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A life less curated

The other day a morning meeting ran long and the errands I decided to run after last until 2, by which point I was famished for lunch. Finding myself around midtown I racked my brain for places nearby and made my way towards Layla in The Grove. As I got close I passed by a place I’d heard of in passing, Sultan Mediterranean Restaurant, and thought “why not try that?” I popped in, perused the menu, ordered and shortly after that a complimentary bowl of lentil soup arrived. It was simple but delicious. This was followed by my entree, which was also wonderful and that pulled me to the unusual step of dessert. Everything was a delightful surprise. 

Aside from the great food I'm glad I decided to stop in a place just because without any research. I didn’t have any knowledge of the place so I had few expectations, which allowed them to be blown out of the water. It got me thinking about how often before I head out on my own or with a group of friends that we research a place to determine if we should go. While there is nothing wrong that it left me thinking about the fact that if we have a good idea of what to expect, it’s harder to be surprised in a good or bad sense. I think the question is when do we want our expectation baseline to be set by others vs. try something on our own without knowing?

Years ago when I visited Cambodia there were a number of wonderful things I experienced but the one that is by far most memorable is when I got lost while deviating from the known path close to sunset. We had been trying on a whim to go see the beautiful Angkor Was temple at sunset. After a series of wrong turns we ended up at the intersection of a paved and dirt road and a well-meaning local who did not speak English but with the visual on our map pointed us down the dirt road. The path was a lot of loose dirt and sand and made pedaling very difficult. As we made our way down the path I contemplated, “if the sun sets now, would we even be able to find our way back the way we came?” Anxiety was elevated but the path ended up leading us where we hoped and am so glad this happy accident due to taking a risk happened. The exhilaration of finding our way back and seeing a part of the country that few tourists, if any, ever had was exciting. There was plenty of research we did for the trip but that is the moment for which I have the most gratitude. 

Coincidental to this, my brother recently sent me a series of Anthony Bourdain quotes, knowing how much I looked up to him and while several were familiar, a few were new to me and one in particular stood out, 

“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”

I fancy myself as someone who is wiling to try new things but increasingly often I have researched the heck out of a new thing before I give it a try. As this year draws to a close, I hope to be called back a bit more to just surrendering to adventure and the unknown. I hope to find the courage to be more open to not so great experiences happening for the sake of those moments and surprises that can’t be captured in a review or someone else might find less remarkable. 

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