On a recent run, I contemplated the idea of looking forward to something. I thought about how often it is that my expectations for an event/occasion/entire day, etc. are met. And how often it is that my expectations are exceeded. And how often it is that my expectations are not met.
I came to right away that there was a time in my life where very few things that I looked forward to were experienced in such a way that I felt fulfilled. The reality of the experience never seemed to live up to the hype that I had created in my mind. I'll give two opposing examples from my adolescence that may land for some. For everyone else, I hope that it will, at the very least, be amusing.
I went to my first school dance in 6th grade. It was held in the gymnasium at my public school in Rhode Island. The administration marketed it as a "sock hop"--likely because they didn't want the gym floors getting scuffed up. There was also the added bonus of not having to monitor pre-teen girls in ill-suited high heels. As we entered the gymnasium, we took off our shoes and stashed them in the bleachers for the evening. It was nothing if not humbling to walk around the entire evening in my socks--and the whole scene seemed to downgrade the "cool" factor of even the "coolest" people in my class.
I don't remember really dancing that night. I remember gathering in a small circle with my friends and talking and looking around at all the other people there (not much different from some places in LA, actually). I remember moving our hips in a fashion that could only be construed as dancing if you are in sixth grade and are in the early stages of becoming insecure. This is when I started to really care about what people thought of me. And as I looked around at the people actually dancing--mostly couples "grinding"--I decided that if that was what dancing looked like, I'd rather just stand in a circle with my friends awkwardly moving my hips. As these appeared to be my only options, I opted for the latter.
When a slower song came on, I recall dancing with a male friend whom I wasn't super attracted to but still felt nervous around simply because we had an entire 3-4 minutes where his hands were on my hips and our faces were really close together. It was way too intimate an experience for me to back my face up and look him directly in the eye and have a conversation. So instead I look over his shoulder, he over mine. We remained mostly silent.
I went home slightly disappointed. I don't know what I thought was going to happen that night--I didn't think I had any expectations. But, for some reason, I seemed to miss the part where I have fun.
Juxtapose this scene with a Halloween dance six years later that was held in the cafeteria of my high school. (Note: we were allowed to wear our shoes.) It was my senior year and I attended with another male friend dressed as Bonnie; he, Clyde. Instead of huddling in a tiny circle with my close friends, I existed in a large, broad circle of my peers. This wide circle was so large that it merged with other circles, resulting in an ever-changing amoeba of students from every clique and echelon of our class.
Oh, and we danced. We danced to our hearts content. We undulated throughout the entire space, experimenting with every fiber of our physical beings. I created shapes with my body I had never made before, at least not in public. As a group, we surpassed insecurity and instead moved into the realm of free creative expression. Individually, our experiences differed. As a group, we exhibited what it was to exist as our authentic selves, not worried about what others thought. We may have looked weird but we laughed about it together. In this, we invited the entire cafeteria to join us in this free movement, to liberate the class of 2005 of shallow criticism and self-deprecating judgement... if only for that night.
I describe both of these experiences to highlight the definitive shift in the latter example. On the night of my senior Halloween dance, I accessed a part of myself that directly affected--and in a way, uncovered--my ability to cultivate a fulfilled life for myself. I experienced sincere joy at a high school dance dressed up as a deceased bank robber. (Seriously.) By that point in my high school career, the people I had chosen to associate with had had a profound affect on my ability to be real. Together, we eradicated our own and each others' anxieties and insecurities by choosing to be ourselves. And letting that self be seen. Breaking down those barriers resulted in genuine, creative expression. In this particular example, we celebrated with dance. As I practiced embracing this feeling and honing this skill with the support of my associates, I learned to apply this to all other aspects of expression--writing, speaking, walking, etc. At a certain point, I found myself practicing authenticity all by myself.
On my run, I was overwhelmed with relief that I had connected the dots so early on in my life. I got a taste of what it was like to live from a real place rather than from some imaginary place that I thought I should be living from. The people I associated with were key to this unlocking of my self. And more than that, I can basically always correlate an experience not living up to my expectations with my not living authentically. It's a foolproof test. When my expectations are not met, it's likely I went in to the situation with a "social norm filter" preventing me from experiencing a moment in it's authenticity. When my expectations are met, I'm living from my true place. And when my expectations are exceeded, not only am I living truthfully, but I am also in that rare state of humbly giving myself to the moment without asking for or expecting anything in return. Everything gives and nothing disappoints.