My recent trip to Montreal changed how I thought about my family and our travels. In recent years I have felt like we were building up to something, or getting prepared.
I’m ready to own it…We are Adventurers.
But why should that be?
There are people who would regard our foray to “just” another North American city as mundane, safe, or unimaginative. It’s a much smaller risk than trips to less developed parts of the world, so why should we be Adventurers?
We embraced our fears.
Adventure is taking risks. Some people may not see Montreal as risky, but is was a risk for us. We were enchanted by the possibilities, afraid of the uncertainties, and we went.
The unfamiliarity was disturbing, physically sickening on the first sleep-deprived day. Immersed in fatigue and adrenalin I briefly felt “Oh my god, what have we done?”.
That feeling was followed by 8 hours of amazing sleep and one of the greatest weeks of adventure my family has ever experienced.
Embracing fear is intrinsically Adventurous.
What’s the smallest thing you are afraid of?
Go do it. Have an Adventure.
I know my most recent Adventure Post was Adventure #2. There was an Adventure #3 in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee but I’ve neglected to address it during my long writing hiatus. I promise I’ll get back to it, but I wanted to write about this adventure while it was fresh in my mind.
We were going to vacation in North Carolina on the Outer Banks, but we couldn’t find a hotel Dreamgirl liked so we started considering other options. Cincinnati had been over a hundred degrees every day for a long time and we were looking for someplace cool.
We’ve never driven the kids more than 12 hours and we suddenly, arbitrarily, decided we could go farther. Montreal was only 14 hours away according to google and it was about 20 degrees cooler…Jackpot. Destination chosen.
This adventure was a whole series of risks and I had no idea how they would work out:
Risk #1 – 14 hour drive to our destination, and back again
Risk #2 – Visit a country where English is not the primary language
Risk #3 – Instead of a hotel, rent an apartment
Risk #4 – Instead of driving after arrival, use transit
Risk #5 – Instead of using a stroller, let all the kids walk
On all counts we succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings…
1. The drive was long, but largely uneventful. We made a three hour getoutandstretch stop each way.
2. I had a great time using my limited French. Rather than struggling to communicate, I found the locals all too willing to switch to English, and my French passable in the rare scenarios when it was required.
3. Airbnb rocked. We stayed in a lovely apartment. The neighborhood was poor, but safe, and the proximity to transit made it a slam dunk.
4. I had very little experience with transit systems prior to the trip. By day 2 the kids loved the trains, and by the end of the trip they knew our two primary lines by heart. As we left each station they would say along with the French-speaking announcer “prochaine station, LaSalle” or “Charlevoix”, “McGill”, etc.
5. I wish we had taken a pedometer. We walked huge miles. I carried lunch every day in a backpack, and rotated carrying kids at the end of each day. Everyone maintained good humor, surprising endurance, and we were able to get to know the city far better than we would have in a car.
While we were away Leo Babauta posted on family travel and I was surprised to find we were already hitting all of his points. It would seem, with apologies to Tolstoy, that happy traveling families are all alike.
Where should we go next?
“That’s more impressive than anything I’ve ever done.”
The man who said it was faceless, passing my house at twilight as I worked on my boat in the driveway.
I wanted to wave away the mystique of accomplishment and told him he could do it too.
“All you have to do is start.”
That’s what I said to him.
“All you have to do is start.”
I meant it as an invitation.
It’s getting close to finished now, and actually looks like a boat to even the most casual observer. That, combined with the increased summer foot-traffic, has brought a host of well-wishers past to wave encouragement.
I love it.
Everyone has in them excitement, ability, and genius.
In most of us they lie dormant; stifled by expectations and fear or numbed away by television or the web.
Working on my boat is how I proselytize. Maybe filling my driveway with wood shavings can inspire someone to learn a language, take the quilting lessons they’ve always wanted, or write the novel that’s aching to get out.
Every time I wave back to someone, or answer their questions about the project, I hope I’ve incited them to act.
“All you have to do is start.”
It should have been innocuous, a take-it-or-leave-it suggestion of future possibility.
But he didn’t take it that way.
In an abstract “I’m not really interested, but I’m willing to dispute the point” way he talked about the knowledge or skill necessary to start such a thing.
On its face, what I’m doing appears to require great skill. In reality, a couple of library books, $200 in hand tools, and courage (or naivete) are enough to start. But how could he know that? I didn’t know it until the boat was half finished.
I should have conceded and re-issued the invitation another day; a day when we could talk without shouting across a yard, read intentions on each others faces, and when I could find out what excited him.
I should have, but I didn’t.
“All you have to do is start”.
I only said it once, but it landed so badly that it echoes in my mind.
After he disappeared into the dark I thought to track him down, apologize, and explain that I intended to invite rather than belittle. It was too late though. I didn’t know which way he went, and with the sky fading into night I had no idea what he even looked like.
So, I let him go.
After sitting with it for a few days I’ve realized my mistake:
People have to know you, or think they do, before you can inspire them. Prior to relationship it is presumptuous to suggest they change their priorities and, by extension, their lives.
In the absence of relationship the question isn’t innocuous, it’s pejorative.
Perhaps a better question is the one I ask you…
“Can I help you start?”
Instead of wallowing in my misery, I just made some changes.
I saw a bumper sticker on my way to work today:
“Our Police DESERVE Higher Pay”
Let me interject that I know nothing about the economics of Police work. I don’t know what police are paid. I don’t know how hard it is to acquire the skills necessary to do the job. I don’t know how many people are competing for the available positions. I don’t know how dangerous it is. This isn’t about the Police.
I could have researched these facts, but that wouldn’t solve what bothered me about the sticker.
What bothered me was “DESERVE”.
Do any of us DESERVE anything?
How does DESERVING something affect your life?
A few years back I decided I was underpaid.
This was not an emotional decision, I relied entirely on cool-headed logic. Facts and incontrovertible evidence indicated that I DESERVED more money and that my massive contributions to the corporate bottom line were completely overlooked. An oversight of this nature proved my boss was either stupid or evil. Rarely have I been more self-righteously certain of myself.
I hated my job.
Life wasn’t much better.
Then I noticed how bad everything was and I decided to make some changes.
I acknowledged that:
I already had more than enough money to be reasonably comfortable.
I already had as much security as most people can expect.
I already had a boss whose needs supported my family.
I already had everything necessary for a great life.
I had made a deal for employment and I could choose to continue faithfully serving that deal, or go make another one.
Today I enjoy my job.
Today work is fun.
Today life is much better.
Nothing changed but me.
Feeling slighted, like you are deprived of what you DESERVE, is no way to live.
Our Police can do better than that, and so can you.
What changes could you make if you let go of what you DESERVE?
I took a trip to Dayton, Ohio yesterday. I went to a meetup put together by The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
I love talking to people and exchanging ideas. I enjoy the intellectual rigor of trying to understand a new frame of reference. I love offering examples from my past experience to test whether I really understand an idea or if I’m missing the point. Sometimes my experience can spark a new insight or shade of meaning for someone. Likewise, another perspective frequently adds depth to my own opinions. In the best examples of these conversations the exchange is easy, free of pretense, and forgiving of the many tangents that creative thinking entails.
I talked with Joshua and Ryan yesterday after the meetup, and the whole exchange had this comfortable feel.
I owe these two a debt of gratitude. I’ve been gradually opting out of consumer culture for almost twenty years. What The Minimalists opened up for me was the possibility of cutting loose the accretions of a lifetime of acquisition. I had slowed substantially the addition of new stuff into my life, but I’d never focused on reducing what I already had. The result was a little more drag on my existence with each passing year. Joshua and Ryan’s essays on minimalism have been an inspiration to me for the last year. I’ve used the content from their blog to create space in my life; space for things that matter to me.
I’m using that space for my crazyAwesomeHellYeah projects.
“You can sit in an empty room and be miserable”.
Ryan said these words as I arrived (late as it turned out) to 15 or 20 people sitting together at Press Coffee Bar in Dayton’s Oregon district. Joshua and Ryan were wrapping up a description of their journeys to minimalism and starting a Q & A that felt more like a conversation than a press conference.
The group asked some good questions, the answers to which became something of a group discussion. The toughest issues I heard people facing with minimalism dealt with how to communicate their minimalist values to family and friends.
Ryan suggested telling them “It’s my problem, not yours”. The comment is unexpected and disarming as it seeks to put the other person at ease. Further along in the discussion, articulating a minimalists’ problem with gifts Joshua remarked “I have a problem with the commodification of love”. The dehumanizing aspect of products as a proxy for love really hit home for me. It’s a fair definition, but one that is usually softened or obscured by one means or another.
I scribbled down a couple of quotes from the evening…
Start somewhere, but start.
I got laid off in September, so it worked out great.
For me, the most memorable statement was this one from Joshua:
(Why didn’t I record this? It would be so much better to have it word-for word.)
What’s the first thing we say when we meet someone? “What do you do?”, Right?
If they’re a Wall street broker we’ll think something very different than if they are a janitor. The janitor is likely to be a lot more honest, for instance. Hearing what someone does for a living lets us judge them, which is totally stupid…So after I quit my job if someone asked me “What do you do?” I would say “I’m really passionate about writing. What are you passionate about?”. And that totally changed the conversation.
I enjoyed each of these statements for different reasons (if you care to know why you can ask in the comments :)), but the last one is an absolute gem. The optimist in me believes “What do you do?” is searching for a common frame of reference from which to begin a relationship. The cynic in me knows people make judgements on that basis. It knows because I make some of those judgements myself.
Regardless of intent, the fact remains that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an “IT Guy” just because I earn my salary in that capacity. Does an “IT Guy” build a boat? Learn a language? Go on adventures?
We’re all deeper than our resumes.
I’m really pleased that I made the trip. I’m a natural wallflower, and it’s always a struggle for me to go to new venues and meet people. Occasionally I’ll have an opportunity to meet (in person) people I’ve only known online. For me, these events are usually characterized by irrational fear followed by a memorable evening. Last night I skipped the fear and entered directly into the comfortable and yes, memorable, evening. I have everyone in attendance to thank for that, but mostly Joshua and Ryan. Thanks!
Check out their tour page. If they’re not coming your way I highly recommend attending the Any City in the World Meetup. Ryan told me a little bit about their plans and it’s definitely worth your while.
A group of friends chatting about what makes them happy, what could be better?
Progress is never a straight line.
If you chart where you’ve been and where you are you’ll get a jagged, Himalayan line that reflects in some small way the struggles you’ve seen.
I realized this because I’m in one of the valleys of such a graph.
I recently was at a peak of progress:
A 16 mile hiking adventure in the mountains.
Ready to shape the sheerstrake for my boat.
Shrinking waistline from my dietary changes and workouts.
Consistent writing on my blog.
Completed business plan for a new venture.
And then it all changed.
I started reading a lot (again) and have spent less time writing.
My business partner has been very busy and our progress has stalled.
My shoulder injury is making most exercise difficult and sapping my enthusiasm.
The next step of the boat is the most important line & I’ve been stuck for weeks figuring how to do it beautifully and well.
I don’t have any new adventures on the calendar.
My momentum on the crazyAwesomeHellYeahProjects ground to a dispiriting halt.
What do you do when faced with the challenge of starting again?
I don’t mean to be glib, but it really is that simple.
You can only ever be doing what you are doing. If you are thinking about starting, or planning to start, or scheming on how to beat the resistance to starting then you aren’t starting.
What’s the smallest step you can possibly take to get the ball rolling again?
Take it. Start.
Write that blog post. Even if (especially if?) you’re not sure if it’s good enough.
Develop the minimum economically viable offering for your business. Even if (especially if?) the idea embarrasses you.
Make an appointment with a doctor to find out why you’re in pain. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid you may need surgery.
Prepare the materials for the boat. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid you’ll ruin it.
Brainstorm with your children for the next adventure. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid the ideas won’t be “practical” or “affordable”.
What’s the smallest step you can take to advance a goal?
Tell me in the comments. Even if (especially if?) you’re afraid to say it out loud.
I almost held it for May, but I decided to publish a short, short version of the goal update for April:
1. Build the Boat – Launch the 17′ Herreshoff Rowboat.
I’m in the home stretch of the outside of the boat. 2-3 chances to work and I should be ready to sand & paint.
I found a partial sheet of plywood I had tucked behind some other materials in the tiny shop, so I don’t have to make another full-day plywood run.
2. Post to CultivatingEccentricity.com – Use the blog to clarify ideas and direction.
If you haven’t already, it’s time for you to start a blog.
Seriously. I’ve never encountered anything as beneficial for sorting out priorities. It’s been immensely helpful for me, and I may have actually tripped over a couple of insights in the process.
3. 34 to 31 – Change how I eat and how I exercise to drop 3″ off my waist.
I’ve developed this nagging shoulder injury that is really slowing me down. I can’t do pushups or pull-ups without contorting my shoulder joint to compensate for the lack of strength/sudden pain created by the injury. I’ve been stalling a long time, but it’s probably time to see a doctor.
On a positive note, the vision quest (post coming soon, I promise) was a strong affirmation of the benefits I’m pursuing.
4. Monetize a side business – Make $500 on a side business.
Spending lots of time on business plans and I should be meeting with investors before the end of May. There’s definitely some momentum picking up here. I can’t believe a month ago I had no ideas and no realistic prospects.
5. Adventures – Go on Adventures.
Hocking Hills baby, Yeah!
I’m considering moving to a bi-monthly update for the rest of the year. I like the monthly accountability structure, but my progress is so slow that it feels self-indulgent to keep putting these out there for people to read.