What is Life Expecting of You?
Our dog Magnificent had a rough go of it after the birth of our son. This whiny and smelly new creature—whom we endearingly call Shep—was interesting to him at first, and Magnificent steadfastly tended to his every cry and kept close guard whenever anyone new ventured near him.
But once he realized that Shep wasn’t just a temporary visitor and that he was sticking around for good, his intrigue was replaced with overt jealousy and irritability, to put it mildly; he intended to make it very clear that he had not signed up for this big change.
It was hard to blame him. Magnificent had spent his entire life with my wife and me all to himself, then suddenly (and did I mention, without his consent) had to compete for our attention with this helpless and unruly beast. This was not what he expected. So, he began acting out—stealing Shep’s toys, trying to keep between us at all times, and dramatically moving across the room should Shep approach (complete with audible sighs in protest to ensure his annoyance was clearly conveyed). It was a rough time for him, and we weren’t sure how to solve it.
I felt for him because I have certainly been there many times before—in a place where life wasn’t how I thought it should be. I recall one period in particular a few years ago when I was struggling with a project that was very important to me and long in the making. I was frustrated that things were not materializing in the way I wanted them to, no matter how hard I tried. In search of guidance, I returned to a book I had first encountered in college, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. In rereading it then, I was struck by Frankl’s observation that “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
Frankl’s words caught my attention. They reminded me that I was so fixated with how I expected life to be for me, that I forgot that what really mattered was what life expected from me. This challenged me to flip the script. I took it as a call to action and began considering what this situation was expecting from me. As I adopted this new outlook, I noticed my perspective started to shift in the following ways:
- Embracing Reality: Instead of being fixated on what I wanted, I began to see reality as it actually was. This helped me to first gain a clearer understanding of the state of play and then to determine the appropriate course of action.
- Depersonalizing, yet Meaningful: My focus shifted beyond myself, enabling me to detach from the situation and not make it about me. This lowered the perceived stakes and reduced my dependency on a specific outcome (the one I expected). Yet somehow at the same point it instilled a deep sense of personal meaning, as if I now held a small yet essential role in something much greater at work than I had previously imagined.
- Liberating & Empowering: Strangely, I began to feel quite liberated and empowered—even though things weren’t playing how I initially wanted. The simple act of choosing to respond as was expected of me returned my sense of agency. As the Avett Brothers say, “free is not your right to choose, it’s answering what’s asked of you.”
- Opening New Possibility: In poetic fashion, an unimagined new possibility ultimately emerged—one that I never could have foreseen and that was far better than my originally desired outcome. It was a great reminder of the importance of humility in appreciating how limiting our narrow perspectives can be.
This brings me back to Magnificent; whose story fortunately has a happy ending. He is an Old English Sheepdog, meaning he is bred to protect his flock. In time—and with the help of many, many treats—he slowly began to accept Shep as part of his flock. His behavior changed. He continued to steal his toys, but now as an invitation for play. He stopped avoiding Shep and instead would watch over him, once again keeping close guard should anyone new venture near him. He even began to tolerate Shep’s unprompted pets and would on occasion respond in kind with a lick on the head.
I like to think that this transformation came about because Magnificent embraced Frankl’s assertion that what matters is what life expects of him, not what he expects of life. For him, that is to protect his flock, which now extends to Shep—regardless of whether he wants him around. It is his duty.
What has Magnificent gained from this in return? He now has another close companion who is his greatest fan and wants nothing else but to play with him, to be with him. Just wait until they can chase each other around in the yard so that Magnificent won’t grow so bored sitting in my office all day. But perhaps best of all, as Magnificent now faithfully sits under Shep’s highchair, treats magically fall from the sky.
Skylar first attended MEA as a student in April 2019 before becoming our Chief Development Officer in 2020. He can often be found fixing up an old farmhouse he calls home or sauntering about with his wife, baby boy, and Old English Sheepdog.