It’s natural to think ahead and plan for what you know is to come. We make a list of what we need or who we will see. We get excited at the thought of what it will feel like, how we will change from it, or think of the stories we will have to share after. There are also times when we expect the worst and know we won’t enjoy what’s to come. “Pleasantly surprised” is a common phrase used to state that our expectations were wrong, and it implies that we initially thought it to be unpleasant but have since changed our minds. I don’t think we can go into anything without expectations, and that can sometimes set us up to achieve an outcome that doesn’t match the reality of the situation.
One of the most common scenarios we set up expectations for are our conversations. In preparation, we think about who we will be speaking to, the emotions behind what we are going to say, how we think they will receive what we say, and what they will say in response. For me, almost every conversation is something I thought about ahead of time for the potential play-by-play. There are those individuals who I free flow discussions with, but I have found it’s best to plan them out. I can be rather intense and spill the beans a little too quickly, so I find I am much more likely to get to the next conversation if I curate the one I am in or am about to have.
I am neurotic when thinking about and planning future conversations or discussions, often going through all the potential scenarios. It can take me hours to feel comfortable speaking to people sometimes. This may come as a shock because I am seen as an extrovert and very sure of myself when in front of people. What people don’t know is that I am an introvert. The only reason they think I am not is because of the endless practice of pre-conversations in my head, so when I get into the conversation, I can speak and respond quickly. Preparation gives people the idea that I am quick on my feet and witty, but it’s often just practiced. Don’t get me wrong, with people I know well, I can think fast on my feet, and know what the right thing to say is, but for the majority of people, it’s planned. My cover is now blown.
This habit is now something I use to plan out all the possible outcomes of whatever I am working on or launching in my professional life. People come to me to review their plan, and I call out all the things I can foresee going wrong that they haven’t. In the professional world, this superpower is seen as helpful, but it seems to be perceived as a negative instead of a stepping stone to prepare for success. Only a rare few see its benefit, which is unfortunate and has held me back from progressing quicker in my professional roles.
Thinking through all possible scenarios of anything is draining, and I do it constantly. My mind doesn’t stop; I am always considering the next steps, the possibilities, and the opportunities of what has presented itself to me. Even with things and people I don’t care about, I still go through the motions. Though, when I care deeply about the person or topic, my planning goes out the window. I can become overwhelmed with emotion, and I am left with the random thought process spewing from my mouth, the part of me that I usually try to hide from people. It isn’t a science, but when you can pair setting expectations with a purpose, they can be useful and bring about positive outcomes. Traveling is another scenario where we often set lots of expectations.
When we plan a trip, we research the options available within our price range. We look at the activities available and what each will give us. When other people plan our travels, we are often given some idea of what to expect, but some things cannot be foreseen.
I traveled to Jordan once for a friend’s wedding. The groom’s family hosted us for the week leading up to the big event. I spent much of the time with my friend, preparing her for her big day, and hanging out with the families who traveled for the wedding. We knew in part what to expect, but there was no way to know it all before arriving. Our hosts booked us multiple day trips to see some of the archaeological sites nearby, including Jerash and Petra. It was such a fantastic experience, but with some twists.
When we went to Petra, we were split into two groups. There was a tour guide for the English speakers and one for the German speakers. I was hoping to explore Petra on my own because of a romanticized view I had of the location from Hollywood movies. I wanted to wander and think of myself as Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia, traversing the desert and stumbling upon these remarkable structures. Instantly, when I heard I had to stay with the groups, it ruined all my hopes of what could have been. I started trying to figure out what to do to meet my expectations head-on without offending the groups. Since we were traveling with our hosts and the extended families, anything I said could have offended one or many of them and made the rest of the trip awkward. I decided I would tell a little lie.
I told the German-speaking group that I would meet up with the English group, and then told the English group I wanted to check-in with them since I was with the German group. At that point, both tour guides thought I was with the other tour group, which left me unattended in the middle of Petra and able to do what I wanted. I got exactly what I wanted, and then didn’t do much with it. I decided to walk up a stairway and sit off to the side on a plateau to look at the canyon from high up. I laid out and stared off into the distance, thinking about all the people who must have lived there and what they did every day.
It was the best hour of that trip; the silence of the space I occupied allowed me to hear the slight wind and echos of voices in the distance. It was a bit of an out of body experience. I didn’t expect to be stationary in a place with so many viewpoints, caves, and beautiful landscapes to see, but I wouldn’t give back that hour for anything. Sometimes being still can awaken parts of you that you may not be aware existed. I think we forget that stillness is an option in the world of today.