Lowered Expectations

October 29, 2010

One of my favorite pre-vacation practices is to intentionally lower my expectations. I contend that I am due a single 15-60 minute “moment of bliss” somewhere in a 2+ week vacation, and if I can get that I consider the experience a success.  These moments of bliss generally take the form of reading a great book in the sun on a day with light breeze.

On this last vacation I got two moments of bliss. The first (which happened twice) was when the kids were playing happily in the cabin. Vick and I were sitting in the cockpit drinking coffee, and Convivia was sailing herself under nearly perfect conditions. The second was when I took the kids to Shorebird Park to play while Vick went to the store. Both kids were having trouble with relationships. I saw at least a dozen problems at the moment before they flared up. Somehow I managed to use just the right intervention every time and their conflicts effortlessly catalyzed into new friendships and joyful spirit.  I was in a zone, writing a symphony of play with them and I couldn’t have been happier or felt more accomplished.

It has taken a long long time for me to begin to extend this vacation philosophy to other aspects of my life. But as the theme keeps whacking me upside the head, I’ve haltingly begun the process of personal change.

Last night I was reading a blog post by a couple who are starting their cruise on the East Coast. They met (and wrote about) a barrista named June who had been an IT professional for 28 years and then realized that she wasn’t having fun anymore. She changed her focus and started getting all fired up by life. The thing is, she gets fired up by looking out at the sea. June’s expectations for her day must be pretty well optimized for something like that to take her breath away. The fact is that in almost every case, my vacation’s “moment of bliss” is derived from seeing something ordinary in a new light, personal growth, or just communing with nature.

This morning, as Vick and I were driving Ruby to her nature class, we started talking about how awesome it was that our kids are totally satisfied with a Halloween that contains only the following:

  • A trip to the pumpkin patch to get two small pumpkins (and several bounces on the jumpy slide)
  • Homemade (by the kids) costumes that utilize play silks and sticks as the primary components
  • A Halloween bonfire at the neighboring marina

Possibly more thrilling is that Ruby is over the moon that we accepted her request to decorate the boat with lights, a wreath, and a homemade star (which she will climb up the mast to position). This is likely to be nearing the extent of what we can do for decorations, but I know from previous holidays that it will be pure joy for the kids.

So, lest I seem like a raving minimalist I would like to put it in this perspective. I have had 30some years of full blown, highly anticipated, over the top, joy filled moments. I enjoyed (to varying degrees)  every holiday that I’ve celebrated and every vacation that I’ve taken. I don’t eschew these experiences now and I don’t believe that lowering my expectations makes me intrinsically any better or happier than anyone else . What I am starting to see though is that, by lowering my expectations and still achieving the same level of joy as before, I’ve made it easier and thereby more attainable than it used to be. This is better… for me.

Cogitate and comment, please.

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