Let Go of Your Expectations

It’s day 21 on the road. Eleven days ago, we dropped two of our friends off at the Las Vegas airport to head home. They’d had their fill of wanderlust, so now it’s just me and John. We’re on a jaunt up the California coast and so far we’ve hiked two different mountains, each with 5,000 feet of elevation gain. Despite our many fun adventures, we’re getting a little weary at this point. As any traveler knows, this point is inevitable. Even the greatest trips have moments that wear you down and make you wish for an air-conditioned hotel room. The key, I’ve learned, to finding joy on the road (and in life) is to let go of your expectations.

After so much hiking, we are in desperate need of some hot springs to soak our worn-down bodies. Some locals suggest two tubs north of where we are, so we get in the car and head up to the town of Riverton, California. We arrive at the GPS coordinates for the first spring and are greeted by giant concrete barricades with “Road Closed” signs. The first major blow to our waning positivity for the day.

A dark, thunderous cloud is briskly making its way over the crest of the Eastern Sierras right toward us. As we make our way to the next potential hot spring, rain and hail engulf the car. The temperature dives from the upper fifties to 37 degrees. Needless to say, this hot spring adventure is not meeting our expectations. We slowly make our way down a slick, muddy service road approaching the springs, and see a large tent city of campers in the forest surrounding the springs. All signs point toward the hot springs being so packed we won’t even be able to get a toe in. At this point, John and I are ready to give up and call it a day.

Not to sound like I’m repeating platitudes you’ve heard for your entire life, but I think it’s important to provide good and engaging stories that reflect these “preachy” ideals. Especially as I transition into being an adult, I often find myself in situations that don’t meet my expectations and the challenge is to find a way to have a positive attitude. Elon Musk recently said something that has resonated with me on my travels this summer. When asked on a podcast how he stays positive and happy even with the constant pressures of his crazy life, he responded with, “happiness is reality minus expectation.” Just absorb what that means for a second.

From an outside lens through social media, I’m sure there are tons of people that think my every day while traveling is filled with amazing, life-changing experiences. But they’re not. Yes, sweeping views of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite will give you time to reflect and refine your perspective on the world. But if life were perfect, those times of reflection would be meaningless. It’s those times at beautiful places that help you reflect on all the chaos, unfortunate experiences, and life-changing moments in your story. While those moments of reflection are important, it’s the times that you are pushed into discomfort and uncertainty that test and shape your mental attitude.

Before I started adventuring around in my car almost two years ago, I had never truly camped and explored in a rugged fashion. I knew I had an interest for the outdoors through the small little slices I got while on family vacations. “All in” was different though. Tent camping for weeks on end, no showers for multiple days, little cell phone reception, etc. Something deep down inside told me it had so much value to give. So, I went all in, past comfort and into the unknown. It changed my life.

Sure, I’m blessed to see the most beautiful places in America, but I’ve learned that the scenery is the perk, the bonus. The real impactful stuff comes from inside, what I’ve learned about myself. The most noticeable trait I’ve learned about myself and changed for the better is my attitude about the future. Before, my happiness and outlook would be determined by my expectations, not reality. That led to being disappointed a good portion of the time. Now, after dealing with chaos and unexpected ups and downs while traveling, I’ve taught myself to be excited for the unknown future ahead and not anchor my overall attitude to expectations.

Now back to the hot spring story. It’s pouring rain, the thermometer reads 35 degrees, and the sun is starting to fall below the mountains. John and I are in deep contemplation on what to do next. We’re perched on a parking lot above the ravine and springs, so we have no idea what it looks like down below. We’re both a little bummed that this hasn’t met our expectations. So I look over at John and say, “should we just send it?” and he says, “we might as well. We’ll be in warm water anyway.”

We jump out of the car. I grab a raincoat from the backseat and we frantically start making our way down the sketchy cliff to the hot spring pools below. We get to the bottom and the scenery around us is magic. Hot water cascades down from the cliff into pools formed by river rocks and a cold, raging river surrounds the pools to immerse yourself in if you get too hot. Only two other people are down here despite the crowds at the tent city. We spend the rest of the night there, talking to others and letting our travel-weary bodies soak in the perfect temperature of the spring water.

As I write this, I’m at an overlook in Yosemite called “Tunnel View.” It’s one of the most iconic scenes in all of America. I sit here reflecting on the events of the day before. Reality did not meet our expectation. But when we subtracted our expectation from our situation and decided to make do with what we had, everything changed. We were happier, we experienced something we might not have before, and we’re more fulfilled because of all of it.


Blog by Red Leaf ambassador, Alex Paul