I wake up in my 17th city so far this year.
And feeling slightly worse for wear, probably from mixing beer, wine and rakia (fruit brandy) the night before. A glass of unfinished beer and an orange sit like an odd couple on top of the chest of drawers by the door. Some time, much later, I manage to leave the flat. This is my second time in Bulgaria, and as I hike the sunny, afternoon pavements of Sofia to clear the sludge in my head, the city feels completely new.
I’m on a new mission. My mission in Sofia is to read. A book a day. Thirty books. There, I’ve said it now.
After an hour of walking I feel much better (remind me never to drink ever again). Now I’m ready for today’s mission, to finish reading “Crazy Good” by Steve Chandler. I started a few days ago, so am already half way through. I’m getting off lightly today.
The book is about transforming your life from good to ‘crazy good’. About moving from thinking like a victim to being a creator. About turning problems into games and procrastination into action. About giving and living without expectation.
Steve writes with a simplicity and honest beauty I’ve not seen since Charles Bukowski. Both men battled alcoholism, which flavors the brutal directness of their writing, and share a philosophy of taking 100% responsibility for one’s own life. As Bukowski said,
Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it.
But the choice first has to be made. Crazy Good, subtitled “A Book of Choices”, is all about just that. Choosing between creating vs. reacting, serving people vs. pleasing them, shaming yourself into becoming motivated vs. making it a game, testing ideas through action vs. simply trusting.
And then there’s the choice between agreements vs. expectations. Whether it’s between us and other people, or us and ourselves, expectations are a cruel task master. Expectation sows the seeds of resentment, leading either to disappointment when what we were hoping for does not happen, or no feeling at all when it does. Agreements, on the other hand, are just a set of shared objectives, which can be reviewed and redesigned if things go wrong.
The destructive nature of expectations is particularly interesting to me right now. This year I’ve done an overwhelming amount of travel. England, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Hungary and now Bulgaria – I still can’t quite comprehend the journey I’ve taken. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, for I’ve met more kindness and friendship than I knew possible, and had experiences that challenged my limits and taught me invaluable lessons. And yet, despite reminding myself on a daily basis that I was on the kind of journey that most people crave, I went through periods of distinct negativity. Back in Seoul, I diagnosed this as travel burn out, fuelled largely by too many nights of bad sleep. But now, thanks to Steve Chandler’s writing, I can see that I was in many cases consumed by the effects of expectation. Expectations of places, people, how I was supposed to be feeling, and what I should really be doing instead of galavanting around the world.
It’s natural to feel these things at times, I hear you say, we can’t live in a constant state of inspiration. That’s true, but it’s one thing to taste and swallow these emotions, another to be conscious when they occur and then try to transform them into something more positive. What I’m really getting at here is not just a way to manage disappointment and dissatisfaction, but a battle cry to cut them off at the root, to not have the expectations in the first place.
And it’s not only having experienced these negative emotions that makes me want to slay the beast of expectation. It’s having felt the other side of the coin, the effortless joy that flows when expectation is totally absent from the equation. For without exception, the happiest moments of my life have come when I was not expecting anything at all. Just engaging with life head on, dancing with the Universe. Like arriving in Sofia last night and my host Boryana’s smile and friendly tug on my arm when she met me at the airport. The box of chocolate cookies waiting on the desk in the Airbnb flat. The invitation to dinner with Boryana’s family and the fresh mackerel, bean salad, peppers and goats cheese. Boryana’s father and boyfriend pouring me rakia, wine and beer (in that order). Collapsing happily onto my bed at 1.30am.
So, as I prepare for hibernation in the Bulgarian capital, I think it’s time to make an agreement, with myself. That I won’t again expect anything of another person, place or experience. I will even have the same compassion towards myself and live from a place of joyful, deliberate action rather than expectation of meeting vague, self-imposed ideals. Most of all, I will allow life to be just as it is, good or bad (although, crazy good would be nice). And perhaps, just perhaps, you won’t have any expectations of me either.
Photo by Alessandro Sacchi