At the end of a recent talk a young man approached me.
“I wish I could do what you do…“, he said, wistfully.
He was 23, earning good money in the City, single, had no mortgage and was physically fit. So I asked him what was stopping him from doing what he really wanted to do.
His answer was revealing, in so much that he did not have an answer. He umm-ed and ahh-ed and could not articulate whatever it was that was inhibiting him.
He did not know what it was that was preventing him leading the life of his choice.
I find it embarrassing, humbling and rewarding when people come to speak to me as that young man did. I also find it amusing that people think I can do things that they cannot. Only people who do not know me would think that!
People who know me see me as I really am: a pretty normal bloke. Sure, I am ambitious and try to live fully, but that is no different from a teacher or a lawyer or a carpenter who is aspiring to be the best they can be at what they do. There is nothing I have done that could not be done by most other people. The difference about me is that I earn the money I need to travel and have the freedom and time I cherish by blowing my own trumpet!
This was highlighted to me recently when I contacted the climber Mike “Twid” Turner, asking if he would be kind enough to write a guest blog on my site. I asked him not only because of his climbing exploits, but also because of his approach to his climbing: to do things just for the doing, the very best reason of all.
His reply showed me that I had picked the right man to ask about this topic (even if he declined to write the post!):
Being brutally honest I find statements like “the first real adventure of the new millennium” a total turn off. It cannot be. Thousands of folk had adventures. A lot of folk find this type of self promotion over the top. Might sit alright with folk who don’t know much but there are thousands of folk doing real adventures and just getting on with it. You are obviously highly motivated and talented to your causes but take a tip from me: such statements only throw egg on your face. Sorry to be brutally honest but better you get feedback than think such things are cool. You don’t need to do this; you have an impressive CV. Just enjoy it for yourself.
I agree entirely with Twid on all this! But I have two points in reply.
- The first is prosaic: my trumpet blowing is a pragmatic choice that allows me to live the life of my choice.
- The second is that I am beginning to realise the privilege of being able to chat with people like the young man at the beginning of this post.
And so then to my attempt to help with his dilemma.
To say to me “I wish I could do what you do” regarding the physical side of my lifestyle is laughable. Little by little I am striving for “Citius, Altius, Fortius“. But I am not, never will be, and have never claimed to be an athlete, a hard man or somebody breaking new ground. If I have anything of interest to add to this topic it is a case study of a normal bloke trying to do the best he can with a slightly weedy body!
The more common reason that people say to me “I wish I could do what you do” is because of the opportunities I have had to experience some fabulous places around the planet. I know that I have been very fortunate and that this is a trickier subject to discuss.
[Disclaimer: I know that commitments, age and health can get in the way of things. I also feel sad when motivated, talented young people in far-flung lands talk to me and I know that they will never be able to do what I have done because they are poor and live in a country bereft of the opportunities to change that].
But what was stopping this young, free and single, affluent, educated guy in London?
The first, important step for him -in my opinion- was to look hard inside himself (with the diamond-hard look of a cobra), to look honestly, and to learn what it is that was preventing him from leading the life of his choice.
I said to him that while he was travelling home on the Tube he should make a list of the things he was dreaming of doing with his life and the reasons why he wanted to do them. He should also come up with a list of all the things that were stopping him doing them.
After that he should decide which was the most important of the two lists.
And then he should start taking the steps towards overcoming whatever it was that was stopping him.
He needs to be living his life fully, not wishing that he had the time to live it. The clock is ticking!
Finally, in these discussions I often hear the same reasons cropping up that are stifling ambition and audacity. Here is an essay about some of them, with one man’s thoughts on how to overcome them. It’s titled Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel the World.