Tyler’s Note: This is a Riskologist Field Report by Mark Swedberg of A Journey’s Tale. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson. To contribute your own Field Report, go here.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
~ Mark Twain
People sometimes ask me why I did it, why I would quit my job and leave on a month long journey with no money and only a change of clothes.
Why? Honestly, I was bored. Life had become an empty routine. Wake up. Sell my soul. Watch TV. Midnight snack. Wash and repeat.
Was this it? Surely there must be more, something better. And so I left my world of safety and dullness and entered an adventure that brought me from California to Canada and put over 1,000 miles of pure backpacking and hitchhiking under my shoes.
There’s this tendency to get trapped inside a problem, caught within endless loops of thought, always planning and never acting. But occasionally things get so bad it’s impossible not to act. I guess that’s what happened to me.
I’d become emotionally dead. My days were a monotonous flat-line, devoid of excitement and meaning, nothing left to look forward to. I realized I needed to take dramatic action—and I needed to do it immediately—or sacrifice the freedom of my will to creature comforts and stability.
Before I had a chance to reconsider or analyze my situation for the umpteenth time, I was gone. It all happened so fast. One moment I was handing in my resignation, the next I was bedding down beneath a star-filled sky.
My family calls this little episode of mine a “walkabout.” The term refers to a rite of passage taken by Australian Aborigines. Truth is, I already knew my purpose.
No, my journey wasn’t so much a vision quest as an exercise in risk-taking. I was trying to rediscover the essence of life, and the only way to do that was to throw away the safety of control and dive into the wild excitement of unplanned adventure.
It wasn’t easy—rejecting age-old social values never is—but it was worth it. No reward, however great, can make up for the time sacrificed along the way. The end never justifies the means, not really. Life is a journey, an endless trail of moments passing through consciousness one by one, and the only way to truly live is to make each of those moments count.
So why don’t we? It’s not like I’m telling you something new. You and I both know life is fleeting and precious. Yet here we are, reading a blog post on adventure rather than living one.
I’ll tell you what the problem is: fear.
It’s easy to take big risks when you hate life, but what about when things are just comfortable and boring.
A little complacency never hurt anyone, right? Wrong. If the purpose of life is to enjoy every moment, then letting time slip away without notice is the greatest tragedy of all. Yet it happens day after day after day, and all because we are afraid of changing something good okay.
Most of our monsters are vague and undefined. Dreamy phantoms filled with foreboding and menace. We become irrational, emotional, and forget what’s at stake. We imagine terrifying scenarios. If I leave now, I’ll never be able to get back to this pinnacle of apathy. And what if I get a booboo? Maybe I should plan things out for the millionth time.
STOP! These creeping worries are just symptoms of a deeper problem. If you focus on them, you’ll forever be putting out fires rather than catching the arsonist.
Most people aren’t afraid of these little setbacks, not really. I mean, we’ve all somehow managed to carve out comfortable lifestyles with astonishingly little effort, almost like it fell into our laps.
Sure, there have been points of struggle and pain in every person’s journey, but you made it through the tough times once and you can certainly do it again, especially since you’ve been down that path before. Danger doesn’t scare most of us, either. It should, but for some reason it seems a bit thrilling. Even sacrificing the need to control everything brings a creeping sense of excitement.
No, the real problem is change. We’re afraid that once we step foot on the rolling deck of freedom we’ll never make it back alive unless we change who we are and what we value. It comes down to identity and whether we are willing to transform the way we see ourselves.
There may have been moments in the past when you experienced true freedom. And I’m not just talking about having extra time or spare change, either. I’m referring to the liberty of your soul, the freedom to do and be and say and think whatever the hell you want. But like all of us, these moments of clarity have been slowly covered by the avalanche of responsibility and busywork.
Somehow, somewhere, sometime you and I have lost the ability to control our identities and ever so slowly have morphed into the people we are today. Content. Busy. Well-to-do. Mild mannered. Aging. Bored. Is this really who you want to be? It certainly doesn’t excite me.
So what’s the solution? More planning? A better strategy? Bigger emergency reserves? None of the above. Truth is, change is always just one decision away. All it takes is action. No planning, no thought. Just movement in the direction of your truest desires.
See, the purpose of life isn’t happiness or fun or even love. Those things are incredibly important and meaningful, but they fail to capture the real essence of our existence. Life is about satisfaction, about acting in the most satisfying way every moment of each day. It’s about motion, not planning. About the fierce adventure of unplanned travel. And all it takes is one step at a time.
Don’t wait. Take action on something you’ve been putting off all these years. Don’t do something smart; do something exciting. Don’t play it safe. This is your chance to take the biggest risk of your life and forge the kind of character that can overcome the odds and achieve those dreams you’ve shelved all these years.
Good luck traveler; I’ll see you on the other side.
Mark Swedberg is one of those crazy lifestyle experimenters . . . you know, the kind who runs split tests on his dinner date or randomly finds himself in the middle of a federal sting operation. Keep track of his latest adventures at A Journey’s Tale or catch his experiments in real time on Facebook.
Image by: kriechstrom