Living without a filter: embracing the unexpected

Don’t compare your behind the scenes to someone else’s highlights reel

          We live in an age of the highlights reel – filtered photos on Instagram, posts on Facebook announcing moments of celebration such as engagements and pregnancies, and general all ‘round political correctness – where we reflexively answer “great” when asked how our day is going.

          In this age of the highlights reel, populated by sunny pictures at the beach, cocktails by the pool and Insta-worthy lattes, there are children, teenagers and adults alike feeling increasingly inadequate, that their lives do not align to these often doctored and painstakingly selected images distributed via social media.

          In my opinion, social media has helped perpetuate unrealistic expectations about work, relationships and life in general. There’s a quote from Modern Family uttered by Phil Dunphy which really resonates with me, but often elicits a reaction of humour when I tell it to others. He says, “The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you, if you just lower your expectations.” If Modern Family doesn’t do it for you, William Shakespeare is credited with attributing the root of all heartache to expectations.

          Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to travel to many different places around the world, opening my eyes up to new experiences, cuisines and cultures. I want to preface this article by saying that I don’t want to seem ungrateful or narcissistic in recounting the lowlights of first-world travel experiences which I have been fortunate enough to access – I have amassed a collection of memories and learnings which I would not trade for the world. And while I myself have been guilty of circulating images of clear blue, sunny skies, picturesque vistas and gourmet dining experiences via social media, I want to spend some time espousing the importance of unveiling the other side of the story too.

          The most important learning that I have garnered from my travel experiences to date relates to that of expectation management – the importance of being open and flexible in a foreign destination where things will inevitably go wrong. First and foremost, living in Australia, every international flight is typically a long-haul one. That inevitably results in arriving at a foreign destination in a jet-lagged, hangry and cranky state of mind. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep upon arrival at your travel destination!

          On the topic of expectation management, it’s the places to which I’ve traveled that I’ve had the least pre-existing connotations with, where I have enjoyed myself the most. Arriving in Barcelona with little prior knowledge or associations, I was blown away by the city’s Gothic architecture, flavoursome cuisine and passionate locals. On the other side of the spectrum, upon arrival in Paris for the first time, I was excited to test out the language which I had dedicated six years of study to in high school. I was frustrated to learn that while the locals appreciated being addressed in French, they would switch to English upon hearing my foreign-accented attempt at their national tongue! Mon Dieu, give me the satisfaction of ordering a Nutella crepe in French!

          The trip that probably had the most associated hype and build up was returning to my family home in Poland for the first time in 16 years, after graduating from high school. Following months of planning and anticipation, my sister and I had arranged to attend our first-cousin-once-removed’s christening – an event which family across Poland, Germany and Australia would be attending. After spending the night at the family home in Poland, we took an eight hour drive across the Autobahn to the christening, which would be taking place in a small rural town outside of Berlin. Some pressure had accumulated to ensure the day’s smooth roll-out to effectively cater for the guests who had traveled ‘all the way from Australia!’ While the christening progressed smoothly, some red flags started to emerge at the ensuing reception when a few people made a quick dash to the bathroom. I hate to say it but the most top-of-mind recollection from this trip is trying to get some sleep at night in my cousin’s house to a soundtrack marking a painful bout of food poisoning for the christening’s guests. That’s one way to bond a bit more quickly with your relatives on the other side of the world!

          It can be difficult not to be underwhelmed by a holiday destination which you’ve built up in your mind for your whole life. Growing up to a steady diet of American television shows and movies, I couldn’t wait to visit the town where it all began. In my mind, Hollywood evoked imagery of glitz, glamour and celebrities. Upon actually visiting Hollywood for the first time, I was disappointed to be met by a seedy avenue populated by tramps, litter and pushy sales people. Our tour guide informed us that we would definitely see a celebrity – no such luck in all of my ensuing trips to the United States!

          My favourite travel experiences haven’t revolved around visiting icons – such as the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican or the Empire State Building – for the first time. Typically these experiences have been characterized by crowds, gypsies (in the case of the Vatican), in some cases, crime and generally, too much stimulation for this self-pronounced introvert. I’ve also experienced some interesting and humorous travel experiences including getting lost in Nice, getting caught in a cyclone in Miami, being held captive in a Turkish rug store by an extremely pushy salesperson, and being the only Caucasian on an (unexpectedly) Asian tour of America’s East Coast. No one tells you how a white Christmas in New York City is almost unbearably cold!

          It’s the more spontaneous and unexpected moments which have become treasured memories. Like visiting a little-known restaurant outside of Tuscany where the staff literally rolled out the red carpet upon arrival and kept us entertained with their exaggerated Italian accents, rendition of Romeo and Juliet and flirtatious waiting skills. Enjoying the most tantalizing taste explosion of my life in the form of seafood paella at a family-owned restaurant on the Venetian island of Burano. Experiencing my first snowfall in Salzburg and having a snowball fight with my family at the site where they filmed parts of A Sound of Music. Singing along to Volare while zigzagging through the chaotic streets of Rome. Being moved by a busker’s rendition of Imagine at the site of John Lennon’s memorial in Central Park. Getting caught in a non-stop Mexican wave at a New York Mets versus Chicago Cubs game in Flushing. I love how a smell, image or song can immediately transport you to a specific time and place. Of course, that’s not to say that an iconic destination or site can’t meet or exceed your expectations – just to prepare yourself mentally if they don't!

         Whatever your passion may be in life, I think it’s important to do your part in allaying the taboo that’s been fashioned in society where we only share the highlights and quash the lowlights somewhere deep in our psyches. We need to start telling both sides of the story – sharing both our wins and our losses and the associated lessons learned from both.

          The struggle in trying to secure a job out of college. The long hours and lack of sleep in raising a new baby. The stress and compromise required for a couple in their first year of marriage.

          Because ultimately, there are funny stories, lessons to be learned and expectations to be shaped in navigating (and sharing) both the highs and lows of life. And last but not least, remember that “the most amazing things can happen, if you just lower your expectations.”

-Elisa J.