I had no right, really, to set off to try to cycle round the world. I wasn’t an expert cyclist. I wasn’t a seasoned explorer. I wasn’t rich, or wise, or brave.
For all those reasons I found beginning, committing, pedalling away from my front door an extremely daunting and frightening experience. The doorstep mile is the hardest one of all. Thankfully my excitement about the adventure ahead propelled me into action and got me going.
But learning to begin before I was ready proved to be one of the most valuable lessons of my life. “Ready, Fire, Aim!” is a brilliant mantra to live by (unless you’re a soldier or BASE jumper…) and has served me well so many times. For most things, including cycling round the world, are not nearly as difficult or daunting or complicated as you first imagine them to be. Most things you attempt are very forgiving of some early blunders, wrong directions, and hard-learned lessons. Cycling round the world gave me the confidence to leap into new projects, to enjoy starting rubbish and working hard to get good.
That’s not to say that I do not enjoy pursuing excellence: I’m a control freak determined to do the things I do as well as I possibly can. Pursuing excellence is the best way to find the niche where you belong, burrowing through the infinite options out there until you strike gold with the one that feels right for you. One of the many wonders of our internet age is that if you are making stuff or doing stuff you can find a group of likeminded people – your tribe – who also enjoy the same things as you. That niche may be small, and it’s important to learn that you can’t do much about the size of your chosen niche. All you can do is try to do what you do as well as you possibly can and, if you’re competitive, to try to be the best in your niche. Pursuing excellence in one niche is a great strategy for choosing your next expedition, building your career, or growing a tribe.
Another vital lesson that cycling round the world taught me was that I was capable of more than I had ever imagined. I had not fulfilled my potential. Cycling round the world isn’t a particularly useful thing to have done in the grand scheme of things, but in this aspect it was invaluable. The self-confidence I developed from attempting and accomplishing something that seemed beyond me has been crucial in helping me be brave enough to try other new things. Things like writing books, giving talks, and tackling other expeditions. There’s no shortcut to building this confidence in yourself. You have to be brave, give something a go, and enjoy the surprised satisfaction of pulling it of.
If you’re not yet already on this journey you’ll have to trust me that you too are capable of more than you imagine, that you should begin something big and keep plugging away at it.
I had no right to cycle round the world. I wasn’t an expert. But I’ve now done it, so I guess that makes me an expert. In which case, allow me to put on my Expert’s Hat right now and invite you to the party:
“Come on in! You’re invited! Whatever it is you are hesitant to begin, let me invite you to begin. If you’re already on the way, I give you permission to continue.”
All too often we are hesitant to begin something because we don’t feel qualified. We forget that all the amazing people we look up to and feel intimidated by were also once beginners. We fear the mockery and sneers of others. But the people who sneer, the people who doubt, the people who prefer to save up for a retirement cruise: they’re just voicing their own private fears and regrets at you. They’ll be jealous as hell if you succeed. It’s the man in the arena who counts. And, if you do screw up and fail, remember that the really important people in your life will pick you back up again and applaud you for trying.
For all these reasons you should begin today. Begin gently, by all means. You do not need to sell your shoes and quit your job straightaway. In fact, I’d urge you to run your dream alongside your normal life until it gains enough momentum and demands too much of your time. Most people get 112 days off each year: that’s plenty of time, along with evenings and early alarm calls, to get a hell of a lot started.
Another brilliant benefit of having made it round the world was that I had generated momentum. It was far easier to get my next projects in motion. And I began asking myself “if I did that, what else can I do?” This is when life starts getting exciting! Momentum helps with leverage: you start meeting cool people (back to that tribe, again), and opportunities come along more easily than they did when you first began and had to hustle hard for everything.
Once you get into the habit of a growth mindset, of fearing regrets more than failure, more and more exciting possibilities arise. When I rowed across the Atlantic I realised – early in the voyage and miserable with seasickness – that it was impossible for me to escape from the boat until we reached the Caribbean. I was more committed to this expedition than anything I had ever done in my life. That realisation, far from crushing me, actually helped the situation. There was no point allowing insidious, lazy ideas of jacking it all in and returning to normality from seeping into my mind. So I might as well just get on with the rowing.
Imagine if what you are attempting came with a 100% guarantee that you couldn’t fail. That’s never the case in the real world, I know. But just imagine: if there was no way you could fail, what would you do? And when would you begin it? I suspect the idea would be pretty exciting, and you’d begin it right now.
So, in the spirit of fearing regrets more than failure, why don’t you begin today anyway? You might fail, of course. (If you succeed at everything you do it doesn’t mean you are amazing: it means you’re wallowing down in your comfort zone.) Living adventurously is about taking risks. What’s the worst that can happen? You probably won’t drown or get eaten by a shark. So give it a try!
Waiting is the worst thing you can do. Waiting because you are ‘planning’. Waiting because the time’s not right. Waiting until you’ve got more time, more money, more expertise. There’s never a perfect time to tackle something big and difficult. Do, don’t think!
- “I can’t afford this. I choose not to afford this.”
- “I can’t spare the time. I choose not to spare the time.”
Be honest with the man in the mirror.
Little by little, over a period of a few years, I realised that I was slowly turning what I loved into my career. I was thrilled, because spending your days doing what you love sounds like an eminently sensible thing to do with your days. How you spend your days, of course, is how you spend your life. I was doing what I loved, making stuff I was proud of, having fun, doing it with passion and – eventually – earning money from all of it, too. I’m a lucky man!
I had no right, really, to turn my hobby into my career. I’m not entrepreneurial, I don’t have good ideas or business savvy. I know nothing about money or accounting. And yet I’m doing it! I’m not the best adventurer out there, either. In fact, I’m not the best at any of the things I do for my ‘job’. So why listen to me? I’m not rich or famous or a genius at anything in particular.
The answer, I suggest, is that the important thing to do is to measure the progress of your life, not your success. And I’m progressing. When you begin your bold plan, ask yourself “what will I count as success? Right now, what would I be chuffed to accomplish?” Write this down and tuck it away in a drawer somewhere. You can look at it later when you are feeling disillusioned. Then settle down to enjoying the journey, the process, the learning. This is the stuff that really matters, not some imagined blissful end point. Remember that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow always exceeds your grasp.
I don’t always heed this advice. At times I look around at my peers and I feel jealous. “It’s easy for him/her”, I whinge to myself, “they are richer, better-connected, prettier, luckier than me.”
This is the road to madness! Far better to look back at the journey I have taken, to be thrilled at the journeys I have done, the books I’ve got published, the skills I have learned. Measuring my progress against my earlier self makes me happy. Measuring my success against other people’s makes me sad or mad.
And what is success anyway, in my world? To do the best adventure anyone has ever done? I’m too late to go to the moon. To be richer than anyone ever? Not going to happen. To be more famous than anyone? I would hate that. I was listening to the radio late one night and an artist described himself as a “working artist”. I think that is a wonderful description for most of who make our living from adventure or music or writing. We are not superstars, normal gravitational rules apply.
This is what success is in my world: doing what I love and what feels important to me, doing it as well as I possibly can, earning enough money to live, having enough time to do stuff, and having fun along the way. I’d still be doing all of the same things even if nobody ever heard about them.
Somewhere down the line I changed direction, and moved from pursuing big expeditions to the notion of microadventures. Microadventures are about making the most of the opportunities available, squeezing adventure into whatever time, money or other constraints you have in your life. It felt like a big risk for me to make the switch, but actually it’s not as dramatic a change of direction as it may appear. I didn’t compromise on any of the really core principles of what I do, and that, I believe was key.
It’s good to experiment, to change direction, to experiment. And if you do those things without reneging on your core principles then the risk is far less than you might suspect. If it doesn’t work out you can always swerve back again, or try another tack.
Microadventures are about two things. They are about persuading people to go sleep on a hill, yes. But they are also a way of thinking about new projects. Thinking big but starting small. Looking at the opportunities you have rather than the constraints. Taking small steps, taking them frequently, and allowing momentum and enthusiasm to build. We become what we do. If you can’t get round to sleeping on your local hill one evening after work, you’ll never make it up Everest.
And so the time has come to decide what it is you are going to do. And to begin. No more thinking. No more procrastinating. Grow some balls. Begin. Now. The doorstep mile is the critical one.
What is the first tiny little step you need to do to get in motion? Something that you can complete before you go to bed tonight.
Then wake up tomorrow, proud that you are in motion, and take the next little step.
You’re on your way!
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just £2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
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