Anticipation (A-Z Challenge – Day 1)

I love making plans.

I get every bit as much pleasure out of the planning process as the actual thing.  A vacation.  A reunion.  A day spent with a loved one.  The creation of experiences and situations and moments.  I love imagining them, thinking of all the options, filling in delightful details….

When I was in college, my roommate and I would be sit around the house thinking of things to do for an upcoming free weekend, and one of us would casually throw out a wild suggestion.

“We should find a cheap flight to New York and just go.” We were in California at the time.

Pause.  “We should.”

Then we would suddenly stare at each other – wide-eyed. “No, we really should.”

Then we would start to look up flights to New York.  While we were looking, we would trip on a bargain flight to….say New Orleans.  We would look at each other again and say, “YES.  That’s what we should do.  That would be even better.”

And I’m telling you we would work that idea for hours until we were down to an actual plan.  Hotels and all. We’d have changed the destination a few times, maybe changing from East to North.  From plane to train then finally to car.  We’d have figured out where to stay and what to do when we got there.

This would go on for hours.  Researching. Considering all our options.  Changing dates. We’d be completely psyched, and eventually exhausted from all the footwork.

We would also be wrestling with the college student reality of, “Can we really afford to do this?”

The “We should!” would gradually move to “Should we?“… then by about 2AM we would conclude, “We’d better not.  Not right now.”

Disappointing?  Actually not at all.  We were certainly serious about our plans.  It never felt like an exercise or a game of pretend.  It wasn’t.  We started out willing to blow a small wad of money on an adventure, and we ended up having one.  Right there in the living room.  As it turns out, the hunt for the adventure was the adventure.  A mental vacation from our tightly budgeted lives of Top Ramen noodles and peanut butter and school.

We both look back on those times so fondly. The thrill of the idea.  The unfolding of the plans.  The sweet spontaneity of it all. The belief that we could do anything if we really wanted to.  Maybe not right now, but we knew someday we would end one of these brainstorms with an actual booking.

And in the decades that followed, there were bookings.  Again and again.

Since those days, I’ve learned that this is a pattern important to my sense of well-being.  Anticipation matters to me.  I’m happiest when I’m looking forward to something.  When that thing is done, I find myself searching for the next thing.  Like Tarzan swinging through the jungle, grabbing a new vine just as I release the last.  And if there’s no vine to grab, I can feel as though I’m falling.

But there’s almost always a vine.  If you really need one.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  I should clarify that when I say “thing”, I really mean a person or an experience.  A visit.  A visitor.  A trip.  An activity. A project. A milestone.  A change.

As much as I enjoy the exhilarating thrill of spontaneity (which is easier now that I’m not a starving student), I also relish months of planning, too.  It’s not that I need the thing to be perfect.  I don’t.  It’s that planning makes the anticipation last.  I want time to read books about it.  I want to research other people’s experience with it.  I want to read reviews.  Consider options.  Yak endlessly with the person involved about what we want it to be like.  I love living the thing in my head over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoy the actual experience, too.  The long planning cycle does not spoil things for me at all.  But planning stretches out the adventure.  It fuels me.  It inspires me.

When I told John I was writing about “anticipation”, he said, “Do you mean the fact that you can’t stand it when I tell you I have a surprise for you?”  I really must know.  I drive myself crazy guessing

I laughed at the truth of this, and quickly answered that it was a different kind of anticipation…having something to look forward to.

Then the more I thought about it, I realized the roots of these two types of “anticipation” are probably the same:  I like the creative tension that exists between today and tomorrow.  It’s stimulating.  It’s addictive.  It’s full of hope.

Joyful anticipation.  One of the great rewards of optimism.

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