I went on a retreat once where I wasn’t told what was going to happen that weekend. I knew just one of the details but the rest was shrouded in secrecy. Some of my fellow retreat goers approached this element of unknown as something stressful and developed almost a level of suspicion, trying to figure things out before they happened. I was completely content to just let things unfold in front of me and it was the best and most meaningful weekend of my life.
The fact that this was such a great experience is somewhat against my nature because I am a planner and have this fear of the unknown. I don’t think it’s too strong of a sentiment to say that I love my planner. At the start of the work week, I want to know what lies in store for me that week (at least those things that are supposed to occur). I want to prepare and be ready and feel like I am on top of things. That gives me a sense of calm.
That is in my work life. When it comes to a vacation or some other non-work experience I I have found that the opposite is true. The more I plan and anticipate, the worse the experience. That is because I have this horrible tendency to create unrealistic expectations.
I think back on big events in my life and what I expected would happen in those times. My expectations tend to take on a perfect-world imagery and it’s highly unlikely that reality can hold a candle to that. The big celebrations or big events weren’t the Norman Rockwell-esque moment I thought they would be. Family fought, I didn’t feel good, or the moment didn’t naturally spawn that sense of elation I thought it would. I felt let down because what was in my head was perfect and what was playing out before me was real-life.
Those moments that have been the most meaningful and most enjoyable were the ones that I didn’t visualize ahead of time. I had no expectations going into it, so anything short of a disaster made it a wonderful experience. An unexpected job opportunity, a lightly planned vacation or a spontaneous encounter carries so much more joy for me than those things that I plan for a long time.
I would like to say that this realization has changed me so I no longer anticipate. I wish that I could stop building up my expectations but I have this imaginative dreamer side to me that I haven’t figured out how to shut down.
In the meantime, I can see the good in the unexpected or unplanned things. Like getting lost on a road trip. Or pursuing something I am not fully qualified to do. Or following through on that nudge to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Removing the pressure for a perfect moment helps me to see how a bunch of imperfect moments can make a beautiful memory.