Zack Vayda and The Pantheon Experience

When I first saw the Pantheon in Rome as a 13-year-old kid, I was astonished. I remember the awe and wonder I felt as I looked up at the nearly 2,000 year old building. How could something this old still be standing, ceiling and all? How was it built without cranes and bulldozers? It was so cool, cooler than the Colosseum, cooler than the Roman Forum. I knew I would never forget how I felt at that moment.

Fast forward 12 years. 25-year-old Zack stands in the same place, looking at the same beautiful building, and doesn't feel a thing. There was no shock and awe, there was no astonishment. I remember how I felt the first time, and that feeling simply was no longer there. It was a thing of the past, a feeling that might as well have also been 2,000 years old.

I felt the negative emotions and thoughts boiling to the surface, but instead of giving in to them, I decided to take a different approach. I set the feelings aside and walked into the Pantheon. I walked around the room, studying the details, analyzing the arc of the ceiling, reading the displays and appreciating the stories behind the scenes. I heard the soft echoes of voices bouncing off the hard surfaces, I felt the cool, damp air from the enclosed space, I smelled the age and depth of the environment, I felt the smooth marble and saw the paintings. I consumed every aspect I could, and at the end, I was looking at a completely different building. Was it innocent, pure astonishment the way 13-year-old Zack experienced it? No, it was a cool, connected understanding of the building and what it meant. I appreciated what it had to offer, and what it was offering me.

As children, we experience new things on a regular basis. our palate is relatively clean, so every new experience is monumental and life-altering. As we get older, though, new experiences are less powerful because we've already experienced so much. A new experience is just added to the massive database of experiences we already have. Because of this, expecting to be blown away with any new experience would be setting yourself up for disappointment.
If we are incapable of appreciating anything to its utmost potential, what's the point of seeking out experiences as adults? Are adults doomed to a life of underwhelming, disappointing experiences?

If you want to experience things the way you did as a child, I have bad news for you; it's near impossible. There may be an experience that is so completely dissimilar to everything you've ever experienced that it may evoke some child-like wonder, but that's outside of our control. We can't decide which experiences will give us awe. Putting energy into trying to recreate that experience is simply a waste of time.

The difference between a childhood experience and an adult experience is very straightforward: Experiences happen to children, adults make the experiences happen. My first experience of the Pantheon as a child was completely outside of my control, I had no say in it. This second time around, though, because of the time and effort I put into it, I decided what it was going to mean to me. 

Next time you go into an experience and you're worried you won't appreciate it the way you want to, know that your perception of the experience is within your control. You decide how much research you put into it beforehand, you decide how much time you put into understanding it while you're there, and you decide how much work you put into discussing the experience with yourself and with others afterwards.

The question is no longer, "Will I be able to appreciate this experience?" Now the question is, "Is this experience important enough to me that I'll put work, time and effort into it?"


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