By Scott Taylor
A few years ago I decided that being confined in a classroom with 25 7th graders who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the geography of eastern Europe wasn’t fulfilling to me (revelation!), so I decided I would become a whitewater rafting/ kayak guide. I had a friend living and working on the Olympic Peninsula who told me about an outfitter there who might be looking for help, so I made contact, and after a few emails and calls from two thousand miles away I had a job (and my friend) waiting. Thus began one (actually a few) of my memorable lessons on expectations.
My friend, who is notorious for being lax at keeping contact, didn’t return any of my calls letting him know I was coming. I left the exhilarating corn fields of Illinois anyway, excited to surprise him. And so, when I stopped half way across Washington to call him and tell him I’d be there by evening, it was I who was surprised when he told me he wasn’t in Port Townsend; his job had ended and he was in Wisconsin. The howling wind and empty dry plains of the Columbia Plateau were a perfect reflection of the state of my mind at that moment. But there was no going back, so I pushed on.
As I neared Port Angeles I conjured visions of what a cool outdoor town it would be, the wondrous trips we’d lead through pristine rivers and myriad islands, and the adventurous athletic woman who would be my boss. Port Angeles (PA) was grittier and dirtier than I expected. It seemed nobody was smiling. My first sight of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where we’d be guiding, elicited a, “Holy crap, that’s a huge body of water.” And at our first meeting in person it was obvious I hadn’t expected my new boss to be an all-business 4-foot, 11-inch ball of fire, and she hadn’t expected her new trainee to be a 6-foot, 3-inch dirtbag hippy with dreadlocks (I suppose “51-year-old school teacher” conjures a certain image).
It didn’t take long for her to begin to ask me to change:
“Could you find a place to live so you can groom yourself before coming to work, rather than sleeping in a tent in the national park?” (Groom? Am I a baboon?)
“Could you park your car in the far corner of the lot?” (My Subie with the dents and scratches and broken windshield and subversive bumper stickers? Isn’t that what all guides drive?)
“Could you tuck your hair inside your spray jacket? Many of our clients are conservative, and we don’t want them to think we’re a bunch of potheads.” (My first thought of response to this was a very un-Buddhist-like statement that began with expletives, had a “…those…” in the middle, and ended with more expletives), but I held my tongue.
This wasn’t what I expected. Then my mountain bike was stolen by one of PA’s myriad heroin addicts. Then I got news from home one of my friends had finally drank and drugged himself to death. By the time my girlfriend flew out to visit I’d had enough. I quit the job and we went exploring around the peninsula and throughout the west, and that unplanned, expectation-free trip was the best part of the summer.
In Buddhist philosophy, we are cautioned not to attach expected outcomes to our experiences. If we do, we often diminish the experience and cause ourselves unhappiness. So live your adventures with an open mind and heart, and be happy!
Scott is an ex-teacher and current artist/writer/musician with an affinity for beauty, peacefulness, and late-night Nutella on apples.
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