You’ve done it!
The finish line! The end of your journey! The moment you have dreamed of for so long, the moment that kept you going when times were hard, the times you doubted that you’d ever reach this moment. This moment that felt so precious and so important that you have poured phenomenal amounts of time, effort, money, suffering and sacrifice into attaining…
And now what?
I hate the fact that whatever thing you may have achieved, one of the questions that you always face is “what next?” Ed Stafford explained this perfectly:
“When I got back from the Amazon, everyone was saying “what is your next big expedition? What are you going to do next?” I still find it extraordinary that you can do something that no human has ever done before, and people just consume that bit of information and then move on to what you’re going to do next. Who said I’m going to do anything next? I might just go home and have a cup of tea. If I haven’t proved what I wanted to prove to myself by walking two and a half years through the Amazon then I’m probably going to be forever chasing it if I don’t look for a slightly different option.”
So it’s not in this context that I am asking what comes next!
I’m asking the question because people (me included) spend so much time dreaming of adventures, planning them, doing them, but don’t really think about what happens afterwards.
There is a chance, of course, that you live a nice, stable, settled life, with everything sorted and enough cash in the bank. It may be that you want to do your big adventure for a specific reason (fun, curiosity, charity, whatever). You go and do it. You succeed. You feel happy and proud and fulfilled. And then you return to your previous idyllic life and just carry on as you were before.
But for most people, things are going to be more complicated.
I would hazard a guess that most people who return from big journeys wrestle with their new identity, question what the point of ‘normal’ life is after all the excitement, worry that their life has peaked, discover that the adventure did not solve whatever problems had driven them to go in the first place. Be warned, and prepare in advance, for the discovery that adventure is not a panacea.
Several adventurers have written candidly about their struggles before or after expeditions:
Here then are a few observations and questions that might be worth pondering before you commit to a big, life-changing adventure:
- Why do you want to do this big adventure?
- How do you hope it might change your life?
- How will those changes happen?
- Are you doing this trip because you want to change your current life situation? For example: if you’re currently frustrated by your life, how will you feel once your trip is over and you return home?
- Is the ultimate success or failure of your trip pivotal to how you will feel about the whole experience? For example: if you try to climb Annapurna but have to turn around a few metres from the summit, how will you feel?
- What feelings do you anticipate having when you reach the finish line of your trip?
- What feelings do you anticipate the trip will provoke in you in the years to come?
- How will you cope with “real life” after your trip? “Post expedition blues” are extremely common for adventurers. Several people have written of their bouts with depression after a big trip, too.
- This may not apply to some people, and I hope that you are one of them, but I have never felt a long-term satisfaction from completing a journey. The ending is exquisite, certainly: the long-dreamed-of holy trinity of hot shower, cold beer, soft bed never ceases to feel absurdly wonderful! Coming home is nice. I feel proud of what I’ve done, and savour the memories and experiences and lessons learned. But they don’t make me happier than I was before, nor do they fix real life’s problems. In many cases they make them worse.
- Going on an adventure is, for many, like opening Pandora’s Box. A whole new world of possibilities bursts forth and for the rest of your life you will have new benchmarks for things such as “fun”, “excitement”, “simplicity”, “purpose”. This can all be great, of course. There is a wonderful world out there. But it can make things tricky, too! Living adventurously is addictive. And, like a true addict, the feeling that “one more trip and it will be out of my system” is as deluded as ever!
- When your trip is over, where are you going to live?
- How are you going to earn money?
- Will your life be different to how it was before? In a good way or a bad way? How?
- If you want to earn money from your adventure, how will you do this? And how will you earn money until you get to the point of earning money from your adventure (for that earning will not come immediately. If it comes at all it will start very small!)?
And, of course, you will forever have to deal with the question of “What Next?”
What have I missed? Please have your say in the comments below…