We just returned from a weekend trip to Cocoa Beach and Universal Studios and I successfully crossed-off a few items from my list.
Item 1: Surf. Item 2: Ride a few roller coasters. Unexpected item 3: Learn a valuable lesson.
All trips begin with a list. Mine is usually short, simple, and stays in my head. My wife’s list is written, on paper, on her ever-present clipboard. I know, I know, "Buy her an iPad, you cheapskate."
Roller coasters and surfing require similar physical and mental effort. Aside from the obvious investment of money and time, you also need a good supply of patience. Important. As much as you may wish something to be the just the way you want it to be, it rarely ever meets your exact vision. The ocean offers up the surf it has at the time, and sometimes that surf is small, and mushy, and windblown. Similarly, there are times when the lines for the roller coasters are long and winding. If it is something you really want to do, then you either adjust to it or suffer the disappointment.
On this trip our expectations were pleasantly exceeded. The weather turned out better than we expected. The mushy surf wasn’t as mushy as we thought, it was peaky and fun, and as it turned out, the lines for the roller coasters were really short.
Salty wet smile from catching a few good waves— check. Dry nervous smile because you rode The Hulk and didn’t die— check. List complete.
But was it really better than we expected, or did we just adjust our expectations? It could have easily been otherwise. Disappointment could have crept in if we had let it. We all have a tendency to press our own sense of order on to the world around us, and in spite of life’s ever-present chaos, we still want to arrange things just so. We discard whatever seems out of order. We straighten and tidy up. We make lists for ourselves. We go to amusement parks and line up, like pigeons on a wire, for what we expect to enjoy.
Have you ever wondered how you could stand in a hundred amusement park lines and never see a fight break out, but one small line at a gas station can turn ugly at any second?
In a gas-line we all feel like victims, so the mood is fairly negative from the start. In the overall positive mood of an amusement park we’re willing to adjust our expectations because we all share the same sense of investment, and so we have a shared sense of control. We want a good return on that investment, so we patiently wait in line. If the line gets longer and the sun beats higher, we endure. For a brief time we acknowledge that the line is a community of sorts. Break away from this communal spirit and you’ll introduce an unwelcome, buzz-killing vibe. Cut in line and people will cut you out like you never belonged in the first place. Toss a bottle into the sea and the sea might spit it back at your feet as a reminder that it isn’t on the list.
Half a lifetime ago I had a girlfriend that said, “Life is only as fun as you make it.” A few weeks later she dumped me.
Her proclamation was not so much about fun as was about order. At the time, I didn’t fit into her vision of how things should be, so she checked me off her list. At the time it seemed unfair, but in retrospect her actions made me reevaluate my own expectations, my own list, and opened my eyes to the new order quietly forming around me. In retrospect she did me a big favor, and I’m all the better for it.
I hope she’s not waiting by the mailbox for a thank-you note. There isn’t going to be one.
When you share the line, share the hotel, share the beach, share the waves, or share the expectations, you have to be open to the possibility that things have a pesky way of re-ordering themselves. In spite of our best efforts, water will seek its own level, the tide will change, and the sand castle will wash away. How we adjust to each change will ultimately reflect upon our happiness or disappointment.
And because you’re more likely to remember the ride you actually took than the one you had planned, you should take a tip from my wife: Bring extra paper, and write your list with a pencil.
November 20th, 2011