You Can’t Fly If You Don’t Try
In our family, I’m usually the risk taker and rule-breaker with adrenaline-fueled ideas. This makes life an adventure, and more often than not, Kevin or one of our kids will get on board and join in. During our recent trip to Aspen, our entire family held a commitment ceremony followed by paragliding off a 13,000 foot mountain. In the midst of this, I was struck with the power of how expectations shape my experience of life, all while overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and the experience of flying.
Most often, our expectations of upcoming events are wrong; and this is good news! Think about all the things you anticipate and expect, whether business or personal, in any domain: financial, health, career, recreation, education, community, family or relationships. Every day, we consciously or unconsciously predict what will happen, and when we do, we set ourselves up for failed expectations. Rarely do we experience exactly what we predicted would happen, which leads to an immediate reaction and shapes our future actions. If we experience more or less than expected and interpret is as a good thing, we are joyful, excited, thrilled, or surprised. If we experience more or less than expected and interpret it as a bad thing, we are disappointed, angry, frustrated, or resentful. It becomes more challenging when our prediction skills are poor and we set up a pattern of “bad” experiences.
Years ago I traveled to Aspen, saw the paragliders, and wanted to join them. Because of circumstances, I didn’t fly that first trip and I left Aspen regretting not jumping – so sadly it went on my bucket list. When I was ready to return to Aspen to paraglide, I could never have imagined it would be with the love of my life and our combined family in tow. I couldn’t know how it would feel to celebrate together after landing and create an incredible memory to cement our commitment as a family. Those experiences were “more” than I expected, and added to the depth of my joy. I had expected paragliding to be a great experience, but couldn’t have imagined the level of significance the event ultimately held for me. The flight was as good as I’d expected, but it also came at a time in life that was better, richer and far more profoundly impactful that it would have been if I’d simply have gone to paraglide as a solo event.
To contrast, if you’d asked me to bet who would do the “best” at this event, I would have chosen Kevin. He’s in terrific shape, is a marathon runner, and also follows directions better than most of us – especially me! I didn’t expect that Kevin would be the one to fall during the running takeoff! Kevin was “plucked” (official paragliding term) during the take-off and immediately slammed back down, falling in the process. Fortunately, his pilot knew what to do and maintained footing, allowing take-off. Thankfully, Kevin was minimally injured and safe for the rest of his fantastic flight. My expectations were wrong again, which led to
my surprise upon his landing. This is similar to what happens when we expect the best and are “surprised” when it doesn’t turn out. Again, we often look at this as a “problem” and take actions to avoid an experience like that happening again. By doing so, we can miss out on great future opportunities by creating rules or closing our minds based on a “bad” experience when it simply just didn’t work at that time.
As for the kids, Ali, Summer and Q are all afraid of heights in varying degrees. They reluctantly agreed to the experience in order to challenge themselves and not miss out on potential fun. As we began the long ride in the truck up the mountain on a pothole riddled dirt road just wide enough for one vehicle, the girls were shrieking with nerves and fright. Ali closed her eyes at one point, and Summer tried to back out right up until the moment she jumped. Quinton had a similar experience; however, he was quiet with his concerns and committed to go. He ended up jumping first with no hesitation and even rode with the crew in the open back of the truck on the drive back to town! They all have some adrenaline junkie genes in there somewhere.
All three kids enjoyed the jump and would happily do it again. They were each expecting the worst, felt the fear and went for it anyway. Their expectations were exceeded and incredible elation followed (coupled with some level of relief!). Similarly, this is what happens when we expect the worst and in fact are “surprised” when we are fully present, our senses in tune with every moment, and the experience intensified because it was incredibly enjoyable, in contrast to everything we’d imagined. We often take those incredible experiences and try to replicate them in the future by doing the same activities. The habit of looking back and trying to pattern future actions based on how it “was” rarely works. I believe the secret ingredient is the level of presence we have when we are experiencing something with our full attention. In our technology riddled world, I’m unsure of how often that really occurs for most of us.
Our paragliding adventure allowed me to create a lifelong memory with my family and also reminded me how we all have completely different expectations around the same experience. We were doing the very same thing, going into it with vastly different expectations, which resulted in a rewarding, joyful memory for all of us. How you think about a situation with the expectations you have determines how you will feel once the situation is over. Your future actions are motivated or demotivated by the experience you have, based on what you decide about it.
In our family, we each had things made up about how the jump would be prior to the experience and regardless, we all did it. I believe our results were exceptional because we were in full support of each other before, during and after the experience. This physical challenge was a visceral way to anchor that point. Expectations of any kind are simply predictions we have, many based on our fears. We need to be aware enough to recognize this and interrupt the paralysis that can happen as a result.
What I’ve learned is that life rarely shows up to meet my expectations. I can unconsciously use my expectations as an anchor to repeat what I already know, trying to replicate what used to be, or stop me from taking a risk or I can use my expectations as a catalyst to enrich my life and all its experiences, embracing what shows up as it is. When doing so, life tends to be richer and full of vibrant “surprises.”