Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to how hard (yet important) it is to get started and begin making changes.
It boils down to a few things that are simple, but not easy. I put my ideas down into a book.
Look at the Amazon reviews for any ‘self-help’ book and you’re likely to see a bigger-than-usual split between people who love the book and people who loathe it!
The trouble with trying to offer advice is that if people already know what you’re saying then it sounds trite.
If we feel resistance to the change the book is encouraging, it causes offence.
There’s also a risk of swerving into cliché, perhaps because clichés are so well-tested and true. And, frankly, it is very easy to offer simple but potentially profound advice to other people: it is far, far more difficult to act on any of it in our own lives!
So be sure to take anything I say with a pinch of salt. But you might also want to see whether you can make yourself act upon any of the good, well-meaning advice you might be inclined to offer to a good friend of yours in the pub…
So what is living adventurously? Short answer: it’s up to you!
There are so many paths we can choose to walk in life – I don’t really think it matters which one we take, so long as it you choose it consciously and with the aim of filling your days (and therefore your life) with something that feels worthwhile.
For me, that guiding light to steer me whenever I reach a fork in the road is to choose living adventurously. Please note that this need have nothing to do with shivering in sleeping bags in the rain: you might have even better ideas about how to push yourself, challenge yourself, and have fun…
Living adventurously is nothing more than an attitude you charge at life with. Anyone can choose their attitude. It is about being eager to look differently at things, be bold and risk looking a fool. This invites us to stretch ourselves – mentally, physically or culturally. To attempt difficult challenges. To accept the risk of failure in exchange for the enticing sense of surprised satisfaction upon completion.
What ‘living adventurously’ means will differ for all of us.
For me it’s about choosing things that are exciting, uncertain, daunting, daft, ridiculous, hard but rewarding. These definitions ebb and flow and change with time.
What seems to remain constant throughout is curiosity and enthusiasm.
I’ve been chasing ‘adventure’ in its various guises ever since I was a student. It has morphed from a desire to see the world, through wanting to be the biggest, best, toughest ‘adventurer’ in town, to seeing adventure as a job. It shrank from crossing continents to swimming in rivers and encouraging people to escape the city and sleep on a hill for the night. And its current manifestation appears to be making a habit of climbing trees in my lunch break and watching the universe go by.
Above all, it took me many, many years to realise that the rules I set in place for my life when I was 24 need not be the same ones I lived by at 42…
Allow change into your life.
Allow your views and priorities to change as your life changes.
I’ll give you an example of the evolution of ‘living adventurously’ in my own life…
I spent many years chasing conventional ideas of adventure: exploring distant lands, pushing myself hard, deserts, ice caps, stuff like that.
But slowly I came to realise that much of what I was seeking – uncertainty, surprise, fear of failure / hopes of success – was fading away through familiarity. I knew what expeditions felt like, I grew competent as anyone does when they spend years in a job. Wild places and remoteness and tents and campfires had become my comfort zone. Adventure had become a safe rut for me.
This prompted me to think differently about adventure, to look for ways to reclaim the thrills and fears I used to relish. I decided to try something that terrified me and was almost certain to end in disaster, or humiliation (which for many of us is something worse than disaster!)
I committed to spending a month hiking 500 miles through Spain, with no money, no credit card, and only my appalling violin skills to earn any money.
I had never busked in my life. I had never had the slightest inclination to do so. The mere thought of performing in public brought me out in a cold sweat. In other words… this was really living adventurously for me!
And it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my whole life (you can watch the film I made here).
But I would NEVER have come up with that idea if I’d just sat around thinking of a fun adventure to try. It came about because I first of all thought deeply about WHY living adventurously was important. You need to start with why.
This is the hardest, longest and most important process of making changes in the direction of your life. Once you are clear about your ‘why’ it you will find it easier (and be more motivated) to put in place how you are going to make these changes and what you’re going to do.
Why do you want to live more adventurously? Think about your motivations rather than considering specific activities.
What is the most significant change you would like to make in your life?
What barriers stand in your way?
If you can find the overlap of what you want to do, what you ought to do, and what you have to do, then you have discovered your ikigai – and perhaps even the purpose of your adventurous life.
After that the rest can begin to take shape. I decided that I wanted to chase adventure for all sorts of reasons. Once that was clear as my priority all I had to do was work out how to make that happen and what I needed to do to make it a realistic, viable way of life.
One of the surprising, ridiculous, yet powerful and prevalent things that stops us getting on with living adventurously is that those of us who are in the privileged position of being able to indulge in this sort of navel-gazing and planning have too much choice!
Throughout human history almost nobody has been able to plot their life, choose their work, or walk the path of their choice. We are the lucky few.
And yet we are so fortunate that we can often be overwhelmed by opportunity…
Yes, choosing right is hard, but just a few seconds of rational thought should reassure you that there are thousands of people living fulfilled, worthwhile lives of purpose and satisfaction in so many different fields. So I would urge you not to worry about making a perfect choice, rather to worry about NOT making a choice.
The decision you make today is unlikely to be binding a decade from now. None of us can see into the future very far – just make the best decision you can at every turn in the road.
Because when I was a kid dreaming (optimistically) of being a cricketer I had no idea that I’d end up training to become a science teacher.
And whilst I was goofing around being a student I didn’t know that I’d never become a head teacher but would instead cycle round the world.
And when I was having the time of my life on my bike I didn’t know that it would, for a while, make me hate cycling so much that one day I’d go and walk across southern India in search of adventure that was even slower and simpler and more painful, or that the crazy crowds would make me yearn to cross the emptiness of Iceland which gave me the nerve to cross the Empty Quarter which is pretty much an identical experience to rowing an ocean, surprisingly, or being out on a silent, frozen ice cap in Greenland.
(Yes, they all sound different, but actually they are all teaching me, inadvertently, how to deal with what comes next.)
And I did not know that the expedition in Greenland, which felt to me like the pinnacle of joy, success, ambition and fulfilment of everything I yearned for in this life of adventure would see me sobbing my heart out in that little red tent in front of my two friends because I felt so guilty about my family left behind at home, and the realisation that this perfect life I had carved out for myself no longer worked.
And that this forced me to swerve direction, to leave behind the ego of the big expeditions and instead focus on encouraging busy people to go and sleep on a hill.
That audiences would be far more interested in me walking round the M25 than most big adventures I have ever been on! (It’s interesting that, isn’t it – solve a problem in your own life and there’s a good chance you’ll find other people in the same boat, whether that’s folk trapped by busy realities of life but yearning to still have adventures, or whether it’s being unable to find healthy peanut butter to refuel you in your marathon training.)
None of this was mapped out. All I have tried to do (and am trying to do) is keep moving forward in the most interesting, adventurous direction that life allows me to do.
In other words, just do something. You already have a thousand ideas in your head, don’t you?
So just ask the 80-year old version of yourself what they suggest you do, and get on with that. There is no single, perfect solution.
Make the best decision you can with the knowledge that you have, then stick to it until you can make a better decision.
Sure it’s not as easy as we’d like it to be to take over the world.
By and large we all get a sprinkling of the same obstacles: time, money, expertise, location, commitments, knowing the right people etc…
The crucial part, I think, is to get started however we can.
You don’t have the time to cycle round the world – go cycle round the Isle of Wight for a weekend and shake off the inertia.
You don’t have the cash to row an ocean – go build a raft and give yourself the time and space to hatch a plan.
I think in end most of this boils down to choosing your attitude. For example, do you bemoan the 9 to 5 or get excited by the 5 to 9?
Feel inhibited by the 8 hours of work or inspired by the 16 hours of (hypothetical) freedom every day?
We always have a choice to see the constraints in our situation. Or to see the opportunities. What is possible? Begin with that.
What change can you begin to squeeze in around the margins of your busy daily life?
What is important in your life, and what is merely urgent? Are you aware of the difference?
There are 24 hours in a day, which turn into 168 hours in a week. Do you pay attention to making the most of these, of fitting in your crazy dreams and hopes into the margins around the inevitable duties of real life?
I only work for 30 hours out of the week’s 168. I’m so aware of how little time I have to do the work that feels important to me. On the wall in my shed is a reminder to focus, to build streaks of daily habits (pull-ups / writing 1000 words / brainstorming ideas / whatever you like), and that one of the best ways to do what I want to do is to stop doing the things that suck my time, energy or soul.
It is also helpful (if painful) to acknowledge within ourselves what we are choosing for our lives.
Are we actually short of resources, or are we just choosing to binge watch Netflix on the sofa? If we cry for too long about our limitations, then we get to keep them.
The truth can be painful, but it’s a good step towards getting started. For, as I said at the beginning, getting started is often the hardest part of any journey.
And the thing that inhibits us all the most is fear.
The biggest barrier, bigger even that Time or Money, is fear. Fear of change. Imposter syndrome. Fear of failure. Fear of what people think.
What would you do if you couldn’t fail (to further rile Mister 1-star Amazon reviewer!)?
What would you do if nobody would find out?
What would you do if you were not going to live for ever (as we all assume), but were actually running out of opportunities one second at a time?
These remaining seconds of my life scare, sadden and inspire me far more than fearing what people might think if I try something and fail!
So how do we overcome the fear and the practical barriers and actually make the changes we yearn for?
The Scandinavians have a phrase that describes how hard it is to begin journeys, to get out of your nice, comfortable, familiar house and out into the huge cold, snowy, outdoors: Dørstokkmila. The Doorstep Mile. Leaving your front door is the longest mile of any journey.
I wish I had known about the Doorstep Mile years ago, for it puts a name to the nervy feeling I have experienced so often. I used to think I was lazy or a coward. But it was not just me: it is a common enough hurdle to have a name!
If you can deal with your Doorstep Mile, then you are in a strong position to accomplish more than you imagine. As simple as that. As enormous as that. Dream big but start small.
Over years of intelligent, philosophical reflection, I have concluded that living adventurously is a similar challenge to going skinny dipping. The idea sounds exciting, but it can be daunting to do.
Are you ready to strip off and jump in?
So what is an example of the “Doorstep Mile”?
The biggest adventure of my life was cycling round the world. That might sound like a daunting, huge project.
But actually it began with something very small and simple. It began with a letter.
Cycling round the world began with me turning down a job invitation. A 10-minute letter turned a dream in my head into a commitment.
As simple as that. As enormous as that.
We all have big dreams, ambitions, hopes and ideas. But we also have big barriers standing in our way.
But these can all be overcome with one secret ingredient: mojo. The enthusiasm, energy, determination and urgency to get out of the front door and start.
That’s all you need. (But it certainly doesn’t hurt to have ‘mojo plus one’ – if you’ve got that already then you no longer have any excuses!)
My pursuit of an adventurous life has changed a great deal in the past two decades. These days one of things that brings me the most satisfaction is my monthly tree climb, scheduled religiously into my calendar for the first Tuesday of every month, and a fine chance to pause briefly from the busy madness, to give myself a jolt of adrenaline, to notice the sweep of the seasons, and to reflect briefly on the month just past, and what I might choose to do with the 4 weeks until I return to my tree.
‘How we spend our days,’ noted Annie Dillard, ‘is, of course, how we spend our lives.’
So dream big, but start small.
What is your massive, ridiculous dream?
What is the tiniest manifestation of it that you can start squeezing into your 9 to 5?
How can you begin living more adventurously every day?
What is your doorstep mile?