If you were to look through all of the pictures that I took in Africa, you might notice that, near the beginning, there are a couple hundred blurry pictures of bushes interspersed with all too many photos of goats. To the point of having a couple dozen photos of the same group of goats.
And that’s because, going into the trip, my goal was to see ANYTHING. Because I figured that the only thing worse than seeing nothing would have been to end the trip in disappointment. So when a half hour into my first park I saw the top of an elephant behind some bushes, I was ecstatic! What a relief! I could go home and say that I had seen an elephant. And I had the fuzzy pictures of some grey above a bush to prove it!
Our driver was so annoyed that we kept begging him to stop so that we could try to see the giraffe off in the distance, because he knew that it was just a matter of time before we had seen so many giraffes that we wouldn’t even ask him to slow down.
But at no time did I dare hope for too much. Once I’d seen a family of elephants, I crossed my fingers for an up close view of a giraffe, and even after I’d seen giraffes even outside of the parks on the side of the road, I was still taking a hundred pictures at a time of the lion which was barely visible through the high grass.
And after seeing everything I could have hoped to see, the last animal on my wish list was a rhino. Tanzania wasn’t the best place to find rhinos, so in my last game drive through the Ngorongoro crater I knew that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. And then I saw it. With my phone fully zoomed in and held up to a pair of binoculars, I saw the very distinct outline of a rhino. And I was elated! I had seen the Big 5! I had been remarkably fortunate. Little did I know that, within the hour, there would be a rhino right next to our Jeep. The one in the picture featured with this post. And so I found a whole new level of excitement.
By entering the journey knowing that it would be a challenging ordeal, and having made the calculus that I was willing to go through the challenges with just the faint hope that I would see anything worth seeing, made sure that I experienced each new sighting as an added bonus. It made every step along the way, every part of the journey, truly wonderful.
By contrast, I’ve seen too many people have exceptional experiences that they ended up feeling dissatisfied with because it didn’t match their expectations. They so limit their conception of success that they almost inevitably doom themselves to disappointment.
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t have any expectations. We’re allowed to have standards. It’s just to say that to the extent that we cannot control certain things, setting reasonable expectations for those things enables us to enjoy experiences we might otherwise have dismissed because they didn’t fit within our preconceptions of success. And that when our standards for success are too narrow, we become anhedonic; unable to enjoy ourselves and bringing down those around us.
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