“So much is taste, smell, and texture.”

For generations our grandmas, aunts, and moms have shared valuable lessons in cooking with us.

My aunt swears by the venerable, mystery-shrouded black magic of the Thanksgiving recipes scratched down on tattered yellow paper from our favorite womanly wizards of the kitchen. She worships these recipes.

I showed up to Thanksgiving a few hours early at my aunt’s house to renew my childhood memories of the celebrated, age-old, sacred meal and watch the lore unfold. She worships these recipes and moments. And so do I.

As preparation began, my wizardress of an aunt only briefly glanced at the ancient spell book to concoct our turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and casseroles. She ignored the fine-print and quietly murmured incantations over her sorcery. I could only think how elevated the level of respect that we all have for these magical spells that stir up these ancient, spell-binding enchantments…and yet, she neglected the majority of these recipes. I asked why we herald these recipes so much yet don’t strictly follow the tried and true records for success. She responded, “We use them as a guide. So much is taste, smell, and texture. I don’t claim to be a good cook.” Immediately she splattered sautéed onions on the tablecloth, “Shit! I just made a mess.”

Damn straight. Life is messy. And we have a sacred guide lined out for us: well-recorded history, family stories, dramatic failures, unlikely successes, and hysterical legends. The hope is not to repeat the same story over. We embrace differences and react and pivot as deviations come up. We look to our idols as a recipe, a guide, but we mix things up because, “So much is taste, smell, and texture.”

DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. Just kidding, try this now.

A minor precursory warning: much of this is unmitigated stream-of-consciousness. And all of it is dangerous. Just be careful.

We are 10 years old swimming in a pool on a hot summer day, with the bright idea to have a breath-holding contest. With fierce determination we inhale our deepest breath, dunk ourselves inches below the surface of the water, intimidatingly stare through our foggy goggles, just waiting to see who will break first. With both index fingers, I pull the corners of my mouth apart, stick out my tongue, and cross my eyes. Trying to suppress your giddy, pre-teen laughter, you crack and shoot up out of the water for a refreshing gasp of air. I break the pool’s horizon soon after.

For whatever reason, I was reminiscing on these childhood challenges that I was about to recall vividly two days ago. Then it dawned on me…this can be my next self-experimentation.

So, for the next two weeks, my mission is to develop the ability to hold my breath for five minutes straight.

Why? I’m glad you asked. I have a few reasons:

  • It’s a simple thing that can be done by anyone (probably with some ease too, assuming proper technique, practice, and dedication to the technique/practice).
  • After thinking about this self-inflicted challenge beyond the extent that I would have thought about it as a 10-year-old, there’s a real beauty to breath control. Meditation, yoga, swimmers and other high-performing athletes, psychopaths, and doctors master their breathing. Lack of breathing is basically the same thing, right? Meditating is a regular practice of mine anyway; I carry a special affinity for the breath. It’s something that can always be controlled, and you can’t say that about many things, so I’d like to suspend breathing after mastering the breath. I have a convoluted logic in my mind about this one that I hope translates well as I’m writing it down. Regardless, though, if it doesn’t translate and you don’t have any idea why holding my breath for five minutes is appealing, fine. You still get the entertainment of watching me do something that makes no sense.
  • David Blaine. Aside from that link, check this inspiring video out. And if you thought that was cool, you need to know about Stig Severinsen and his world record.
  • Lastly, I want the childish heroism of being able to say that I’ve held my breath for five minutes.

While I was thinking about it, I sat down, took three deep breaths, and held. I am sure that I was turning blue after my modest 48-second hold. I did it a second time after about ten minutes of recovery – 1 minute and 3 seconds. I was fairly surprised at the immediate results just by “flexing” my lungs. I then watched youtube videos, where I learned that forced hyperventilating will (essentially/I’m simplifying what I think I understood) over-oxigenate your body while dispelling a lot of carbon dioxide, which is what will eventually force a “gasp reflex”. After hyperventilating for about forty-five rough breaths, I held my breath with ease for 2 minutes and 10 seconds. I more than DOUBLED my breath hold. Albeit, it was a workout to hyperventilate, but I was able to hold for twice as long with no practice, training, or previous warm-up other than the first two holds that I tried.

I’m going to continue working on this daily and probably host a live feed on Facebook. I want to gain data, though. If you want to join this challenge, keep me posted on your initial breath holds with no practice and then your holds with practice.

Why sail the world?

 

I’m of the camp where everything must be done with a purpose. What’s the goal of the eye? To see. As soon as that goal is impaired, we fix the eye to meet its expected goal with contacts or surgery or glasses. Everything has an intended purpose. The same is true of life and goals. If you have a goal, you do the necessary things to make that goal a reality.

I’ve met many ex-pats who were traveling, but were also living an unfulfilling life. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta says that she wishes us all to grow like trees – reaching for the sky, branching out, and seeing new things. But she reminds us to never forget our roots. The world travelers that weren’t living happy lives forgot why they were traveling, who they are, or where they’ve come from. This is a profound tragedy.

So what’s the goal of sailing the world?

I’m living my dream to challenge myself by way of adventure. I’m searching for my place in the world as a successful, inspiring, passion-filled man.

You have those moments very often in life that tell us something just isn’t possible or that it’s crazy and that we shouldn’t do it. Why would the C- student apply to Yale? Why would you try to get into the Yankees dugout uninvited? Why would you skip off to Asia? But the spark-of-a-moment that you realize, “Yeah, actually, this is very possible,” then life and energy result. It might be crazy, but so is being a billionaire. Thrill-seekers and authentic learners are the people who have this attitude bleeding through their veins. So is the guy who lives on his bike. So is the person of handicap masterfully playing a violin. So is the 16-yr old girl who sails solo across the Atlantic. So is the man who squeezes 1000 songs onto a chip. So is everyone else in the world that is inspiring…they are all people who lived on the fringe of normal and crazy. But we admire them and say that we want to be like them.

Imagine success in supply and demand terms: the most “out there” ideas are in huge demand, but such low supply because nobody feels they’re qualified to attain them. Pursue and master that demand, and you’ll be one of the few people who have a chance at succeeding. The most successful people are the ones who learn and do the crazy, most outlandish, most unheard of things.

I’m pushing my mind to learn things. I’m stepping away from the personally unfulfilling 9-to-5 lifestyle.

 People always say, “That’s so cool. I wish I could do it,” “Oh, I have a job,” “I could never do that.” Stop. Yes you can. You haven’t had the moment that I was just talking about. The dreamy, childish, cliché everything-is-possible attitude. I have impulsive, I-want-to-learn-everything-about-one-thing feelings that require my full attention. If I ignore those impulses, they show up elsewhere in my life as destructive and distracting. Thus, my performance in relationships, at work, and everything in between suffers unless I tip my hat to the ridiculous ideas that demonically possess all of my thoughts and spare time.

I’m focusing on a goal and harnessing my natural gift to articulate and bring ideas to life.

 I’m pursuing this to have a “next step” and “life strategy” (as opposed to a “life plan”). This idea gives me life, passion, a goal. What gives you life, passions, and goals? Seriously. Does your normal, 9 to 5 give you energy or drain it? Figuring out everything about sailing, oceanography, winds, weather and meteorology, ropes and knots, boats and their inherent intricacies gives me a laser beam focus.

When there’s an idea in the wheelhouse of my brain, I pursue relentlessly. Every element of the unknown is considered, yet hopeful for surprises. There is always a giant mystery in the idea phase. For an example, Chance Walser of RTV 6 met me on the morning of departure for New Orleans in my kayak. I embarrassingly, ungracefully, squatted into my kayak, floundering in my boat while his camera was intimidatingly aiming its red recording light at me. I figured out a huge idea – like sailing the world – and worked on the puzzle until all the pieces came together and the plan was executed. This process is a three-step ordeal: Idea Generation Phase, Deconstruction, and Execution. Each stage is a distinctly different rush.

I’m spending this part of my life traveling. I’m maximizing my finances.

 I want to live. Why wait until retirement to spend the money you’ve worked hard for on dreams that you had, but just aren’t possible at 65 years old? I would rather take my retirement now – four months of every year or four years of every decade doing something that gives me energy, rather than postponing that ability until I’m retired and not physically able to sail trans-Atlantic, or mentally not able to endure the heat of long hours on a kayak in the dead of Mississippi summers.

A beautiful and good sailboat is $20,000, which is a lot cheaper than a shitty $50,000 house. The horizon is my neighborhood and the World’s citizens are my neighbors in a very real way. I’m not restricted to the tin can of a plane on a boat. My goal has been to travel the world and I could do that by plane. The twenty $1000 flights would amount to $20,000, but why not, instead, apply that money to a boat that will travel me just as well with a greater return on adventure?

I’m pursuing the Air.

The elements have become a real attraction – it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call it an obsession – to me. I feel that I connect with the Earth and Water. I don’t know much about the Air. More so than the other elements, it seems that Air is intimately connected with our spirit – namely in the realm of meditation. I remember in seventh and eighth grade and throughout high school before wrestling meets, baseball, and football games I would sit cross-legged away from everybody, close my eyes, and think nothing about the match or girls or school…only my breath. There was an energy that blossomed from this practice, despite not being a yogi. I’m graduating this practice to a bigger scale. As much as this is an adventure, it’s also a spiritual endeavor.

 

My one big request:

I’m now at the point of research and deconstruction. I’m reading and watching everything. If you have connections that would help me in this journey, I’d be extremely excited to reach out to them. If you know anything about weather, sailing, oceans, living on a boat, etc, feel encouraged to email me, or follow me, or inbox me.

The Next Step: Live (in) the World.

 

While kayaking on the River, I determined that the seasons, the weather, the elements are not to be conquered. They absolutely cannot be. However, just the same as a beautiful woman shouldn’t be conquered, Nature should be embraced and harnessed – a life-giving entity that empowers.

I have lived outside for roughly 22 months over the course of my life. Some of that was in the Rockies, the desert, the Himalayas, a nature laboratory, on a river, and in a barn. I understand the Earth. I have avidly gardened for six growing seasons. I sink my fingers into dirt, grind through it, and feel the inspiring pulse of life. Knees planted in the ground, while holding onto the world – literally in my hands – gives me connection to my home. The Earth element: stubbornly unmovable without a greater, more arrogant force. Planted. Ever subtly changing. Firm. Determined. Self-aware. Multi-faced among various terrains.

I know, understand, and identify with the Earth.

I poetically and intimately interacted with water for a month. I understand Water. I feel it. I move with it. It’s powerful yet elusive. It’s changing and constant. Water is always flowing, but when it’s still it is more still than any other element. Its form can morph between solid, liquid, and gas. There’s a fluid, intensely powerful forward movement.

My soul understands Water profoundly.

What is air? A breath of newness? Constant movement? Multi-directional? These are merely anticipatory guesses. I can’t identify with her; I don’t understand her…. Yet.

I want to embrace Air. I want to soulfully, internally hold Air.

I don’t want to stop. I want to always be chasing. I want to dance my beauty with others’ beauty like Wind dances and combs her way down Earth’s ribs. I want to bring a storm to the Earth – something unstoppable and bigger than life. I want to give life.

I have alluded to a grand plan; here it is. I will embrace and harness Air.

All $32,000 of my student loans will be paid off by the end of 2016. Financial freedom from the shackles of debt will no longer be a limiting factor in my travel plans. My net worth will be exactly $0, not including the few assets that I have.

Here’s my life strategy:

I will give away or sell everything that does not give my life intimate joy (thank you Katie Warner for that incredible insight). I will work for a few more months, saving a few thousand dollars per month. I will buy a seaworthy sailboat. I will learn to sail. I will pack up my bicycle, dog, books, a few pairs of clothes. I will live on the Mississippi River, fine-tuning my sailing. I will utilize my bicycle to access the hundreds of cities up and down the River (St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, NOLA, etc.) When I’m comfortable with my sailing ability, I will drift to the Gulf Coast, making my way down to the Keys of Florida. I will dabble in bigger water, fine-tuning my big water sailing. I will make my way to Cuba and the Caribbean. I will kick it there indefinitely. Then I will make my way to wherever the winds take me: Australia; or Brazil; or the Mediterranean Sea with access points to Spain, France, Algeria, Libya, Italy, the Holy Land, Turkey (a dream of mine), Egypt and the Nile River…who knows.

My favorite part of this life strategy is that I’m doing nothing different than what I’m doing now – I’m just adding a sailboat. “How so?” you ask. Good question. I bet you’re also wondering how I’ll make money. There’s the answer to the “How so”.

The only ways I’ve made money and spent 50-60 hours of my weeks in the past three years have been teaching, serving, bartending – all with a splash of entrepreneurial pursuit.

  1. I’ve taught English in Vietnam and two more years teaching Stateside – I am qualified to teach anywhere in the world.
  2. Where there are people, there is celebration and despair – there is alcohol and bartending. If I can bartend, I can bartend anywhere.
  3. The more traveling I do, the more stuff I can buy. Say I sail to Cuba. You can bet your ass that I’ll buy all the cigars I can get my hands on A) to smoke and B) to sell in Italy. Same with stamps (I met a man on Halong Bay who was making $3000/week buying and selling antique, international stamps), coins, trinkets, and other high-value cultural things.
    1. Imagine a man with a sweet set-up wearing a white-brimmed boater’s hat, a white button up, boat shoes, khaki shorts with a brown belt, and a beard with long red hair standing on Mass Ave – a hip, culturally sensitive, local hangout spot for many young professionals and wealthy business people. This man has many interesting things from Cuba and Italy and Egypt and Australia would you listen to his story of travels and bought goods? I certainly would. And I’d pay a lot of money for his story and things. As the seller of those goods and a story, it would be life-giving for me to tell my story and see them inspired and interested.

Do I know how to sail? No.

Can people sail? Yes. Have people sailed solo, trans-Atlantic trips? Yes. If other people can do it then it can be done by you or me too. It’s a matter of dwelling long enough in the Deconstruction phase to come up with a strategic and successful strategy for the Execution stage.

I don’t want to be normal. I don’t want to be crazy. Imagine these two places on opposite ends of the spectrum. I want to be on the side of normal, but in a position to push the “normal” bar closer to crazy. That’s traveling roadless; that’s a fringe lifestyle. It’s not unreasonable to travel. It’s not unreasonable to be off-road. It’s weird to travel without a road, but not quite crazy. It’s not weird to kayak; It’s not weird to boat on the Mississippi River. Kayaking on the Mississippi River is mingling two normal things, forcing the bar of “normal” closer to the “crazy” end, but not officially making it absurd.

Here I am, pushing that bar again. It’s not weird to sail – in fact it’s an aspiration of many people. It’s not weird to go to the ocean – in fact; it’s many people’s vacation. Traveling the ocean by way of sailboat – not normal, not weird…but it pushes the normality of sailboating closer to weird. I will be literally and figuratively traveling roadless.

I love this life strategy just the same as I loved my first love. It makes me giddy thinking about it – so much so that I’m spending 12 hours a day thinking about this. My favorite part about this? I learn and harness the power and beauty of Air, for better or for worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part. In storm and in calm. In beauty and in terror. In normality and in insanity.

Just as Air has no boundaries, nor will I. My neighborhood is the horizon; my neighbors are 7.5 billion people. I’m not bound by the walls of my bedroom or a tent or riverbanks. I’m bound only by the Wind. I’m free. I will live in the world.

Wild and Free: Be

I haven’t written in three months. I’ve been rusty, uninspired, working long hours, and fairly normal. Physically, mentally, financially, emotionally I have been sharp. But I haven’t spiritually showered for a long time. I considered getting a motorcycle to reverse this problem. I considered going on weekly long hikes. I considered picking up myriad hobbies. I considered (and probably will) paddle boarding the entire 300 miles of the White River. I have considered probably thirty minor changes to invite a flame to my life. I was in a nasty slump of desperation.

I have the next step of my life figured out. I’m spending this post explaining how I got to that point and the exhilarating feelings associated with each step. I often refer to myself as being in the “Idea Generation Phase” and, though it’s fairly self-explanatory, I have been asked what that mind space is like for me.

There are three phases: Idea Generation Phase, Deconstruction, and Execution. In the Idea Generation Phase you find the next big step in life or solution to a problem. There has only been one person that I have truly cared for and felt an incredible connection with. That feeling of shared vulnerability and intimate trust is a rush that gives unending butterflies in the stomach. That same giddy butterfly-feeling is where I’m at now. I have this feeling every time I churn out my next big plan. It’s the feeling of overwhelming purpose: I have a puzzle intentionally in shambles in front of me and I get to figure it out.

Consider “Imagination” as a person in my brain, the same as Joy of Inside Out. Imagination runs my brain, side by side with Curiosity, Determination, Hope, and Risk. While working in the Idea Generation Phase, when Ideas churn out, Imagination gets a trophy. That’s an everyday kind of occasion for small, usually irrelevant discoveries. For bigger, life altering Ideas like the one I’ve come up with, Imagination goes into sheer paralyzing ecstasy. This is what I’ve been experiencing all week due to the Idea that I recently churned out.

In Deconstruction all sorts of considerations are made. Curiosity chimes in often and with force; Determination keeps Curiosity focused; Hope balances out Risk when Imagination gets rolling. The puzzle comes together: what gear do I need? How long will this take? Do I even want a budget on my time or will this be a trip of indefinite length? If this is the lifestyle that I’m okay with, will my future wife feel the same way? Or will I even be able to meet her living this way? If this is indefinite, is this nomadic lifestyle the way of life that I’m happy with long-term? What is financially required for a trip like this? Who can I benefit doing this? Do I take this trip for a cause? What are the legitimate dangers? What are the highly unlikely, but possible dangers? Are these dangers things that I’m willing to possibly confront? How do I learn everything about these rare types of dangers like losing a passport or getting run aground by barges or getting mugged in Asia? Where should I plan to go? Do I open this trip up to other people or is this a solo mission?

In Deconstruction mode, thorough research is paramount. Deconstruction mandates that at all times there is a goal. I never do anything without a very specifically outlined expectation – that’s Hope talking. There’s a high that occurs when you are actively learning everything about the thing that you love. The Deconstruction phase is anticipation and intentional grappling with all the problems; it’s educating; it’s a real-life game of What If. This phase is usually the longest of the three, but Execution may be longer depending on the scale of the goal.

If Deconstruction is putting the puzzle together then Execution is jumping into the puzzle and living out the idea. Execution is a coherent embrace of oftentimes dangerous, risky, murky, desperate situations. Best-case scenario: Execution is letting the plans of Deconstruction flow as planned. I refuse to call it “worst case scenario” because it’s equally intoxicating and addicting when something goes wrong, so “Alternative Case Scenario”: shit happens and life happens and you just have no idea how to get out of a situation. Gotham is falling and Batman is broken. How do you move forward? The end product is called Execution. The response to mental frenzy, desperation, utter fear, complete skepticism, and foreign danger is the Execution phase.

Most of our lives are very predictable. You wake up, get ready, drive to work, be bored out of your mind, drive home, eat frozen pizza, pay interest on your credit card loans and wish you never went to school because you’re $9 million dollars in debt, go to bed. Tell me. How hard is that? Truly, what kind of decisions do you make every day that cause you to really scratch your head? None.

Imagine your bus that is taking you from rural af Nepal across the border into India breaks down. You don’t know the language. You don’t have a map and even if you do, you have no idea where you are and even if you do, you have no clue how to get where you’re going. Imagine that a local man with a sliced open ear who has been drinking heavily on the bus invites you in severely broken English to his house an hour away on the back of his motorcycle. You go into Idea Generation Phase – figure out an idea to fix this situation.

Any problem that arises in our daily lives, we have very good schema to draw from to develop and map out solutions. Problem: you’re hungry. Solution: eat. Problem: you’re running late for work. Solution: leave earlier tomorrow. Problem: your girlfriend thinks you don’t listen to her. Solution: make her dinner, buy her flowers wine, and shut up. These kinds of problems never require stepping foot into the Idea Generation Phase…which is precisely where I draw thrill in life from. The standard lifestyle is boring precisely because it doesn’t ever require me to move into Idea Generation Phase. Not knowing how to leave a country because you passport is lost or stolen….there is simply no possible way to have any experience on how to get out of this situation….time for Idea Generation Phase….time for a thrill.

The theme of this blog is to travel roadless. I have literally traveled roadless in a kayak, but I’ve all along been encouraging (and hopefully inspiring) a Travel Roadless kind of lifestyle. Cliché alert! …Get off the beaten, worn down, well-traveled road. Make a new path. Encounter problems and find creative solutions. Utilize your brain, because if you have a 9 to 5 then the chances are probably pretty high that you’re not using your brain. Force yourself into the Idea Generation Phase because that’s where the meat of life is. Be Wild. Be Free.

Stay tuned. My idea will go live later this week.

Unless you call attention
to your presence
who will know you’re there?

Even a country
has to weave and wave a flag
as proof of its existence.
– Rod McKuen

New Year, New You?

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as creating a “new me”. I cannot change an entire life’s worth of experiences; but even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I remember in sixth, seventh, eighth, and even into high school, during each summer I would consider, “How can I make myself cooler/more influential/a bigger player next year”? I distinctly remember not wanting to be more popular or get more girls, but, rather, I wanted to be more liked.

I tried dying my hair. I tried developing self-deprecating jokes. I tried reading more. I tried being faster, stronger, and more athletic. I tried searching out groups that were more in line with my natural interests (football, wrestling, seminary, breakdancing, philosophy club, camping/hiking groups).

None of these solutions worked for me. Even into college years, I wasn’t naturally good at finding a niche. (As a side note, I developed a lot of interests as a result of my attempts to “fit in”: juggling when I was supposed to be playing baseball; photographing with my grandpa who owned a photography business when I was supposed to be studying; immersing myself into rock ‘n’ roll as I was going to and from football practice; challenging teachers and professors with questions that I considered unanswerable; rockclimbing instead of lifting weights or running; taking voice/guitar/computer programming classes where I could’ve been applying money to debt; bartending instead of developing a career; Uber driving instead of going to graduate school; etc.)

I found that I am inclined toward navigating experiences that are undiscovered to the average person. I am naturally good at accomplishing the things that people who don’t have the time, money, energy, or natural gift. I am two, probably three, deviations from the normal. #ENTPlife

I feel comfortable talking about it, but I undoubtedly hear the confusion of my interlocutor. “How did you indefinitely leave your girlfriend while you traveled Asia?” “Where did you sleep as you kayaked on the Mississippi River?” “Why didn’t you live in a dorm or at home instead of couch-hopping or sleeping outside?” “You’re going to live on two hours of sleep?! Don’t you enjoy sleeping??” “Why don’t you watch TV?” “How do you have the money to skydive/paraglide/bungee jump/cliff dive?”

Am I boasting? No. It sounds like it, but this is my norm. Just the same as a 9 to 5 is your norm. If you uplifted me from my schedule and placed me into yours, I bet that I’d be fired within 30 days. In fact, I have been fired within thirty days of being hired. On multiple occasions. Am I proud of it? No. Instead, I’ve come to the blunt realization that your life is not what I’m cut out to do day after day. But I’m grateful that there are people like you that have the discipline and focused attention toward one task.

If I lived my life according to what people thought was smart or if I listened to the, “I-don’t-think-that’s-a-good-idea” and the “you-shouldn’t-do-that” comments then I wouldn’t be interesting. I wouldn’t have wrestled Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Vietnam, or jumped out of a plane in Colorado, or massaged lepers in India, or kayaked the Mississippi River, or played with my sleep, or have lived outside during college, etc. Once an idea is in the wheelhouse, I choose to be relentless and patient while I do the abnormal.

A new year, a new you…? Don’t buy that trash. Be more you. Do things that reflect who you are. Spend some time considering what makes you different from me and everybody else. Develop those qualities. Become more you. Don’t be like me or anybody else. Don’t be normal.

I want interesting people in the world. I want you to be interesting. For me, so far, the hardest thing in life is developing an identity that I’m proud of and is unique to me. This isn’t an easy thing to do, I understand; but I’m happy with who I am and the developments that I have planned for the coming year. So, I can confidently say that the effort that I’ve made to create a personal identity is worth the trouble. Don’t make efforts to change who you are – embrace yourself and be more you.

 

Suggested resolutions:

  • Ask/go on a date with someone that you wouldn’t normally go on one with
  • Don’t procrastinate
  • Read a book or twelve, alternating between fiction and non-fiction
  • Meditate
  • Take less showers
  • Write something
  • Nap more
  • Send anonymous letters
  • Garden or raise an indoor plant
  • Start connoisseur-ing something (coffee, whiskey/wine/craft beer, cigars, poetry, vinyl records, candles, oils)
  • Cook international cuisines
  • Text your parents before they text you
  • Start a club
  • Eliminate every bit of clutter from your room
  • Don’t wear underwear
  • Nix Netflix
  • Study successful people who share the same Myers-Briggs as you

 

Normal? Run from it.

From three miles away I could hear a small, janked up, 1990-something Pontiac Sunbird. He pulled halfway onto the shoulder with the ass-end jutting onto the highway. A shirtless, tattooed, late-20’s white man shouted out the window, “Hurry up. Get in the car.” It definitely wasn’t the way I preferred to be greeted. After extensively reading hitchhiking strategies I learned that I should always hustle to gather my bag(s) and bust ass, hop in the car, and accept most/all rides before they had time to change their minds.

My “norm” or regular levels of comfort aren’t often challenged; this ride certainly pushed me.

The driver’s name was Tu-Pu. From the back seat I saw three bars pierced through his eyebrow just above his cheap, dark-tinted sunglasses that stared at me through his rearview mirror. He had unidentifiable tattoos stained up and down bare spine. He was aggressively drumming his fists on the steering wheel, not in rhythm with the heavy metal pulsing through the beat up car.

Tu-Pu’s underweight girlfriend(?), Ashley, was in the passenger seat. Her legs were folded under her as she turned herself around in the seat to make eye contact with me. I consciously made an effort to make consistently direct eye contact with her. I figured that if she was in danger with this man that she would be able to communicate said danger to me via eye contact. Despite being in a weird, rushed, somewhat-dangerous-feeling situation I felt a really good energy from her. (Funny things happen when you make genuine eye contact with someone, something that I’d like to study more.)

A second man shared the cramped backseat with me. He was hollering into the cell phone because the speakers were blasting erratic drumming, screeching guitars, heavy strums of bass, and shouting heavy rock at 8:30 in the morning. I asked his name, but he was too busy screaming at the phone to respond.

Finally the nameless man got off the phone. He told Tu-Pu, “I’m going to kill that G.D. son of a fucking bitch.”
Tu-Pu kindly informed me that the man on the phone signed his death wish a very long time ago due to a bad drug deal.
The nameless man stopped and looked at me mid-conversation and said, “Wait. What the fuck are you doing in the car?”
Trying to conversationally fit in as naturally as I could, I unnaturally said, “Bro, I’m hitchhiking.”
He sharply retorted, “Don’t call me ‘bro’. Isn’t hitchhiking dangerous?”
Before I could respond, Tu-Pu answered for me, giving me the kind of insight into their lives that a police-issued background check might, “Yeah, it is. But so is shooting meth like we did last night.”
The nameless man accepted my/his answer and said nothing more.

We can discuss whether hitchhiking is safe or not later. That’s not the point of this anecdote.

If I lived my life according to what people thought was smart or if I heeded the advice, “I don’t think that’s a good idea; you shouldn’t do that” then I wouldn’t be interesting and you wouldn’t have anything to read right now. Observing all the “it’s not safe” remarks would limit me to a normal, standard, mediocre, status quo lifestyle, which – if it isn’t already frank – I abhor. I wouldn’t have traveled to Asia. I wouldn’t have kayaked through the Midwest into the South. I wouldn’t have tinkered with my sleep, trying to make it on 2-4 hours per day. I wouldn’t have attempted hitchhiking. I wouldn’t have lived out of a hammock during college. I wouldn’t have spent time downtown as a homeless man. I wouldn’t strip my wardrobe down by half every winter. I wouldn’t have skydived, bungee jumped, cliff dived, or paraglided. I wouldn’t have been the only “farang” (white man) in a musty Muay Thai fighting arena in Bangkok. I wouldn’t have trusted a random man in rural Nepal on the back of a motorcycle to take me to his country-fried village after my trans-Asia bus broke down. I wouldn’t have visited a leper colony in Calcutta.

Do I encourage doing these types of things? No, not exactly. However, I do strongly endorse personal adventure and exploration. Be curious. Be interesting. Self-experiment. Don’t be normal. Instead of Kroger, go to the farmer’s market. Instead of local news, try NPR. Instead of Florida, visit Colorado. Instead of texting, call. Instead of shaking hands at a business meeting, high five your boss. Get a membership to a rockclimbing gym or yoga club. Randomly ask for a 10% discount at Starbucks. Meditate or pray, then…. Talk to the girl sitting next to you. Read a book. Start a blog. Journal. Draw. Learn to crochet. Connoisseur something. Start a dog-walking business. Explore the world around you, just one or two steps outside your comfort zone. My comfort zone is a lot bigger than most people’s, so I do a little weirder things, but for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T BE NORMAL.

The growth that takes place when you stretch your limitations just beyond your level of comfort is exponentially more than years of conscious, structured practice. Being open to accidentally placing yourself in odd situations yields forced lessons of patience, determination and perseverance, negotiation, comfort in/with the unknown, trust of fellow humans, ability to tolerate risk, thirst for curiosity, and a refined palate for the beauty of human nature. I implore you to do something out of your ordinary today. You will find freedom. You will achieve something great.

“What did you learn today?” is something that I ask my highschool-aged sister when I talk to her. “[Any given subject] is boring and pointless/School is lame/Girls and/or boys suck” are her typical responses. I challenge her to give me a legitimate response and she usually does. Challenging yourself and reflecting on your day is a valuable habit to instill.

Be out of the ordinary today and let me know how it goes. Call (or text), email, comment below, Facebook message, tweet, or Instagram me with an unnormal thing that you do today. I want to start conversations about the growth that comes from doing something borderline or blatantly crazy.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, a man who was not normal and sees the beauty, Walt Whitman:

Miracles

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.