It’s 1987 and I’m living in Shimonoseki, Japan – a non-descript town of 100,000 known primarily for its production of the poisonous delicacy, fugu (blowfish).
Although here, ostensibly, to teach English to junior high school students, only I know the real truth. Inside, I’m Indiana Jones. I am an adventurer!
Teaching English in Japan is simply my gateway to a bigger world, one that will one day include Bali and Bangkok, Burma and Bangalore, Cairo and Calcutta. So when I read an article in the English-language Japan times asking why anyone should ever leave the comforts of home and open themselves up to the discomforts of travel, I’m indignant. How can anyone think that way? Life is for doers, not spectators! If only Twitter had been in existence; I would have let that scaredy-cat columnist have a piece of my mind!
And then life happened …gradually …insidiously. After an epic journey through Asia and Europe that spanned 11 months and 12 countries, I returned to the U.S. and secured a job. I got married; I acquired a dog; and the adventures came fewer and farther between. But I never stopped thinking of myself as an adventurer.
Happily, I’m not alone in my daydreams of exotic lands and bold expeditions (with fedora and whip in hand). Consider the the life of explorer Ben Saunders, whose 2012 Ted talk, Why Bother Leaving the House, has been viewed by over 1.5 million people.
In 2004 at age 26, Saunders became the youngest person to ever ski solo to the North Polo – a journey that many thought impossible (and just short of crazy). In 2014, he upped the ante still further, leading a 2-man team to retrace Captain Scott’s ill-fated 1,800-mile expedition to the South Pole, on foot.
What drives a man to take on extreme challenges, to push his boundaries to the limit? Saunders admits that part of it is an addiction. Living on the edge delivers a powerful rush. It’s what draws war reporters and photographers to the front. We never live more fully than when we’re out there on the edge of our abilities. Or as Saunders puts it, “real inspiration and growth only comes from adversity and from challenge.”
Although I’m not dog sledding through the Arctic, I feel blessed that I somehow earn my keep as a “treasure hunter”. At periodic intervals, I leave home far behind and drop myself into unknown cities, seeking out hidden sites and sights that I can introduce to my clients within the context of a team-building treasure hunt game. The truth be told, there’s not a lot of danger in what I do. I don’t carry a shotgun, the way Saunders did in the Arctic to protect against potential polar bear attacks. If I get tired during a full day of clue scouting, I can simply sit down in a café and type up my notes over a mocha frappucchino. But still, somehow, I’m our there, exploring.
What are you doing in your life that is wildly, triumphantly outside of your comfort zone? How about your team at work? Are you and your colleagues playing it safe, rinsing and repeating a proven formula, or are you testing yourselves, risking everything, stepping completely away from the familiar.
As George Mallory – most likely the first mountaineer to successfully climb Mount Everest (although he never returned) — once said:
“If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”
And finally, this from Ben Saunders:
“We could all benefit from getting outside the house a little more often, if only we could summon up the courage.”