Letting go of expectations: Heather Marshall at TEDxGreenville 2014

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I am here to help you do even more

unzipping of your minds and of your

hearts Roxie clay came out here and

challenged your expectations and I'm

going to ask you to unzip and let your

expectations fall out and push them

aside all together because they're

holding you back

expectations are those lists of things

we build up that tell us how things

should be they keep us feeling safe and

they also often prevent us from being

fully present in our lives and from

living to our highest potential so I'm

going to tell you about my journey away

from expectation which also turned out

to be a journey toward self empowerment

and hope and then how it might apply to

your relationships as well I first

learned about the power of letting go of

expectation on my journey back to my

natural family my birth family I'm

adopted and my adoption is a fairly

standard post World War two story in

Great Britain my natural parents live

next door to each other in a small town

near the east coast of Scotland and when

they finished high school they went to

the west of Scotland to Glasgow a

whopping 38 miles away my father went to

Glasgow University my mother went to

nursing school

and when she became pregnant they

decided they were going to get married

but they were going to wait and tell

their families when they went home on

Christmas break

so they expected to end that year by

becoming a family that was December 1966

what they got instead was a tearful

break up outside my father's garage from

my mother that was followed by a stay at

a mothering home a daughter who left the

hospital before she did a bill for my

foster care and ultimately my adoption

my father paid penance by working as a

bricklayer for a year before he

to University in Edinburgh they never

saw each other again

whatever expectations they had were

shattered on top of that they were told

that they should be grateful privileged

that they had a chance to redeem

themselves and move on this is all

pretty standard stuff for that time in

place and I'm telling you this because I

want to note that although my parents

learned not to expect in the wake of our

separation this is not the productive

kind of letting go the kind of letting

go that they learned is rooted in shame

and in punishment

there isn't any hope in it it's about

shutting down and what I would like us

to do today is learn how to let go and

open up so fast-forward 18 years from

that tearful breakup in the garage my

adoptive father my dad had made it clear

that he would totally understand if I

wanted to go and find my natural family

this is a lot easier in Scotland than it

is here they don't alter birth

certificates the adoptee has the rights

to all the records so I took myself off

to the House of Records in Edinburgh and

got hold of my birth certificate it had

my birth name my mother's name her then

address it took me another 18 years to

decide to search the lead up to that

would take another TEDTalk or two mostly

something had shifted inside me on a

trip back in 2003 I walked past the

house listed on the birth certificate

and I just couldn't let it go after that

I was led entirely by my gut I kind of

had to be adoptees are less than 5% of

the population only a few of assert and

only a fraction of the people who search

actually wind up being in réunion there

aren't enough of us for there to be a

guidebook and for me this turned out to

be a good thing it did help that I had

had my own child my first child in

somewhat similar circumstances to my own

birth it also helped that I knew

two other friends who were adoptees who

were in reunion they had gone into the

reunion with a litany of expectations

one friend was in a relationship with

her natural father that could best be

termed as clandestine the other friend's

father drank himself into ICU the first

time they met their relationships with

all their natural families were fraught

to say the least

so I went in with an awareness of the


I looked clearly at the risks and I

decided to go ahead I went in also

trying to pare back to what I really

hoped without the expectation and what I

hoped was to find my natural mother I

wanted to know where I came from

yes part of me did want the Oprah style

reunion you know the one where you go

and the whole gigantic attractive

successful natural family welcomes the

adoptee on whom they've been waiting

their whole lives but I did not go

expecting it I pared back and back to

what was driving the hope I knew I had

to hang on to that I knew I had to be

whole and I had to expect nothing when I

felt ready to do that I contacted birth

link in Scotland this is a nonprofit

agency that helps adoptees and their

families connect with each other I put

my name on the list for a searcher that

takes some months so in the waiting time

I searched more deeply within myself I

asked myself all kinds of odd questions

what would I do if I found my mother and

she was dying and needed my help

what would I make of it if I found her

and she was alcoholic obese if she was

destitute a retired prostitute and I

realized that anything that would bother

me deeply would do so because I already

saw it as a weakness in myself in other

words anything I might want her to

change was really something I wanted to

change in myself I believe this is also

called owning your own stuff

also talk to my brother he's also

adopted and he said look Heather the

only thing you really have to worry

about is if you go to meet her and she

comes to the door with her bags packed

and goes alright darling we are we going

cuz she thinks she's moving in with you

anything else you can just run away from

Stuart is often good for a little bit of

comedy with some truth embedded and he

was right either one of us could end the

relationship at any moment and isn't

that the case with all our relationships

we behave as though in our relationships

especially our significant ones we

behave as though we're operating with

some kind of a relationship union like a

pipe fitters union that's going to

uphold our expectation contract but the

truth is relationships live in a

right-to-work state any party and

sometimes a third party like sudden

death can end the contract with no

notice and no cause and that is a scary

truth to face but as with any other

truth all the expectation in the world

can't stop it what I knew what my net

natural parents and I had lived for

nearly four decades before we came

face-to-face is that expectation doesn't

guarantee you a thing so I entered the

relationship knowing the risks I entered

the relationship owning what I brought I

entered the relationship without that

guidebook and here's the good thing

about there not being a guidebook there

aren't any articles about what a good

reunion looks like like the articles you

read that imply that all the other

married couples have more

sex than you the skinny woman next door

eats cherry pie for breakfast the other

guy's business makes more money than

yours and it's more fun to work there

all the things that build up our

expectations and they record chances of

honoring what's right in front of us so

when I entered the relationship in this

way what I found that I was able to

really rest in and notice small moments

and to take joy there I noticed for

instance the grain of my mother's

freckled hand wrapped around her mug of

tea the first time we met I got to

experience her with the surest sureness

of adulthood and the heart of a child I

didn't have my expectation checklist

running through my head that's what

expectations do they tend to run through

our head act like a third party in our

relationship constantly vying for our

attention and that feels okay when

things match up but even then we've

stepped away from the moment and the

relationship to check in with them and

when things don't measure up then we

really go aside we start talking to

expectation asking it for affirmation he

should have brought me flowers shouldn't

he she should run those meetings on time

and our expectation list says oh yes

honey you are right get back in there

and make them do it your way so you keep

asking and asking and getting grumpier

and grumpier when things don't measure

up if you've asked a couple of times and

you haven't gotten the response you

wanted you're probably not going to get

it and in that stepping away to measure

up with expectation you've missed the

moment and the relationship as it

unfolded that might have offered a path

forward and even when the worst thing

happens when your expectations aren't

met and another path forward isn't on


you're then

resting in the truth and you can choose

to move yourself forward from the truth

of that relationship in that moment

expectation does not stop painful stuff

from happening it just blames it on

somebody else what expectations do is

pull us out of the moment they hold us

in an infinite loop of false possibility

so I challenge you today to free

yourself from this loop of false

possibility before you leave this

building this afternoon think of one

relationship that has one unfulfilled

expectation in it let the expectation go

search yourself own your stuff

commit to entering your next interaction

in that relationship without the

expectation hanging on to some hope and

then just allowing yourself to fully

rest in the reality of the moment

whatever needs or wants you might have

it's possible that those can be met in

some other way but not by this person at

this moment settle your heart to that

and then move yourself forward I think

you'll find that if you can be brave

enough to rest in reality human and

flawed and possibly beautiful reality it

will take you places better than you've

ever dared to expect