Call to Adventure

Excerpt That Obsessed Me – by Anthony Bourdain. “I wanted adventures. I wanted to go up the Nung river to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder. I wanted kicks – the kind of melodramatic thrills and chills I’d yearned for since childhood, the kind of adventure I’d found as a little boy in the pages of my Tintin comic books. I wanted to see the world – and I wanted the world to be just like the movies”. From A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. 

So far, in my life, I have rarely felt a complete connection to anything. That passage however, it describes my heart. Well, if I’m honest, I related more to it about two years ago. I’ve been going in a bit of a different direction since then, but I sometimes wonder if I am not a coward for having lived such a comparatively safe life. 

Even when exploring was my objective, I never fell into the adventures I hoped for. I’m very proud of my travels, and some of them definitely deserve to be called adventures, but I wonder if I’ll ever manage to live up to these strange, reckless, youthful goals.  It’s a ridiculous notion, I know that, but like Bourdain said, I wanted the world to be just like the movies, and I still feel dissapointed that it’s not. These aspirations still hold a grip within me now, but with every year that passes, I have more to loose, and consequently, I feel less inclined to put myself into the kind of situations conducive to these kinds of adventures.

But that’s only one way to phrase it. Every year I have more to lose can easily be turned into back then I had more to gain! But, what did I have to gain from seeking adventure? What does anyone hope to gain from adventure? It’s a wacky idea, to go off, away from home, and engage in something risky, for the sake of completing a task. It’s usually self-imposed too. More than one person has scoffed at me when I told them of the very limited risks I took in seeking such thrills. I would never do something so reckless!

I’ve heard people talk about a concept elaborated by Joseph Campbell, called the Hero’s Journey. I won’t go into detail about it here, check out the Wikipedia page if you’re curious, but with it, Campbell defined the quintessential story: a hero goes on an adventure, succeeds in overcoming a crisis, and comes home changed. In every mythology, religion, history, and even in corporate America, this is the template on which every great person’s biography is written. Adventure depends on how we frame the achievement. 

And so perhaps we have our answer. The point of going off into the unknown, of adventuring, is growth. Just like going to school is meant to help youths grow, not only scholastically, but also socially, adventuring is meant to grow your character, your self. Yea, that’s vague. Let me put it this way: I seem to stand taller every time I come back from an adventure.

The adventures I grew up reading in books had bad guys, innocents to protect, mysteries to be solved, justice to be served and righteous tasks to complete. The adventures I lived involved completing very difficult tasks, such as trekking through the Himalayas and visiting countries where no one spoke my language, but the truth is, everything we do can be framed as an adventure, and perhaps it should be.  After all, in starting a job, or a family, you acquire mysteries to solve, people to protect, difficult tasks to complete, and opportunities to succeed where you could fail.

I still think of myself as though I am on an adventure. It makes things more interesting, and it forces me to be on my best behaviour.  As I live, I look upon my past and imagine my future as though it was my favorite movie, or story, and the hero of my story is ideal.  Though I am not, this imagining helps me aspire to be.

Making any big changes will almost inevitably invite adventure into our lives. Moving to a new city, dating someone new, or putting an end to a relationship, or leaving to travel alone in a country where anything could happen. Adventures are exciting, scary, and often difficult. They are not always the types of things we enjoy while they are happening, but that you look back to with great fondness. But adventures are not simply experiences. The completion of any of these adventures will grant you new abilities, new traits, and new tools with which to interact with the world. Going on adventures allows us to become formidable.

Maybe I won’t be putting my life on the line as often in the future, and perhaps this will stop me from ever having adventures of the Tintin variety. Maybe that’s ok, maybe I’ll have a relatively calmer life. This is where this whole conversation started after all. I was worried that I was a coward for not taking more risk, because I could only have adventures by taking crazy risks. Now I’ve argued myself out of the hole: I haven’t stopped having adventures, I have different adventures. It might sound kind of lame, like I’ve sold out. I know that, but my new adventures feel plenty stressful, risky and gratifying to me. If doing something hard and growing from it is adventure, then my philosophy degree and my engineering degree were insane adventures, which made me confront some of my greatest failures and which made me overcome some of my largest mountains.  Going off to work for a new company is extremely scary to me, but the thrill of succeeding, of doing well at these chosen challenges, it makes me stand taller than before. It makes my balls feel bigger than before. And so, my adventures keep changing, and so do I.

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