Alastair Humphreys is the holder of one of the world's coolest honors -- National Geographic Adventurer of the Year -- and he did some suitably adventurous things to earn it. From biking around the world to rowing across the Atlantic, Humphreys spent years completing the kind of expeditions that are the stuff of childhood dreams--and adult regrets.
While dragging a sledge across the Arctic might not be your bag, many of us yearn for more adventure. Or as Thoreau memorably put it, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." We wish we could be a little more like Humphreys, but cocooned in our responsibilities and routines, that often seems sadly out of reach.
On top of that, 2020 has been the anti-adventure year, grounding planes, canceling gatherings, and trapping us at home. Which means it's also the perfect moment to revisit Humphrey's 2018 DO Lecture about how all of us can slip more adventure into everyday life (hat tip to Swiss Miss).
An adventurer meets real life.
Humphreys's adventures might seem like the polar opposite of how most of us spend our lives, but he actually has more in common with the sensible and frustrated than it first appears.
While training for an Antarctic expedition in Greenland several years ago, a friend made a passing joke about Humphreys's not winning any father of the year awards being away from home so frequently. To Humphreys's surprise, he broke down in a flood of guilty tears and swore off massive, globe-trotting adventures from that point on.
Now he takes his adventures in bite-size chunks like the rest of us. "For every Steve Jobs or Bear Grylls hero success story, follow your dreams, chase your stars story, I reckon there are a million of us ... stymied and frustrated by real life," Humphreys says.
1. Get past 'the doorstep mile.'
Humphreys relates how he used to beat himself up for how hard he found it to get started on big projects and adventures. Then he discovered the Scandinavian concept of "the doorstep mile," which expresses how taking the first step can feel as difficult as walking a whole mile. The main lesson Humphrey's took from the expression is you're not alone and you're not defective. Everyone suffers from inertia, even celebrated international explorers.
2. Go micro.
Often the key to overcoming that inertia is to choose some tiny action and just get started. If thinking about the whole journey is too daunting, focus on the first simple step. If you've been endlessly procrastinating on learning a musical instrument, just force yourself to sit down and send one email to a prospective teacher.
3. Re-conceptualize adventure.
"I no longer see adventure as being the domain of rugged men doing rugged stuff in rugged places. Adventure is so much broader than that. Living adventurously really is about the attitude you choose to charge at life with, doing stuff that's new and different and that scares you and makes you curious. That should apply to all of us even if you think living in a tent is very, very stupid," Humphreys says. Amen to that.
4. Is it a constraint or an opportunity?
We tend to fixate on the constraints that keep us from greater adventures -- the rent that must be paid, the kids, the inconvenient deadlines -- but Humphreys urges us to flip the script and search for the opportunities for adventure between those constraints. He often takes his sleeping bag up to the top of a hill near his house and sleeps under the stars while still making it back in time for the school run, for example.
5. Visit Deathclock.com.
If you're still waffling about adding more adventure into your life even after you've rethought the word and the scale of the necessary time commitment, chances are what's holding you back isn't logistics, but fear. To get over that fear, Humphreys prescribes strong medicine: a visit to deathclock.com. The site will turn a few basic details about your life into a countdown to your predicted death. It's a powerful (if grim) reminder that you get only one chance to do this right.
I've distilled a few takeaways from the talk here for easy reference, but if you have 25 minutes to spare, the whole thing is well worth a watch: