Monday, January 30, 2012

Dallas does...reality versus expectation.

10 days ago an email delivered a message that changed my entire life. Though a 16-year veteran of an academic system that was built for dedicated students just like me, even a 4.0 gpa and shining recommendations felt like they'd fall short of the demands of the Ivy League.
But there it was. The email from the admissions committee of Yale University detailing how, in their eyes, I was special. Special enough to be notified early and offered a position for the Fall of 2012.
And though, as mentioned, 10 days have passed, I still sit in a perpetual state of confusion, as my expectations try desperately to play nice with the reality that arrived in my Hawkmail account.
And with this confusion has come a kind of disgust with the way I often mistrust unexpected blessings. Frustration with the idea that it feels impossible to just believe that this is the way things were meant to happen, no matter how surreal it continues to feel.
I know I'm not the only one who walks around with a general understanding of the way their life will play out. Though disappointments may come in the form of rejection by the junior high crush you were sure was your soulmate or heartache that the only men courting you during your senior year sit on admissions committees at graduate schools, most people, in knowing themselves, know where their life path will most likely lead, at least for the next few years.
I, for one, saw myself spending the next few years walking up and down city streets in confidence-inspiring heels as I make my bosses love me with my witty remarks and flawless press releases.
I have always been a people-pleaser. Meant to get a salaried job and put a downpayment on a house by age 30. Other people are the free spirits, born to roam and positive that, at least their twenties, will be spent without a forwarding address.
But then there was my summer in Colorado, and the way that just a taste of a brand-new place seeped into my understanding of myself. My expected life plan tried to make room for this mountain love, changing that imaging of high heels on Chicago pavement to fall boots in a Boulder coffee shop writing a first draft of an article.
But then came this email. And the realization that this is the kind of joyful surprise that even my spotless report cards from grades 1 through 16 didn't see coming. Because who I am I to say what two years in New Haven, Connecticut could do for my future? Suddenly the timeline of my twenties has gone blank beyond age 23, as I am forced to consider all of the opportunities that I can't even begin to imagine that this degree can bring me.
Is this the last summer I'll spend near my family? Will magazine articles win my love away from my Facebook news feed once and for all? Will my favorite sunsets still sink down behind Colorado mountains?
At a moment in life where I should wear nothing but a smile on my face, I often find it, instead, marred by a scrunched forehead and tight frown, as I try to rearrange and replace the expectations that led me to this confusion in the first place.
And somewhere in this midst of all this self-absorption, I stumbled upon a life lesson that has changed the way I understand the people I come across in my daily life.
You see, whether freshly accepted to graduate school or not, we all live lives filled with the kinds of decisions that slowly but surely chip away at the expectations we hold most dear, amounting to a relocation in reality that will always be able to catch us off-guard.
No matter how frustrating the decisions that define our friends' lives may be to us, we must remember that they are fighting their own battle with the monster of expectation. They are fighting to follow the path that they have laid out for themselves, before reality comes to reassert itself and leave them dazed and confused.
Sure, from your standpoint you may find it easy to believe that I will be at Yale next semester or impossible not to hate that your roommate sees nothing wrong in going after his best friend's girl, but you must always remember that it is only the individual's perception that comes to matter.
Give it time. Soon, I will be signing my first grad school tuition check and it will hit me how very real my acceptance was. Or that roommate will finally grasp just how wrong it is to risk friendship for a crush.
But we all need a while to understand the reality that has arrived on our doorstep.
So let's all take a deep breath. And look at the plan we have for our lives. And realize that there isn't a small enough number in the world to signify the chance that your expected path will actually match reality. But it gets awful hard to admit just how wrong we are.
Take it easy on each other.
Obviously the realty of my Yale acceptance is an easy pill to swallow. But that roommate convinced he's found love with his friend's gal? Not as easy to grasp that pursuing her is not acceptable under some sort of fairytale love exception to the bro code. Because the expectation of love is that hardest to let go of.
Again, take it easy on each other.
It will all make sense in the end.

Peace, love and a peaceful night's sleep,

"Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon everything's different."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Dallas does...the expectation game.

Sticks and stones don't really break my bones, but expectations always hurt me.
Before you ask, no, I have not recently been the target of any nature-based hate crimes, but the quaint little rhyme seemed a fitting way to ease into a discussion that began long before the clock counted us down into 2012.
You can't live with 'em; but I can't live without 'em.
Blessed with a large head that seems to house more than its fair share of complicated thoughts, my overactive imagination has been raising my hopes and subsequently thinking me through their shattered remains after reality takes over for about 21 and a half years now.
I'm just not equipped to pair patience with an open mind.
But maybe 2012 is exactly the year I've been waiting for.
To my December mind, 2012 was the bully lurking in the shadows waiting to destroy any ounce of confidence I had about my future self.
2012. The year of grad school applications...and potential rejection. Job interviews...and potential rejection. College graduation...well, I guess I'm pretty much in the clear with that one.
But anyway, the point is that 2012 was a year I wanted nothing to do with, until, that is, I realized that perhaps 2011 was a year I should be glad to leave behind.
No need to dive any deeper than to say: It simply failed to meet my expectations.
It was a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching kind of year the likes of which I thought I outgrew when I left Lincoln Junior High School.
It was twelve months of complication that left me introspective and confused as I counted down the days until January's fresh start.
And here I am on the other side, and I've got to say, in my starry-eyed way that you've come to know and love, I do feel fresher. And relieved. At the starting line doing energetic jumping jacks instead of laboriously breathing with the finish line off in the distance.
Maybe because in some sort of twisted self-deluding state I've convinced myself that I will remain centered in reality, as expectations ain't no friend of mine no more.
I know, I know, I know, I just said that I can't live without them. And obviously they'll come creeping in from time to time. But just think about it. Think about how much more exciting that happy ending will be when it sneaks up on you while you're busy finding other ways to make yourself smile.
I'm through with that formulaic mindset that says if A and B happen then C has to be the result. Because as 2011 has taught me, C offers no guarantee.
Stupid C.
But I digress.
The idea is to stop being Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer as he watches his expectation of a romantic evening with Zooey unravel in one of favorite movie sequences of all time.
Because we've all been there. And we all know how sucky it is to feel like you've broken your own heart counting your eggs before they hatched.
And not to get caught-up in too many old-fashioned sayings, but, I guess all of this is really centering on the idea of the watched pot that never boils.
Forget the pot. It's 2012. Who wants to be trapped in a kitchen when you can be off chasing your dreams?
You could stand their expecting the pot to boil any minute, or you could just trust that it eventually will when it's good and ready and head off on other adventures in the meantime.
But this is just January 1 talking.
And we all know the dangers of January 1 optimism.
But, as you have many, many times before, I ask that you leave me to my naive trust in positivity.
And I'll leave you to your resolutions.
One day at a time, my friends.

Peace, love and powerful new beginnings,

"I think we like to complicate things when it really is quite simple; find what it is that makes you happy and who it is that makes you happy and you're set. Promise."