I have a habit of building up my expectations about people and situations that are in my immediate future. I’m sure I’m not alone. While it’s not necessarily a good or bad habit, it’s one that I’ve decided to minimize. Instead, I want to adopt an approach to life that is full of exploration and wonder.
My recent trip to South Africa with the Merck Fellowship for Global Health (see previous blog) opened my eyes and heart to new and better experiences that I couldn’t have imagined with my limited expectations. For example:
Expectation #1: The sounds, sights and smells of South Africa will be an adventure unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
Reality #1: Although I’m sure the more rural parts of Africa would’ve provided that feeling, Johannesburg, truly, was very similar to other large European cities I’ve visited in the past. However, the time spent on safari at the end of my trip (especially cuddling with a black leopard, white tiger and lion cubs) is an experience that will stay with me forever!
Expectation #2: I will meet 29 Fellows and form relationships with them so I can best support them while they’re on assignment.
Reality #2: I met those 29 Fellows and formed relationships with them – true. But in just six days, we all became closer than expected, understanding not only who we were, but our backgrounds, personalities, privileges and hardships that make each of us each unique. The exercises and training that were part of the onboarding session broke down barriers, exposed vulnerabilities and helped us see that we’re all working together toward a common goal – saving and improving lives.
Expectation #3: I will learn about Johannesburg’s history, culture, apartheid and more. My exposure to the apartheid movement was limited growing up in the U.S., so I read a book before I left called Kaffir Boy to better understand what it was like to live in South Africa in the 1970s.
Reality #3: All 29 Fellows and the project team travelled by shuttle to the apartheid museum where we read, in awe, the multitude of apartheid laws separating blacks and non-whites from whites. We mourned for the school children protesting Bantu education that were violently killed. We stood in solitary confinement cells with our hearts racing (even just for those few seconds when we knew the door was unlocked) where blacks who had violated one of the apartheid laws or who simply didn’t have their pass books in order were sent. Not only did we learn, but we experienced a variety of emotions. It caused us to ponder the unexplainable hatred and violence from South African history and compare it to what our world is experiencing today.
Clearly Nelson Mandela didn’t have limited expectations in life. From his struggle to end apartheid to his historic imprisonment followed by his rise to become president of the country where he was once imprisoned, he approached life with hope and he never gave up.
Are you letting your expectations limit your achievements or experiences in life? I’ve come to realize through this trip that letting go of those expectations and approaching life with curiosity and adventure can open doors both physically and in your heart, that you never thought possible. Besides, doesn’t exploring sound like more fun than expecting?