… well, that’s why we’re really here, isn’t it?

I was trying to think the other night if my year has been good or bad. It’s hard to put it down into a binary answer. I would say mostly good though, as there have been a lot of good things about this year.

In truth, I had a bit of an explosion internally last night when I got home from work, and I needed to go for a walk around the hills of the neighbourhood to process all the things I was feeling overwhelmed by. Even amongst all the good things, I was still just having one of those days where all the challenges were getting to me and I needed to take some time to breathe and process instead of just exploding in an incoherent, unproductive fashion. I did an exercise that I’ve read a few authors suggest, especially to us men who aren’t as good at working out what our emotions are telling us, and that is to write down all the things that we’re annoyed or overwhelmed by. You write “I am frustrated with…” and then finish the sentence without stopping yourself filtering it – I’d recommend it whenever you’re feeling it all. After a major rant of over 20 things into my phone, I was able to see the theme of my year so clearly in the summation statement of my frustration – I wrote down “vision and reality not lining up”, or as the movie 500 Days of Summer contrasts in a great scene – expectations vs. reality.

As a bunch of general highlights for the year, I think I’ve finally settled into the groove of being a dog owner, finding that other dogs are finally starting to confirm this with their intuitive love as opposed to their anxious confusion at my Former Doggy Ineptitude (or FDI). I guess I never expected to be so good with Jazzy as I’ve become, but the reality has turned out to be quite different. I had my first proper car accident this year, which I fortunately wasn’t too harmed from besides whiplash. My car was away for three weeks and the other person involved wasn’t harmed at all so it could have been much worse. My wife and I have also been following the Centr program and been loving the good healthy food and the murderous workouts.

It’s been another year of further growth in my career and relationships. I’ve had the opportunity to further develop my skills in the IT industry in more “politically restrictive” environments, being able to apply some of the practices I’ve seen succeed in more liberal companies start to succeed in places where more governance exists. I’ve also met so many more people and continued to build on different friendships and connections.

It’s kind of hard to talk about this topic or this year at all without mentioning a number of months of discovering that certain people who I thought viewed me a certain way turned out to have a large number of complaints and views that had gone back a number of years. Seemingly out of the blue, what I thought was a set of relationships that were going pretty good turned out not to be how everyone felt about it. This ended up having a profound impact on the people close to me this year who were also taken back and hurt by what was happening. I was able to work through a number of the concerns with a few of the people with a skilled, unbiased mediator but not so much with the rest. It definitely reinforced to me the importance of keeping people safe and protected – including myself, of working things through properly with the right experienced help, and an active reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. Expectations vs. reality once again.

Two foundational arenas of relationship in my life continue to be my marriage and my church. We’ve definitely had a lot of good times this year including a lot of challenges – the challenge mentioned above included – and it’s been a real reminder of the truth that marriage is like walking around with a mirror staring back at you, highlighting and emphasizing the best and worst parts of yourself. In my case, a very pretty, very attractive, very generous and considerate mirror. I can’t tell myself but I am hoping that I have risen to every challenge and grown more as a husband and a man overall. I do notice that I am constantly battling in my head between how I think things could look vs. how they actually look. Sometimes I wish certain times looked a bit different – mainly within myself – but more often I am taken back by how much better reality is than what I had hoped. In marriage we can always let ourselves obsess over what we think is missing over how much that we actually do have. My wife and I had a really great trip in Europe for three weeks for our anniversary, going across London, the Cotswolds, the Galway region in Ireland, Paris and Athens, and we got to have so many experiences of another world there that we’ll remember it for a lifetime.

My church also continues to be one of the greatest sources of strength and one of my greatest support networks, with great friends, mentors and leaders helping me navigate through the challenges of life. After a bit of a reset in my level of responsibility after moving churches a few years ago, I’m right back into it helping run some teams and continuing to do all I can to input into our young adults ministry. It truly is one of the most rewarding pursuits of my life.

I’ll never forget one moment at church this year, pictured in the post How Easter Changed My Life, where I was reminded of the reality of family in the community of faith. From multiple sources at the same time came the message, “This is family”. One of the leaders in my life had managed to photograph the moment where this was spoken into me so strongly, surrounded by the love and strength of the larger community. They say it takes a village, and I’ve definitely found mine. Our church also released a very powerful album – you can even see my wife and I sneakily in a few of the songs. You’re always welcome to come say hello if you’re ever in the Citipointe area.

I guess as a very driven person, I had a clearer picture in my head of where I wanted to be with some of my other goals and finances. This percent here and this much buffer there and the house paid off to this point by this time and blah blah blah. Unfortunately earlier in the year I discovered I had developed pernicious anemia (or B12 deficiency) sometime at the start of the year which wasn’t there in December last year, and this was causing me to have a lot of days off throughout the year, impacting my bottom line. Fortunately once I was able to find that out, taking an oral supplement dramatically improved my health over time, and that balanced itself out a bit more. But as a result, I found myself looking at where I am and frustrated by where I could be. With a proper reality check, I was able to see that all of my goals are being met, just perhaps not to the extent I would like them to be. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about on that one. I think a scene at the start of the Pixar movie Up shows it best, when the couple has their big savings money jar for their romantic trip to Paradise Falls, but then something breaks or falls apart and the money needs to be retargeted. Just a reality of life, isn’t it?

I guess in being honest I can also find myself frustrated by where I can see others are able to be compared with where they seem to be content. I’m replaying a game at the moment that I remember spoke to me at a young age of my calling to be a leader and to inspire others towards greatness and the manifestation of their true calling. I guess that’s one of the contributing factors to why internally I am saddened when I see someone below where they could be. I can hear people’s potential so loudly in my head and I can see the practical steps they could be taking to become those people. Whether or not they ever reach their potential though is not something that is or will ever be fully within my control. All I can do is hope to inspire you and all I come into contact with to be the best, most free, most powerful, most fulfilled, most alive version of yourself. My deepest prayer is that you find who you were born to be and to see you operating in the truest reality of what you were designed to do.

Expectations vs. reality. What we thought it would look like, versus how it actually looks. My biggest ally, and my greatest enemy, is the picture in my head.

I was laughing this morning when one of the podcasts I listen to by Steve Furtick was lined up for play and entitled, “This Isn’t What I Pictured“. I could tell heaven was smiling at me and encouraging me to share what I had learned about myself and my year with you.

I think that all of us have images in our head of how we think life is going to look. Whether it’s in our love lives, our finances, our ministry, our friendships, our families, our relationships, our dreams, our whatever – we all have ideas and preferences of what it should be like. But frequently, reality is at odds with the image in our head. And that’s not always a bad thing – if you allow yourself to see it, reality is often far better than we could have ever imagined, and what is actually ruining our lives is our unwillingness to see how it actually looks over what we thought it should look like. 

And then I’m at odds with what is within my ability to do something about. When I don’t like reality, when it’s not good by any standard, when it seems that the status quo isn’t helping anybody or our full potential isn’t being realized – that it doesn’t have to continue to be a certain way and that I have something I can do about it. But will I always be able to tell the difference between a situation I’m called to accept, or a situation I’m called to be the answer to? Such is the tension of life, and I know for a fact it has been the story of many a day so far, and will continue to be so into the future.

And so the new Twenties are coming around. Or whatever year is coming that you’re reading this in. Will they be days marked by frustration at unmet or inaccurate expectations? Will they be days where reality is fully embraced and accepted for what it is? Or will they be somewhere in the middle – days where we improve what we can, and accept what we can’t, and hopefully, as the famous prayer puts it, the wisdom to know the difference.

CS Lewis said to this end, “I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination“. Another mentor of mine, John Maxwell, also put it well by saying this: “Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan“.

I hope that in the new year and beyond, it can be said of me that I stayed the course of the vision, but didn’t lose heart when I failed to accept the realities that should remain unchallenged for those that should. 

I believe in you with all my heart. Your potential is amazing. And I pray that you have the boldness to embrace your destiny and to get there with strength and grace to spare. 

So there you go. My year of expectations vs. reality. I hope that in reflecting on my year with me, you were able to do some reflecting on your own year, ready for the next chapter of your life. What was your year like? Have you thought about it? 

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