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  • Randall Wilson, Psy.D.

Being Adventurous in Difficult Times

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

As the inaugural blog article for this site, it seemed to me that "adventure" would be a fitting topic. Besides the fact that it captures the spirit in which we are launching this site, it also happens to be an important personal value of mine and one that I feel is helpful in navigating many of life's challenges.

Adventure vs. Safety/Comfort

Human beings, like any other critter on the planet, gravitate towards safety, comfort, and predictability. In fact our large brains and ability to plan and problem solve have allowed us to create a level of safety and comfort that surpasses anything before seen in the natural world. While early human beings felt safe only within the small area that made up their group's living space, modern day humans have managed to isolate "wildness" and potential danger to small patches on the map (nature preserves, national parks, etc.). While acquiring food used to be (and still is for many in developing countries) the most important task of the day, today we have immediate access to food and water with minimal effort. And despite the sense of danger and instability that many feel right now due to excessive news-watching (maintaining a healthy intake of news will be a blog for another day), statistically speaking we are safer now than in any other time in human history (Check out this compelling Ted Talk on the subject by psychologist Steven Pinker). So all in all, human beings in comparison to the rest of the animal world are exceedingly safe, comfortable, and have created a living environment that is very stable. However, it isn't just our propensity for safety, comfort, and predictability that sets us apart as human beings. We're also the only species that has explored and migrated to nearly every part of the planet, and even LEFT the planet to explore other planetary bodies. We are by far the most creative and innovative species on this planet. We have an innate desire for novelty and variety. And so maybe comfort and predictability are not all they're cracked up to be. Maybe having too much of a good thing has led to us losing touch with our adventurous roots.

The Value of Unpredictability and Change

We typically talk about things like stability, balance, and predictability, as though they are the hallmarks of a good life, but let's take a closer look. When you think back on some of the most memorable and important events in your life, would you describe those moments as "predictable," or "stable?" Chances are those moments are memorable because they were NOT predictable or stable. And isn't that the case with all of the best things in life? Good food, good conversations, humor, music, art... all of these things are enjoyable because they strike us in a way that we weren't able to predict. No one walks out of a movie theater and says "Wow what a great movie!... it was SO predictable!"

Being Adventurous When Things Go Wrong

So we can see that unpredictability clearly has value to it, yet it can be hard to welcome that unpredictability when the outcome is not what we had hoped for. This is where the value of adventure becomes helpful. Being adventurous involves meeting challenges and uncertainty with a sense of radical openness and willingness. Adventure means setting forth on a path with the assumption that not only could things go wrong, but that at some point they will go wrong, and I'm ok with that. You could even go so far as to say that things going wrong is the point.... otherwise, it wouldn't be an adventure! Adventures are not always fun. Often times they are grueling and challenging, but they teach us something about what we are made of and what we want to be about as a person.

And this value of adventure doesn't just apply to going on a traditional "adventure" like hiking the Appalachian Trail or going on a safari. It can be a stance that you take towards life in general. Starting a new business or a college course and feeling anxious about the risk of failing? That's an adventure. Starting a new relationship and feeling reluctant to open up and really connect with someone? That's an adventure. Trying to start and stick to a new exercise routine despite years of failing to maintain one? That's an adventure. Even really terrible things like losing a loved one or receiving an unwelcome medical diagnosis... those are adventures too. How will you navigate that challenge? What unexpected twists and turns will it take? What will you learn from it? How can you grow as a person and strengthen your relationships with others as a result? At this very moment as I write this article we are experiencing a global pandemic. If we choose to approach it this way, this is an adventure that we're all on together. You didn't choose it, but here it is, and so how will you meet it?

All of life can be viewed as an adventure, with endless surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. If you can approach challenges and important moments in life with an openness and a willingness for things to go utterly wrong, then you also get the privilege of being there when things go so completely right. Backing away from an adventure, on the other hand, means we don't get to experience either.

I'll finish with a quote that I love that I picked up from a mountain climbing documentary several years ago. To be honest, I don't recall the name of the documentary nor the person who said it, but the quote went something like this: "The best adventures answer questions that, in the beginning, you hadn't even thought to ask."

"Fair winds and following seas", adventurers.

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