“Adventure is not a trip you take, it’s everything you do.” I’d forgotten this, though. This is a story about remembering. AKA How not to feel shit.
We are at the top of a hill somewhere in Sussex, staring out at the view. This was worth dragging myself up after four hours sleep and too much alcohol still in my system for.
“This is dangerous,” Chris says of the cars speeding past. I can’t help but think how lucky I am to see this strange view across the sky of endless fields.
The last 18 months have been strange, honestly. They involved reading lots of articles about the so-called quarter life crisis, about doing what you love and talking about how to expand your walls.
At some point I forgot to ask of life: “if you don’t love it, why are you doing it?”
The last twelve months have been about learning to gently back prod at the walls of life as it felt like they shrunk around me. I felt like I’d fallen down a metaphorical well, and couldn’t stop thinking about how to stop drowning, let alone how to push back the walls that seemed to have squeezed around me once I was up and floating again. Luckily, one of my friends knows a good life coach (a phrase which I’ve since learned to stop treating as a dirty word – although I’m still fairly prone to using air quotes when I talk about the process).
But first, back to the start. A year and a half ago I loved a job that I threw myself into. I worked on a running brand. I love running, ever so much. I still do, though in a slightly different way now. I wanted the projects I was really invested in to be a success. I really believed in what I did. I skipped a lot of evenings and weekends to work. I stopped having much time when I wasn’t thinking about work.
”When people feel like they have no sense of direction, no purpose in their life, it’s because they don’t know what’s important to them, they don’t know what their values are. And when you don’t know what your values are, then you’re essentially taking on other people’s values and living other people’s priorities instead of your own. “ – Mark MansonEventually it all got a bit much. I left. I suddenly had weekends and finished on time at my new job each day. With that came the strange realisation that I didn’t really know what I was when I wasn’t working. Remembering that was a project in itself. On the other hand, the new work didn’t feel particularly meaningful. And that felt strange. I didn’t want to be creative for the sake of being creative. I missed changing the world in a way that made it slightly better, in my eyes. And I didn’t want to live for the 5-9.
I stopped feeling like I could change anything. It felt like sinking. I talked to someone whose job it is to help you when you feel completely stuck (the life coach) and we made a bit of progress.
I visited San Francisco with a friend and we got on the train to Yosemite National Park. A huge, ridiculous theme park of trees and waterfalls that sprout rainbows, which somehow all seems very normal at the time. It’s a fairly busy park. My favourite moments were walking around a 13 mile route along the forest floor, where the Legoland-styled carts that took people around the park couldn’t reach us and it was actually silent. Just a river, the trees and us, staring up at them. We talked about the meaning of everything. We dreamed big. Staring up at those 200 foot trees somehow made things make a little more sense. Being on a big adventure made it feel like the walls had gone away, just a little.
I returned to the same-old-same-old work, and began making some small changes. I slowly started plotting this blog.
After a while I stopped seeing the life coach and everything felt okay, whilst I gently I hit pause on my progress. Whether I meant to or not, I stopped trying, the changes slowed down. I was meddling, tweaking tiny things and moving slowly forward, but ultimately not changing much – especially not my mindset. The world felt smaller again – not as constricted as it had been, but when people asked how I was:
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
Both of these now set off alarm bells for me. Fine is comfort, security, and stagnancy. Happiness comes from growth and challenges, I read recently. It certainly (for me, at any rate), does not come from ‘fine.’ Feeling fine is just enough comfort to pretend problems do not really need dealing with. Fine is dangerous. I promptly stuck my head back in the sand.
I did some big bike rides. I got up at 4am to cycle from London to Bath with my friend Lucy. It made the world feel a little bigger. More alive.
Then I went back to work on the Monday and soon enough the world felt a little smaller again. Same old, same old.
In February I got made redundant. I am a logical person. Logically, I proceeded to evade any form of fun and did a lot of boring and functional things that I thought would help my career which seemed to involve a lot of sitting around in my then-boyfriend’s dressing gown applying for full-time jobs that I did not want. I forgot that I needed to be happy, too. I have not cried so much in all of my life.
I stopped thinking “what would make me happy?” I started hoping other people had that answer. I’d forgotten to ask myself that in it all. I felt boxed in by mental walls that seemed to have crept in overnight. Except it wasn’t overnight – I’d been feeling down for three months and time felt like it had run together. It was now well into spring, nearly summer. Suddenly months had passed and whilst each day was intensely slow, the progress I was making felt so slow that it could have happened in just weeks. The small moments where I felt like myself again definitely didn’t add to anywhere near months.
I spoke to the life coach again who through asking me “What would you like to do right now?” (which was a lot less straight forward than it sounds) has helped me remember what fun is. What being weird and spontaneous is. That we’re each individually in control of our own happiness, not conditionally based on anyone else. That being by myself isn’t scary, it’s fun.
But what if adventure wasn’t just about fantastical trips? Or sticking your flag into someone else’s ‘undiscovered’ land? What if adventures could happen within? Some people bring adventure into their own lives, shaking up the familiar by shifting their own mindset. Others make sure they venture out into the world and beyond the boundaries of their own private comfort zone.” – Huck
The process of pushing out those walls that made me feel boxed in started small. Then quickly got bigger.
I walked through the night from London to Brighton. I’ve always had a strange idea that would be fun. I walked solidly for 50 miles, hitchhiked for three miles, got lost around Ditchling, then celebrated in Brighton with a lot of craft beer and bad music with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. That 18 hours is a strange blur of excitement and oddness. Having to think for myself for the first time in a while, was refreshing. Ultimately, I didn’t know how the walk would go, and despite not having the answers but knowing it would all be okay – that I would be alright, just by myself – was like feeling a comfort blanket for the soul that I’d lost, slowly coming back.
I went to Edinburgh for a weekend adventure. I’ve never travelled by myself, really. I spent nine hours on a train, and two days wandering around the hills, by the sea, and exploring madcap Edinburgh Fringe Festival theatre and comedy (some funnier than others).
I’d like to continue scaring myself slightly, in every element of my life. Continue learning, being excited, scaring myself a bit.
At exactly the same time through no coincidence, I’ve learned to love freelance. Every job interview for a role that felt too familiarly ‘fine’ had me coming away feeling like they were dangerous. Instead of not being secure, freelance stops me feeling trapped in the wrong thing. It lets me experiment and try different things; the same as I’m busy doing outside of work. It makes the world feel like a fun, flexible, changeable place. There are a lot of articles about not being a victim I could share. I’m reading a really interesting book about behaviour patterns and breaking them right now.
The world feels like doors and options are open everywhere, where they weren’t before.
I realised what I like is always pushing back at those walls. Always growing, and being interested in that growing.
There are the main things I’ve re-learned this last 18 months:
– Get excited by something, anything
– Start making changes, however small
– Do more of what you want. The exciting, gut-grabbing stuff that’s a bit scary.
– Be brave, however small
– Unlearn all the I can’t rules
– Talk to people but be responsible for yourself. Don’t put it on anyone else (aka your emotional health is ultimately your own damn business)
– Deep breaths
One of the things that has helped is the notion of adventures that blow your mind a little. They excite me. I think the autonomy, freedom and headspace that physical adventures give you are magic.
It’s no coincidence that a lot of the people that write about adventures tend to have a lot to say about these things: about pushing our boundaries on all fronts. Sometimes an adventure can be a bike trip or walk, and I know that a bike trip or a walk isn’t always an adventure, but they’re both pretty fun. You’ll find me writing about both.
And so there we are. Back, staring over the hills in the middle of Sussex feeling a little awe-filled, with some of these thoughts glowing in my head. Then we hop back on our bikes, on a cycle ride that takes us through places we’ve never been, through tiny villages and up ridiculous hills, and eventually takes us to the sea. At least the hangover has gone, too.