Saying “Yes” To Surprise
DVR is a really terrible invention for a person like me.
It’s a terrible invention, because I’m the type of person inclined to care only about how a story ends.
I want to skip through the muck and just get down to the bottom of things.
Did the person live happily ever after, or not?
They didn’t? Ok, I’m out.
Five years ago if you asked me, “Alicia, would you want a DVR for your life?” I would’ve resoundingly responded, “Yes!”
“Tell me how it all ends, right now!”
I know better now.
I’m a planner. Always have been, likely always will be to some extent. And if you ask anyone close to me, my planning drives them all nuts.
You can ask one of my best friends, Brit, about the time I sent a meticulously detailed Excel spreadsheet to everyone in our circle of friends in an extensive attempt to logistically coordinate our summer plans.
Or, you can ask my Dad about the time last week that I told him I plan to be married by the time I’m 35-years-old.
“It doesn’t work like that, Alicia,” he said before I brushed him off.
“You don’t know me. I’ll be married by the time I’m 35,” I said quickly before hanging up.
I watched Peyton Manning’s retirement press conference the other day and found great satisfaction in his saying other players could be stronger, faster or more skilled than him, but nobody could out plan him. Manning’s ability and commitment to planning took him to the pinnacle of success.
I’ve planned. A lot. At the age of 7, I planned to go to law school. I planned to work in sports around the age of 14. I planned to live in California and somewhere along the line, I planned to live in a house on the water.
As I get older, though, something has struck me. As much as I hate to admit this to my younger, neurotic self, it’s struck me that some of the most beautiful things in my life are the pieces of it that I didn’t plan.
I’ve heard friends’ parents say that there are few good surprises in life. Usually when you get hit with a surprise, it’s that you have cancer or that you miscarried the baby or maybe even that your friends planned a really obnoxious surprise birthday party for you at your least favorite bar and your ex-boyfriend is there.
There are definitely bad surprises in life.
This isn’t a post about that, though.
In an effort to cut my obsessively compulsive planning habit, I’ve started treating life as one, big surprise birthday party.
Life is one, big surprise birthday party, because you know that there’s a possibility that certain things are coming down the road. So, you try to brace for them. Maybe you put on your best dress and make sure you curl your hair and at least put on mascara before you leave the house. You might even cancel other plans. Then, when your friends pop up from behind your couch, you aren’t entirely blindsided by their presence. You brace for what’s coming the best you can and ensure you are prepared to the extent best possible. Then, you sit back and let it happen. Or not happen.
Every now and then, though, your friends get a good one off and catch you entirely off-guard. And so, you show up for the surprise birthday party looking like a person who has walked across the Serengeti Desert alone and unkempt for months. Your hair is a mess, your makeup is nonexistent and you’re shocked and slightly angered at what has just happen.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the latter kind of surprise.
It’s a surprise born of complete unexpectedness. Because it’s born of unexpectedness, the surprise arises in a space free from entitlement.
I expected to go to law school. I expected to work in sports.
I didn’t expect the great things in the middle.
And truth be told, like an ice cream sandwich, the things in the middle are the best things.
I moseyed through the aisles of Target yesterday, the store where these days more often than not, roughly 30-percent of my paycheck seems to be spent on clear essentials like toilet paper, Keurig coffee pods and a brightly colored Brita water filtration device.
Near the toothpaste aisle, my phone rang. It was my Nana. I usually avoid talking on the phone in public, but the lady is 88-years-old, so her calls always get answered. We had a nice chat for a handful of minutes. Then I got to the dairy aisle. And my childhood best friend that I haven’t talked to since December called. She has two kids, a husband and a full-time job, so our conversations at this point are sacred. By the time I made it to the home storage aisle, we were all caught up.
I had some more shopping to do, but there came a moment when I circled back to the Keurig coffee pods aisle and I just had to stop. Big red cart in tow, middle of the aisle, not caring what others thought of me, I stood, looking up, catching my surprise over the great, big and small, entirely unexpected surprises life has granted me.
Yesterday I was sent pictures of the little boy I sponsor in Haiti, Prosper. That kid’s entrance into my life remains one of this journey’s greatest surprises. At a period of melancholy in my own life, helping him and fighting for his dignity was a piece of hope I could tether my rope to. To date, the establishment of a heart for Haiti and the presence of practically a second family there is one of my life’s best–and most unexpected–surprises.
When Prosper came to the I’mMe home, he was terribly malnourished and on the brink of death. When I became his sponsor, other than his name, the first thing that captured me were his eyes. He has these great, big, beautiful eyes. At the time I first looked into them, though, they looked so hopeless and depressed.
I was surprised with happy tears yesterday when I saw sheer joy in those same eyes. In February, the I’mME boys and girls were taught about love. The boys were told how they should treat ladies and the girls were told how women should expect to be treated. The final lesson was a student engagement activity where the boys took the girls to dinner.
On Prosper’s face, I saw nothing but pure joy and clarity. Happiness isn’t even a fair word to use to describe that child’s face caught up in the moment. It was freedom and peace, and maybe a bit of surprise as to how great this gift of life really is.
Many of the best surprises that have entered my life have come into it merely by refusing to say, “No.”
Some would say that my fatal flaw is my inability to say, “No.”
I’m overworked and overextended. Some days, I don’t feel like my right hand knows what my left is doing. I tape a radio show in San Francisco every Tuesday, where the host, Ted, lists off my job titles.
And every time he does, I always think to myself, “I have too many jobs.”
Fifteen minutes later, when the segment is done, I throw away that thought. I throw away that thought, because I realize what a wonderful surprise in my life it has been to have the fortune of so many opportunities.
Saying, “Yes” to the opportunities that arise gives way to some of life’s greatest surprises.
If something sounds remotely interesting, I’ll say, “Yes” to it. That’s how I’ve become a professor, writer, launched a national conference, served on boards, started a small public relations company and now, helped launch a start-up fashion brand.
Two summers ago, I saw that a woman working in fashion who lived in Miami started following me on Twitter. I thought her career sounded interesting, so I followed her back. As it turns out, she was my neighbor, so we got coffee later that week. As our friendship grew, Megan told me about the handbag company she was launching, LOUISE & ELEANOR. Earlier this summer, she asked me to come in as the Director of Branding and Communications for the fashion start-up.
I could have easily said, “No.” Instead, I thought, “That sounds interesting” and said, “Let’s go for it.”
It’s been a fun and incredibly surprising ride. The handbags are being worn by celebrities, we are entering the sports space through tennis and I just got off of the phone about the possibility of filming a reality TV show about building the brand this summer in Los Angeles.
I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the crystal, sea-green Atlantic Ocean in Miami right now as I write this. I always wanted to live on the water. I don’t know where that desire came from, seeing that I grew up in a landlocked state. Somehow, though, in a grand surprise, God blessed me with the opportunity. I’m still entirely in awe and surprise at the way in which He did, though.
I recognize that there is one constant theme that flows through the wonderful surprises my life has been graced with. That one constant is this: I’ve never been afraid to say, “Yes.”
When I returned home last night, I was hit with one last surprise.
Caught up in my mind’s own wandering on the Keurig Coffee pod aisle, I walked away, completely forgetting to purchase my coffee. For an addict like me, that’s problematic.
I woke up this morning realizing what I’d done and became instantly annoyed. I scurried to my kitchen, opened my cabinet to grab a package of oatmeal, a breakfast peace offering of sorts. To my surprise, tucked and hiding nicely behind the box was one, little perfect pod of coffee, in my favorite flavor albeit.
Savor the surprises. Be open to the unexpected. And if the chance interests you in the slightest way, say, “Yes.”