[Health Warning: this post is laced with hypocrisy, exaggeration and over-simplification.]
I said “no” recently when asked to join an expedition. The trip sounded epic: a heady cocktail of trying something new and pushing my limits in the wilderness with a double measure of danger and misery mixed in.
The thought processes that led me to say “no” were long and winding and of no relevance here except for one question I asked myself.
“Would I do this trip,” I pondered, “if nobody ever knew that I had done it?”
My answer was no. And so my answer was “no”.
This is a question I ask myself before beginning any project. I do so in an attempt to keep myself genuine, to keep focusing on things I really want to do rather than things that will bring fame, fortune or praise (from people who don’t know me well enough to know that my motives were all wrong). Nobody likes what is sometimes called a “Willy Waver“, a show-off, a poser, a charlatan. It is easy though to hide your showing off and get away with it. Get away with it with everyone except yourself though, hence the need for occasional honest self-questioning. There are certainly plenty of Willy Wavers in the expedition world.
So asking yourself “Would I do this thing if nobody every found out?” is a helpful check. (The opposite question of “Would I do this thing if everyone on Earth found out about it?” also has its uses!)
This leads onto the premise of this article: nobody should blog on their first expedition. I receive quite a few emails from people along these lines:
“I’m about to head off on my first ever expedition. I’ve got a website and a PR agency and a social media strategy and I want to be on the telly and I want to be a paperback writer and I’m going to blog every day…”
And there is so little enthusiasm about the expedition itself. About the remote places, the silences, the hunger, the discomfort, the cauterizing, character-building struggle, the anticipation of sublime highs or concerns about being able to cope with the lows, the tears and the laughter. All that has been forgotten in the strategising.
So what is the slightly curmudgeonly conclusion of this mis-shapen, drifting entry? It is this. Worry ye not about blogs and social media profiles and all the clutter that clings from expeditions like barnacles on the bottom of a beautiful sailing boat. Worry ye not. Just go. Go do the expedition for the right reasons. Do it for yourself. Do the hardest thing you can dream of and do it to the last ounce of your resolve and strength and imagination. Just go.
And when you come home, if you come home, decide then whether you want more. Whether you’re desperate for more of the fix that expeditions both cure and fuel. And if you are then perhaps you’re willing to trade a shard of your soul with a wider audience for the opportunity to go on the next expedition. Perhaps too, if you’re fortunate or smart or creative you will have found that the sharing of your expedition can add value to it as well as blurring and distracting. You may travel with all senses tingling -eyes wider open, nostrils fully flared, ears pricked- for how best to communicate your precious experience with a wider audience. In which case your expedition will be enhanced.
But please, at least for your first one, just go do it. Don’t do it to get famous or get on the telly or get a squillion Twitter followers. Do it because it matters to you. Do it for the doing of it. Do it because it’s there. Do it for the hell of it. Do it for these reasons, or these, these or these. Just do it.
None of this advice makes very sound commercial sense: I set off to ride round the world with a vague and meandering route plan and no publicity at all. I arrived home eventually and set about the boring necessity of making some cash. I cadged a stall at a travel show, blu-tacked photos to the wall, and set about trying to find someone who would pay me to tell my story. I had forgotten about that travel show and the frustrating months and years that followed until I received this email last week,
“My girlfriend and I recently hear you speak, and I have to say that we were both thoroughly enjoyed it. We were also thrilled with your success; we met and spoke with you for a while 5 years ago at the Travel Show in London when you had just finished your round-the-world biking and were looking to ‘set up business’ so to speak. So it was brilliant to see that you are now doing what you love for a living. A lesson to all of us riding a desk!”
This email reminded me that, although I’m now in the really fortunate position of earning my living from my hobbies, it was not ever thus. It took years of hard work. Some people will do it much faster than me and some will do it much more successfully than me, either by being better or by being luckier (a bit of both is probably the elixir). But for me it was / is a long and difficult road. And, in the long run, that’s probably the way I like it.
What do you think? Have you had very different experiences? Am I talking tosh? Let me have it with both barrels in the comments section or on Twitter…