In adulthood, I have read them with admiration, yet also a sense of failure for never managing to pluck up the courage to pull away that safety net of a regular income. I still feel that, sometimes — and yet as my life journey unfurls I am starting to realise that I can strongly advocate for the adventures to be had in a less extreme, and more ordinary life. The opposite of adventure is avoidance, inaction, stillness… have you ever considered that as long as you always feel that you are moving forward, you are having an adventure?
Ten years ago, I was fortunate to be granted one of the funded places on the first ever ‘Do’ lectures. I was in the middle of my PhD in Environmental Science, full of energy and hopes and dreams about what I would achieve. A whole decade to DO and achieve stuff… and yet on a large scale I haven’t really achieved anything that would be considered extraordinary. I finished my PhD feeling disillusioned, frustrated and lacking in confidence. After a couple of years of drifting I took a job as a researcher in employee engagement — how happy people are in their jobs — in a business of just seven people. The application took me ten minutes.
In the years since I have both loved it, and struggled. At a pivotal point, when I had just about had enough, I made a conscious decision to stay for a year — because I could see how my staying would make a difference to others. For one year, I dropped my aspirations for myself, accepted the swinging emotions that came with the decision, and concentrated on other people. And in this simple act of confrontation, rather than avoidance, I discovered how ordinary life could be an adventure.
In the intervening years, my heart is so much softer than it was. My ability to see and respect different perspectives from mine has revolutionised my life and the relationships I have. And I have learned the extraordinary lesson that being kind, and curious about these alternative perspectives rather than automatically defensive, instils a quiet sense of self-confidence that is almost unshakeable. If there is any learning from the last ten years, it is that in opening to other people, you will find many great adventures in an ordinary life.
Sometimes we go to lectures with incredible people, and the sheer achievement of these exceptional human beings can feel intimidating and out of reach. If we have commitments, or even fears, which tie us it can feel like our choices may have been the wrong ones, and we judge ourselves for moving in a less adventurous direction. Yet while we gather our courage to take the leap, or alternatively take the decision to stay, there is great beauty to be had in our ordinary lives. The gentleness and security in a hug. The softening of our hearts after a breakup. The jolt of looking up to meet a stranger’s eyes, and the widening of our world in the shared, slightly embarrassed smile. The exhilaration of achievement in something seemingly insignificant on a global scale, but big for you. And sometimes that ordinary direction can yield unexpected gifts. The little team of seven I joined is now pushing 50, and we did well enough last year to give £100,000 to charity — this year that will increase.
We all have gifts we can offer the world, and they’re not huge, or heroic. Yet the impacts can be wide-felt, and play out over the years. There is a confidence which comes with loving where you are. Of feeling that you are enough in a world where it can seem that the only things celebrated are the extremes. Without needing to uproot everything, there is great beauty, adventure, and much grace, in a common-place life well lived.