I’ve just celebrated another loop around the sun, and in reflecting the ever-growing trail of my life trajectory, I am keenly aware of how “true adulting” is succumbing to an awareness that the luster of most any given goal or milestone becomes lackluster once the pursuit comes to an end. Sure, we celebrate and even acknowledge right of passage upon culturally perceived milestone birthdays, graduations, quinceaneras, and retirement (to name a few), but once achieved, what have we really gained?
A previous employer of my husband’s used to say,
“The anticipation of an event is often greater than the event itself.”G.Shipley
I have chewed on this statement for nearly a quarter of a century. In many aspects, I have found it to be true.
I love planning and anticipating a vacation. The opportunities and options to explore are wide open. I imagine myself relaxing seaside, while my soul becomes replenished with the rest and self-care I had been neglecting since my last vacation. I see myself returning to work sunkissed and with a healthier perspective of the weight and stress I allow myself to give to a job that I deem the culprit of why I need said vacation in the first place.
Reaching day one of my anticipated vacation, my high hopes are ripe for harvesting. I arrive at my destination a bit frayed by the hiccups of delayed flights and the passenger who thought it better to share their brand of music from a cell phone speaker with the cabin’s captive occupants rather than leave us free to travel in peace. I rarely am deterred by a less than optimal travel day though as my “real vacation” starts the next day.
Once I find my way around the resort, where to check out towels, and where the shortest lines for purchasing a drink are, I plant myself on the beach. Chasing the silver lining of having purchased and shown up for my cloud nine vacation encounter, I put on my favorite swimwear purchased just for this trip, check out a towel, and head for the beach with a book I’ve been anticipating for just such an occasion.
Reality check… the umbrella seats are all occupied by towels and random evidence of articles presumably belonging to people who intend to enjoy the highly sought for and rare real estate of the shade within. Spotting a cloud on the far horizon, I settle for a spot in the full sun and remind myself that that sunkissed look does not happen under an umbrella (while I silently pray that the cloud will manage to find a spot securely above the harsh rays evaporating my already dehydrated body and withering expectations). After several hours of watered-down drinks, sand sticking to the pages of my book that has become more useful as a gauge for the day’s atmospheric water content, and the hairy butt crack of my overly fermented beach neighbor burned into the retinas of my bloodshot eyes, I resolve to make tomorrow a better day…
I am mindful enough to realize that my professed realism favors the lyrics of a pessimist from time to time, but as long as you can identify with any portion of my above experience- the goal of my example has been met. Replace the beach scene with any number of vacation outcomes (long amusement ride lines, picked over breakfast buffets, timeshare hastlers, noisy occupants in the room directly above your ocean-view room at a sold out resort) and voila, you’re pickin ‘up what I’m puttin’ down. Cheers to empathy and unmet expectations, clink!
However, I seek to repeat this phenomenon every year, knowing that there really isn’t a perfect vacation to be had (despite what the pop-up promotions depict). So what is the draw? What has me hitting replay to this annual song and dance? I can’t deny that some pretty remarkable occurrences inadvertently grace the hours of my carefully choreographed expectations; a perfect sunset, a dinner I could only dream of replicating on my own, an evening with perfect strangers that renews my faith in humanity. Are these instances what I’m seeking when I pursue another planned vacation? In all honesty, I could (and do) have these sort of experiences all the time in my own hometown at any given moment… including that job that I claim is the OG cause of my need to plan and get away from it all.
The strings behind the curtain are screaming, “Stop planning for the perfect outcome. It doesn’t exist.”
I’m inclined to share an often-visited memory from when our children were young.
My husband, kids, and I had awoke one weekend morning to heavy rainfall produced by thick dark clouds, and unable to imagine a better morning for buttery pancakes drenched in warm syrup with a healthy side of bacon (oxymoron?… reader’s choice,) I proceeded to make breakfast. As I was serving up each of our plates, the clouds began to break apart and the most glorious and vivid rainbow emerged from the distancing storm. To the naked eye, the end of the rainbow appeared to have landed on the opposite side of the street behind our home, approximately a half mile away from the kitchen window we were admiring this infrequent phenomenon.
Thinking this would likely be the only opportunity we would ever get to do so, I suggested we all jump in the car with our breakfasts still on the same prepared plates, jammies, and bedhead-formed hair to see if we could reach the end of the rainbow before it disappeared for good. Being young parents, we had a propensity for much of the same spontaneity and inclination for happenstance similar to that of the kids’. The plan wasn’t premeditated, well thought out, or even based on any semblance of the logic science could provide. It was just silly fun in pursuit of a goal we knew would not likely transpire…. But, what if????! You have to admit, it would have made for some good social media image content and serious “cool parent move” accolades, right?
As previously mentioned, we were young parents. Not young as in teenage-pregnancy young, but I did become pregnant with our oldest before I had time to ease into my 20’s. Her sister came almost 3 years later. Neither of us had finished college, and yet carried a lot of financial responsibility to meet the bills that came with living in the school district we wanted our kids to attend. We didn’t mind because we loved the life we were creating for ourselves and our kids. But as with any responsibility that outweighs any practical way of meeting it, our home was also no stranger to the stress that stems from means that don’t always satisfy the end it serves.
That rainy morning, chasing the end of the rainbow, occupies such a sacred place in my heart and memory for so many reasons. It was the first time in a while that the four of us were together and could simply laugh with the anticipation of no purpose other than chasing down an experience with no hard and fast expectations- all for the purpose of fun. I like to imagine what we must have looked like to any neighboring passengers on the road that day. Syrup-drenched oversized bites of pancake captured by sticky hands and stuffed cheeks, milk-stained upper lips, a car weaving side streets in an obvious effort to encounter the ever-changing movement of what we had set out to find. Like chasing an oasis, the destination of our primary intent could never be met. However, the subsequent outcome our collective souls needed in that moment granted a full momentary reprieve from the weight of the everyday heavy reality that often loomed so large over all of us. We returned home with our bellies, and sense of adventure and purpose gratified.
It’s moments like these that, I believe, we too rarely celebrate at the demise of only commemorating the accomplishments achieved and determined by a premeditated outcome. The sense of wonder and hope awarded by a culmination of our well-intended (but often poorly executed) pursuits; moments of what most of our outset goals only feign to deliver, are regularly discarded as failure. Sure, I can love my job (and, I consider myself one of the lucky ones that really does), but I only reach the intended destination of my pursuits a small percentage of time when compared to the many rewarding occasions I experience throughout the efforts I give in striving to achieve the overarching goal and targeted outcome.
When we choose to only acknowledge the rare moments that meet our destination expectations, we dismiss and lose out on the fulfillment of the pursuit- the hope that dwells in the anticipation and chase of a targeted destination.
Life is messy, unjust, and often has a way of mocking our best laid plans. I’ve spent an unhealthy segment of my life chasing the perfect outcome and blaming the process when that outcome fails to arrive in the way I intend or prefer. Looking back, the majority of my joy is often rooted in the spontaneous moments, unstructured events, and unforeseeable outcomes that occured while in pursuit of the largely impractical objective I conceptualized to resolve a similarly perceived void. Perhaps we can remove the pressure of achieving perfect outcomes by allowing these more spontaneous moments to feed the void created when we too often accept only ideal standards.
With no doubt, I will continue to chase the end of the rainbow, but will choose to find fulfillment in the syrup drenched bites that accompany the journey there… along with the people who were kind enough to engage those fleeting moments of frivolous bliss.