It’s my ten month anniversary of living in Toronto on July 1st and I’m celebrating with a visit to Ottawa, a city I last visited ten years ago. And as part of my celebration, I want to reflect on some of the lessons and learning of this year to help create a second year that is even richer and more meaningful than the first. (Deo volente, I’ll be sharing some of these lessons in entries to come, so stay tuned).
First and foremost, I’ve realised this year that instead of expecting perfection, one must simply hope for beneficial experiences and positive people because challenges are inevitable and real life is always different to what we imagine. (And as a side note what is best may not be something that you thought about previously). Being steadfastly hopeful and fiercely optimistic without specific expectations towards present people/places/experiences or without imagining how future events will unfold prevents you from feeling disappointed, because hope is an understanding that there is no guaranteed outcomes. The hope that things will go well (and an understanding that there will likely be tough bits that will require new ways of thinking and being to get through) also means that you’re less likely to be frustrated while you adjust to new situations and your mental muscles tear and become stronger. In general, the more specific and greater your expectations are, the harder it is to recognise the beauty of what you actually experience.
I discovered this lesson the hard way, because although my graduate experience and time in Toronto has been full of new people, self-discovery, happiness, and moments of standing very far outside my comfort zone, instead of taking each day as it came and being gentle with myself through the adjustment process, my first few months I analysed my experience a lot, because I had expected that there would be no dull classes, no readings I didn’t find fascinating, no moments of indecision, no instance when my enthusiasm would flag, no days where I would feel homesick, and really, no moments where I didn’t enjoy the struggle and the strife. I expected each paper to be a learning adventure because graduate school is a very deliberate choice, and anything other than bliss felt like cause for concern.
Eventually, I realised I was experiencing what Alain de Botton describes in “The Art of Travel” when he speaks about why travel frequently turns out differently than what we imagine. He reflects on the sentence “they journeyed through the afternoon” and notes that such a short sentence does not encapsulate everything involved in that trip: the waiting in the train, the boredom, the heat, the delays, the hunger when food is not available and so forth.We simply look at pretty brochures, and we forget the periods that aren’t photographed. And yet life is the photographed and the non photographed moments, it is the destinations we know we want to visit, and it is the unexpected neighbourhood cafes we stumble upon on the walk home. It is sunshine and rain. Sticking to precise routes and expecting endless joy is unreasonable, but with an open perspective personal growth and self mastery are hopes with the potential to be realised.