"What is your adventure?"
My former boss and current mentor, the wildly astute Gigi Johnson, recently posed this question on Facebook. She's says that when she meets people now, she asks them about their adventure instead of asking "what do you do?" or "where are you from?" as her opening salvo.
"How do you present your path when you meet people? Are you a name, job title, and city? Are you a noun, verb, or journey?"
I love everything about this. For years I've held disdain for the requisite "what do you do?" interrogation, as if somehow your whole life story, everything that you are, can be boiled down to a job title.
Maybe for some, what you do as a profession really is your whole life. But for most of us, I think it's only one small part of a much larger 3D puzzle that makes up each of our personal worlds.
For me lately, the "what I do?" question has required a complicated response. As far as the basic question goes, what I "do" is nothing because I don't have a full-time job. I make some mind-numbing side money driving for Lyft, but that's not what I "do."
What I do is my adventure. I write this blog. I travel as much as I can afford. I hike as often as my body will allow. I do yoga and meditate for my sanity. I volunteer for TreePeople in forest care and the Sierra Club in political advocacy. I’m looking into becoming a volunteer naturalist, leading nature walks for school children. I’ve even found some paid environmental educator training programs that would let me go live in the the Santa Monica Mountains and Channel Islands National Park for a time.
In the grand scheme, my goal is to spend my time bettering my soul, so that when I do find something to "do" again (you know, a job), it will be the right thing to do -- something that allows me to follow my passion and enriches my mind. So another thing I do is apply to real and meaningful jobs with environmental organizations that should help me to find a real and meaningful life. Or rather, continue the real and meaningful life I'm attempting to lead.
Hopefully what you do is something amazing, but hopefully your adventure means even more than that.
What’s your adventure?
Most of the things we purchase in life can be categorized as either a "need" or a "want."
I need water.
I need food.
I need sleep.
I need a roof over my head.
Compared to, say...
I want to drink wine.
I want to eat cheeseburgers.
I want a Tempurpedic sleep number bed.
I want a Spanish style or mid-century in Silverlake with a pool, Jacuzzi, Meyer lemon trees, space for a sizable vegetable garden, and views of the Hollywood sign.
But you can't always get what you want, or so they say.
We live in a consumer wasteland of a civilization. The line between what we want and what is actually needed is more blurred than ever. Like Veruca Salt, we want the goose that lays the golden egg and a bean feast. Don't care how, we want it now.
And that said, there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying things that make you happy, even if you don't really need them. Life's short and most of us aren’t living on a hippie commune. There's nothing wrong with a good "treat yo self" once in a while. You're worth it.
For the last few years I've tried, and sometimes succeeded, in pausing for a moment to differentiate a need vs. a want when I'm deciding whether to buy something. To think about my motivation for buying something. It's never easy.
I'm an Amazon Prime member, and the free two-day shipping along with generally cut rate prices leads to many temptations. Do I need the new sleeveless navy running shirt, or is that a want? Do I want the California flag luggage tag, or is that a need? Is it even worth my time considering the question or should I just get them both because they’ll make me happy?
Those are both actual items I did and didn't purchase, and I still can't totally answer the need vs want question for them. Life isn’t black and white - it’s gray that way.
One reason I enjoy camping so much is to test the limits of my internal need vs. want debate. When you strip off many of your daily comforts and live simply, plainly, unambiguously, need starts to hold a lot more weight than want.
Storage space is limited, and you have to carry things back and forth from car to campsite, so you start to prioritize. The things you don’t need become clutter. Other items become requirements. Each time I’ve camped I’ve whittled my pack down, getting rid of the silly camping toys in order to save space and energy for the tools I actually need.
I’m about ready to dabble in actual backpacking, carrying everything you need on your back, so this thought process will become that much more important.
The difference between camping and our everyday life is, of course, quite stark. There’s a lot more room for wanted, but not needed, items in the modern world. But the lessons of simplicity you gain out in nature are still just as relevant.
The task of thinking about what I need vs what I want helps me prioritize my life. It gives me a better appreciation for the things I already have, the things most of us have that make life easy, comfy, and fun. Beyond “things,” it helps me to better appreciate life, a lesson I hope to remember the next time I think my charmed existence is going so terribly that I literally can't even.
When you’re about to buy something, think about it… is it a “need” or a “want?” Notice how that simple activity makes you see your world in a new light.
There’s that moment when you switch off airplane mode on your phone and the only message you see in the upper-corner, coverage indicator area is “Searching…”
It’s the moment when you're about to reconnect from whatever escape you were just on. The moment you return from whatever forced you to disconnect in the first place, be it from going to a movie, hiking or camping in the mountains, or maybe actually being on an airplane.
For me, it’s the moment I switch from the relative calm of searching for myself in the real world, back to the unending search for signals and distractions in digital world.
I write a lot about distraction and disconnection here, not because I’ve got it all figured out, but because it’s an issue I struggle with, especially with finding a balance between the two.
It’s way too easy for me to get on my phone and spend hours on mindless tasks, and when I say hours it's no exaggeration. One Google search easily turns into ten, twenty, thirty. One article turns into a clickhole of largely meaningless and depressing news information gathering. A momentary check of Facebook quickly turns into an hour of “just scroll a little bit more!” Most days, being on my phone is the first thing I do in the morning, the last thing I do at night, and the thing I do many times in between to pass the time.
All of this is just a way I trick my mind into thinking it’s being productive, when in reality most of what I’m doing is entirely inconsequential. Worse, these are all things that take away from the time I could be doing something real, like writing this blog, or hiking, or connecting with friends, or applying for jobs, or calling my mother.
So when I disconnect, it’s for a purpose. When I disconnect, I do it so I can go searching instead.…
Searching for mindfulness.
Searching for my thoughts.
Searching for meaning.
Searching for me.
Not long ago I came back down the mountain from an excellent camping trip with a group of some of my closest friends. When we got close to the valley floor I switched off airplane mode and immediately began staring at that “Searching…” message in the upper corner, intently waiting for all those bars and signals to escort me back to the modern world.
But after a 10 second attempt, it gave me the “No Service” message instead of bars. I was disappointed, of course. I was eager to post to Instagram and Facebook to share with you all the majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir’s Range of Light.
But then I remembered “Searching…”
When my phone was in airplane mode that weekend, instead of searching for a signal the whole time, I was doing the searching instead. It allowed me to read and spend quiet time with my own thoughts. It allowed me to share my love of camping with friends who hadn’t been in ages. It allowed me to watch as those friends’ eyes opened to the lessons of comfort, distraction, and expectation that come from the remote camping experience. It allowed us all to be present with each other in a way we’ve never been before, to bond in ways you can’t predict or replicate.
When I let my device do the searching, that means I’m searching for a way out. An excuse to be somewhere else. To add yet another method of distraction to my over-complicated world.
When I do the searching myself, that means I’m finally living.
I switched my phone back into airplane mode. This was the last moment of disconnection I would have for a while. It was our last moments together without all those distractions. Our last moments in the real world. And besides, I didn’t have a signal anyway.
Phone coverage will come and go, but what are you really searching for?
Are you searching for a constant digital connection using a combination of letters and pictures, or a perhaps more intermittent but deeper and more direct connection with those you actually care about?
Are you searching for a following of 1,000 on Instagram, or a following of 10 real friends who actually mean something to you?
Are you searching for more “likes,” or real love?