Why is Adventure the Only Thing Worth Doing?
a framing question + a meta-comment
Dear readers—first, a comment about this publication.
“Notes on Adventure” was born in mid-February, at the tail end of my teen trip to Mexico.
While excitedly journaling about my travel plans for the upcoming year—flying to Argentina, biking around the western USA—I had a realization: my life has always centered around “adventure.” Even education, my greatest passion, has come through the lens of adventure. If I’m a slave to anything, it’s this.
Here’s my journal entry from that day:
On the flight back from Mexico, I penned Education ➡ Adventure. The ball was rolling. I began filling more journal pages and gathering a small horde of used books. Every time I sat down at my laptop with a cup of coffee, words magically appeared from my fingertips.
These moments in which “the dam has burst” are rare in my writing life, and by now, I know they must be obeyed. So I’m riding the wave and seeing where it takes me.
At the same time, I’m purposefully trying to write in a few diverse modes: memoir, travelogue, critical analysis, book review, interview. Recent posts have been long—approaching Substack’s email length limit—so I will also diversify in the direction of brevity, which I believe many readers appreciate. (That begins today!)
I’m still unsure of what will come of all this—perhaps a book, perhaps something else—but regardless of the product, the process feels right.
Right now, we have 100 subscribers. I have no intention of monetizing this publication; your attention matters most. Comments matter, too. Whether you comment publicly or write me privately, your feedback is appreciated.
Thanks for following along, and now back to the show.
IN RECENT YEARS, a strange moment has repeated itself.
I’m out on some adventure—hiking or biking or running or traveling—and I cross paths with a dad.
He’s around my age. He has a child (or children) and what I assume to be a wife. They’re on some family outing: a short hike, camping trip, or family vacation.
The dad looks stressed, frustrated, or exhausted.
He and I make eye contact for a brief moment.
In his eyes, I see desire.
Desire for the freedom I enjoy to move quickly—through the mountains or the cities—as an unadulterated adult.
Desire for the lack of demands placed upon me by dependents and partners, for my lack of a 50-hour work-week.
Desire for how I can read books without interruption, care for my body, see my friends.
Then the moment ends. We go our separate ways. And I think about what just happened.
Of course, I have no idea what that dad was actually thinking.
Of course, I don’t see the beautiful moments he enjoys with his family, his quiet satisfaction, his gratification.
Of course, such reveries say nothing about this stranger—and so much about my values, my fears, my self-image.
I could have that dad’s life. I could prioritize it. I could make those decisions. I could find out what I’m missing.
But in the end, I choose adventure.
Not starting a family, not investing in a place, not owning a home. Just adventure.
Where does this drive come from? Why does it persist?
Do I believe that to live “the good life,” I must accumulate a large number of “authentic experiences”—and “authenticity” is only to be found in the ever-changing world-at-large, not in the predictable safety of home and career?
Do I revere “intrinsic motivation” to a fault? Do I avoid painful investments today which may pay dividends tomorrow because I don’t feel “motivated?”
Do I belong to a cult of personal growth? Am I alienated by capital?
Am I addicted to the oohs and aahs I receive after telling people about my plans for the year? Am I playing a status game? Adventure, the new hot commodity. No longer is it “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” It’s “He who dies with the most adventures under his belt, wins.” Do I just want to win?
I once met a professional adventurer for coffee in Boulder. I was in my early thirties, he in his mid-thirties. He’d just gotten married and bought his first house. He felt miserable. His happiest days, he told me, were when he blazed across the foot trails of North America: moving fast, always outdoors, challenging himself, unattached. Am I afraid of becoming that guy?
What about the environment? Is living a life of adventure a way to avoid the guilt of having a large ecological footprint, of feeling less disconnected to nature? Is that why I forsake the house, the commute, the material possessions? Is it “Leave No Trace” taken to the extreme: refusing a traditional lifestyle in order to refuse participation in a destructive system?
Is it a masquerade for refusing adult obligations? Peter Pan syndrome? An everyday fear of commitment, or decrepitude, or death?
Why does it feel so good to reject the conventional path—the path I imagine that dad walking—to pursue an endless series of outdoor, travel, creative, entrepreneurial, and spiritual adventures?
Why is adventure the only thing worth doing?
I have always wanted to live differently, in a manner quite at odds with the way I was brought up. From childhood, a deep aversion to doing what I was told. I have always wanted to make things harder for myself. Never easier, never simpler, but ever more burdensome and always impossible for myself. And where has it got me? It hasn't got me anywhere normal; I've never had a job, haven't managed to get a home, a family, a regular income.
—Tomas Espedel, Tramp, Or the Art of Living a Wild and Poetic Life