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The Hopeless Search for a Magic Bullet

I am continually thankful that my hobby is my career. I appreciate how fortunate that position is.

Therefore when eager young adventurers send me emails asking “how to make a career out of this stuff”, about “finding a publisher” or “breaking in to public speaking”, I always try to send encouraging replies.

Here is an (abbreviated) exchange that caught my eye in my email archives this week:

—–Original Message—–

Sent: Tuesday, October 17

Your friend XXX suggested I get in touch with you […] I have finished my expedition and my book and now am beginning the daunting task of trying to get my book noticed in the modern day saturated swamp of travel/adventure literature […]

Unfortunately none of the big guns wanted my book so I am going it alone, trying to get reviews in papers, radio etc etc and trying to get my book into bookshops. But what I thought you really could give me some tips on is the corporate speaking world. I am not worried that I would be stealing your thunder here as we are in totally different stages of our careers so I hope you wouldn’t mind giving me any tips about getting my foot in the door. Immodestly I can say with confidence that my talks are very good and well-received, so the problem I have is that of getting in contact with the right person in the right company, persuading them to take me on for their event etc. That is what I am not having much joy with. […]

… and I keep pestering the people at the RGS to let me speak there!

My website, if you have a moment, is XXX and I would really appreciate any tips. Also, would you be willing to read my book […] and make a nice comment about it that I could use on my site?!
Finally, if you ever decide to do […] or anything equally bonkers, please do let me know – I would love to do that!
Best wishes, and good luck to you with your projects,

A couple of days later – this reply:

—–Reply To Message—–


Man I wish had some magic solution for you!
I guess it is a mix of hard work, good luck, & a few prayers !
Just focus on doing your job well and the press & speaking will come-  much better way of doing it than trying just to get press & speaking!
If you do the job etc well the rest will come
Good luck
Follow those dreams but don’t be under any illusions- it is a rocky road and hard, …I do it because I would be useless at anything else

You might wonder what interests me about this? After all I receive an email like this every few days, and I send a reply similar to this each time.

The reason it made me smile about the request for advice when I came across it this week is because I wrote it.

I wrote it to Bear Grylls in 2006 and was both surprised and pleased that he replied, though I remember being mildly disappointed that he did not offer any magic bullet solutions to fame, fortune and having a muddy face on gigantic billboards.

Bear was right though – just focus on doing your job well and the rest will come.

Of course I am still impatient. I still want to be making more noise than I am. I still look on enviously at others in my tribe, wondering why they get all the luck. But, mostly, I remember to be phenomenally grateful for having my hobby as a career, and that -ultimately- I am not in this game to have mud-streaked billboard glory.
So thank you, Bear, a second time, for your helpful advice.

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  1. I think I wrote you a mail like that recently 😉 Good old Bear Grylls. I tried on a pair of his ‘full stretch’ trousers the other day- very stretchy.

  2. That is awesome Al! I was reading the first email, thinking; “I wonder who this young punk is?”. Good advice from Edward for sure.

  3. It’s a tough one.

    The amazing things you’ve done were amazing because you did them your way. If you had been removed from that equation, they’d have been very different. Nobody else would have created the microadventures project like you did, or talked about it the same way, or got on NatGeo’s radar like you did. Your success is personal and uniquely earned. If anyone tries to flat-out xerox that, you’ll come unstuck because they’re not you, and they’re not relying on their own unique talents. I see this in travel blogging a lot, and it never works out well.

    I’m a small fish that has been swimming around long enough to make a few ripples, so I get e-mails like this, and I never feel qualified to answer them because the person writing the e-mail doesn’t understand that I’m struggling with exactly the same things, still piecing a career together (and surviving on very little money) – it’s just that I’ve been doing it a little longer than them, so I’m more visible online. I still find myself making mistakes, doing stuff that wastes my time and diverts me from where I want to be going. (The flip side is: every day is a new opportunity to pivot and improve.) But what if my advice is similarly wrongheaded? Plus – they’re not me. Which is probably a major advantage for them in some cases. 😉

    But if there *is* a magic bullet for universal success, I reckon it’s an amalgam of Danny Wallace, Steven Covey and Wheaton’s Law.

    Say yes to everything that scares you.
    Seek to understand, relentlessly, obsessively.
    Don’t be a d*ck.

    I’m pretty sure that approach will get anyone nearer to where they want to be in their life.

    • Alastair Posted

      This is brilliant:

      But if there *is* a magic bullet for universal success, I reckon it’s an amalgam of Danny Wallace, Steven Covey and Wheaton’s Law.

      – Say yes to everything that scares you.
      – Seek to understand, relentlessly, obsessively.
      – Don’t be a d*ck.

      I’m pretty sure that approach will get anyone nearer to where they want to be in their life.

  4. Thanks for sharing this Al.
    It’s funny – there is always more stars to shoot for. More people higher up the ladder. More achievements to achieve. More adventures to embark on. And it’s wonderful to be motivated and inspired by those that have come before us.

    For me, you are a major inspiration. Bear is such an inspiring adventurer (I’ve seen nearly every Man vs Wild!), but it is actually your work that resonates far more with me than his. Maybe it is simply because he is simply more “commercial” due to his show. In my eyes, you set the stage and bar for quality, being part of the conversation, sharing our story, redefining what is possible and normal. So, I’m just saying that, as you make your way up the ladder, you’re making a hell of a lot of noise as you do it, in lives like my own and many other travelers, adventurers, writers, speakers, entrepreneurs. There is beauty in the process. 🙂

    – Lauren

  5. Brilliant, funny and food for thought. Loved it!

  6. This rocks my socks… maybe I’ll be writing one like this siting you in time. 🙂 Keep being amazing!

  7. Nice email Al! Mike’s magic bullet is a pretty solid formula for life too 😉

    The post reminds me of a wonderfully humble and throughtful response to a fan from illustrator Keri Smith:

    Here’s a great quote:
    “I confess that I don’t often like to give advice to people as I find advice a bit too dogmatic and personal, what works well for one might not for another. And who am I to say what is best for you? I also find that people who write me asking for advice probably are looking to hear something very specific, more like a quick fix, of which there are none. (Plus I am a rebellious human being by nature and tend to do the opposite of what people ask me.) But you didn’t write me for advice did you? Good. That is why I am writing you here.”

    and then…

    ” what I really want to share with you is this…the energy that you feel when you are creating is very important and will tell you if you are on the right path. Not that there is only one path, there are many, but I am referring to doing work that fulfills you and brings you “success”, and when I say success I really mean “work that is meaningful to you”, work that is aligned with your ideals…”

  8. This is a very clever and thought provoking post, thanks!



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