Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How West Point Taught Me The Danger of Expectations

"I don't have expectations.  Expectations in your life just lead to giant disappointments." - Michael Landon

"Never idealize others.  They will never live up to your expectations." - Leo Buscaglia

So, yesterday Patricia Wycoff, a fellow 365-day blog challenger, challenged us with a subject.  She asked if we could blog about a place that turned out to be different than we thought it would be.

Why, yes.  Yes, I can.

I can do several of those, in fact.  One thing my life has taught me both forcefully and thoroughly is that as soon as I start expecting something to be a certain way, I'm gonna be wrong in a big bad ugly way. 

Then again, that's half the fun, in'nit? Going into situations where you know how they'll end, and being right, is--well, frankly, it's boring after a while.  Over time--a long time--I've come to expect one thing out of life, and that's that it will turn out differently than I expect.

My best example, I suppose, came from early on.  Early on as in West Point.  West Point spring break, to be specific.  Yes, West Pointers get spring break just like everybody else does, of course.  As plebes we didn't get to do much other than tour our (hopelessly out of shape) parents around campus, but once that first year was over we all gleefully flew out and about to all four corners and everywhere in between.

And speaking of glee, the Glee Club, the singing group I was in, used that week to take extended trips.  BOY, was that fun.  I'll never forget the trip to Orlando.  We were going to leave West Point at the beginning of the break, hit a temporary stopover (a few days) in Bismarck, ND, and spend most of spring break basking in the sun and grandeur of Orlando, FL, singing at Disney World among other exciting activities.

It was going to be great!  Only problem was, we had to suffer through Bismarck first.

Spring break, incidentally, was in the spring.  Duh, right?  It was in March, specifically.  March at West Point, New York, can be chilly, snowy, and awfully grey.  Damn cold, in fact.  March in Orlando, Florida, is of course perfectly bright and sunny and just plain friggin' awesome.  March in North Dakota?  We didn't even want to think about it.  But hey, we only had to be good boys (and girls) for a few frigid days there, and then we'd be whisked away to sunny paradise sippin' the--well, whatever alcoholic beverages our underaged selves would be allowed to buy (which, in those days, was surprisingly much).

But first we had to survive--oh, I already mentioned that, didn't I?

The C-130 that transported us to Bismarck made a refueling landing in Fargo.  It was blizzarding when we landed.  As the plane touched down we watched the snow whipping past circular portholes, making horizontal white streaks in the night air.  The plane slowed to a stop as the fuel truck approached, and the snow continued making horizontal white streaks in the frigid night air.


It wasn't snowing in Bismarck when we landed, but it had snowed recently.  Again, brr.  We piled off of the plane while glaring at the contemptuous remnants of white, got transported to the hall where we would meet our sponsor families (when the Glee Club traveled, we stayed with people in the community), and went home to various Bismarck houses to try to survive the few days we'd be marking time till we could parrrr-tayyy in Orlannnndoooo!

Funny thing was it ended up being an awesome visit of awesomeness.  My sponsor family owned a friggin' country club, believe it or not.  I don't know if land is so available up there that everybody owns one, but the club he took us to was way beyond nice.  The concerts we did were pretty awesome too.  The Governor showed up, and he personally met and and thanked us for the visit, as did several state dignitaries.  People smiled and shook our hands--no, I mean really shook our hands.  You would've thought we were the Disney Kids of those days.  Downright celebrities, we felt like.

Oh, and it warmed up.  It ended up being awfully pleasant, both from an atmospheric perspective and a people one.  It's been very, very seldom that I've felt that welcome, anywhere anytime since.  I walk into the grand ballroom these days as Dean to lead the commencement ceremony and honor all the graduates and I don't feel that welcome.  It was awesome.  North Dakota, you're awesome.

And then there was Orlando.  We already had expectations built up, of course, since we were singing at Epcott Center, of all things.  The big time.  Yeah, that's us, baby, right up there on the Jumbotron, we foresaw ourselves saying.  Sunny paradise, and we owned that spotlight.  The red carpet we'd experienced in Bismarck just heightened the expectations.  Surely the Disney World people would meet us with a big brass band and margaritas, right?


We arrived to chilly, drizzling rain--a lower temperature, in fact, than we had left behind in North Dakota.  Then we were herded to the park.  I don't know if the accolades we'd received in ND accentuated and exaggerated the treatment or if the sensation was real, but nobody really seemed to give a rat's butt that we were there. Not the park workers.  Not the park visitors.  Not even our fellow rain-soaked performers.  Nobody. 

Don't get me wrong--everybody there was nice enough.  My sponsor family's dad was a West Point grad who worked for Disney; he told us all about the idea awards and key chains and other stuff that were perks of the awesome job of awesomeness.  Meanwhile, I don't recall anybody at the concerts or at Epcott who ever showed us anything but respect.

It just--wasn't awesome.  It wasn't anywhere close to North Dakota awesome, anyway.

And that's what taught me the danger of building up my expectations.  Life has since been so much more fun when I don't have expectations to get in the way of experience. 


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