Learning to recognize the thing versus the idea of the thing is huge.
For years, I kept my eye out for a ’66 yellow GTO like the one I had as a kid. One day, I saw it. It jumped out of my browser and grabbed me. (I can’t remember how I got to eBay Motors.) The idea of my old GTO, with its black vinyl top, 8-track player (I’d even kept a few 8-tracks just for this moment), mag wheels, and loud mufflers . . . it was all there in my mind. All I had to do was bid. (And give away our cat . . . no way I could have him scratching up my new/old classic collector car!)
The delivery guy rolled the car off the truck, and the fun began. I turned the key . . . it started . . . but the engine sounded like it had whooping cough. That started the search for a mechanic, a guy skilled at 50-year-old Pontiacs, but didn’t charge an arm and a leg. He put in the 8-track; the music sounded like an AM radio station just before you go out of range. Every time it would rain, I resented that car taking up my regular car’s parking space in the garage. And I missed the cat.
When we get an idea in our mind, we visualize the thing in its best possible light. Any problems get ignored or suppressed because we don’t want them to talk us out of our dream. Then when we get ‘the thing,’ the stuff we ignored hits us in the face.
Where does this play out?
Stuff – Houses, cars, clothes . . . marketers are intent on getting us to buy into the idea of the (new) thing, so we’ll want it bad enough to buy it.
Relationships – we get the idea of a new spouse in their heads . . . for us men, a different woman who won’t be like the one we have. We craft her from the images we’ve seen on the internet, from memories of a high school girlfriend, and from the characters we’ve seen in movies or on TV. She doesn’t exist mind you . . . she’s not real, she’s an idea of something real.
Experiences – The idea of watching the sunset on top of Springer Mountain after through-hiking the Appalachian Trail is a little different from doing it. The idea of lounging on the beach in Bali doesn’t usually include the 23 hours on an airplane or the $1,700 on your credit card for the ticket. The idea of having your kid play on the travel team is a lot different than the reality of it.
I read that expectations are premeditated resentments. The idea of the thing is usually connected to our expectations, the thing to reality. Resentment ultimately comes from the difference between the two. Instead of thoughtfully and prayerfully considering the thing itself, we buy into the idea of the thing and set ourselves up to resent the very thing we wanted so badly.
So, what’s the point here?
Think hard about what you’re about to buy, who you’re about to befriend, or what you’re signing up to do. Are you considering the thing? Or the idea of the thing?
It’s hard to beat making a classic pros and cons chart. Then invite people you love and trust to look at your work. Resist the temptation to shut out their input and stick to your guns. Avoid having a tombstone inscribed with “He wasn’t confused with the facts; his mind was made up!”
Challenge: Think about a time when you bought into the idea of something only to find out ‘the something’ was radically different. And then think about what you wish you’d done differently.