The closer we were getting to the destination, the more thrilled I felt. Thrilled in the most positive sense — but also anxious.
Will I be okay on my own? What if I get lost?
But I wanted to finally experience the freedom of being alone in the mountains. Just me and Nature for a few days to come.
I was working in the stunning French Alps that summer and I finally got a few consecutive days off — so I could go on a longer hike. My boss was driving me to a village at the end of the valley, where I was starting my solo walk. From there, there was only one way to go: towards the closing of the valley, where the Glacier de la Pilatte gave birth to the fizzy waters of Veneon river.
After one more dramatic passage over an alpine abyss, we got there. My boss hugged me and wished me a great hike. I smiled at her, pulled my backpack out of the car and slammed the door in a carefree manner.
A minute later, I was walking on my own towards the snowy peaks, with a sense of joy and excitement expanding in my heart. The anxiousness was gone. I was à l’aventure.
The idea of having an “adventurous life” haunted me since I became decently self-aware in high school. I simply saw no other way to find meaning in life. I sometimes talked about this with my brother and we agreed — to make at least a bit of sense of our existence, we both needed to have as many adventures as possible.
I remember my brother referring to himself as “being a collector of experiences.” I loved the concept and the older I grew, the more I tried to reinforce it in my life.
I sailed. I worked on a lavender farm. I entered rap battles. I led communication workshops where I’d made a fool of myself. I hitch-hiked through entire Europe. I ate ham off an actor’s ass as part of an art performance. I sold matches, slept in weird places, gave a live concert and kissed a man who lived on a beach.
At 28 I can say that, so far, I’ve had quite some fun in my life. But the more adventures I had, the more I was hungry for more. The thrill of doing something “out of ordinary” was addictive — but the sense of meaning that it provided, even more so.
Having been born a millennial, I’ve had the apotheosis of exploration, wanderlust and “losing yourself to find yourself” thrown at me all the time. The narrative me and my friends were immersed in promoted searching for experience as the noblest of endeavours. So, as Rainesford Stauffer marvellously phrased it in her essay:
“I was having experiences, which is what we call couch-surfing and moving and extended European vacations when we need to make them sound meaningful.”
For the longest time, I didn’t see any alternative to find the meaning I needed anywhere else than in the never-ending adventures. I concluded that a life lived in a regular, predictable way that involved committing to something for more than a couple of months, would be a life wasted.
How could I stay in one place, job or with one group of people for longer, if there was always something out there waiting to be explored? How could I settle for who I am now, if there were endless opportunities for growth somewhere else?
Looks like a classic example of FOMO, doesn’t it? But I only realize it now. And that’s because I have discovered that meaning can be found in mundane life, too.
My friend and I had this conversation a few times when I was still on the go and searching, and she settled in one place for longer — after having had her share of adventuring, too. I loved the way she captured the differences between the two lifestyles as one being a “horizontal” and the other — an “in-depth” exploration.
It is akin to the difference between a polymath and an expert. While the first stays closer to the surface of a lot more disciplines, the second picks one area of knowledge and inspects it inside-out, by going to the full depths of the topic. The polymath focuses on covering a vast surface and connecting the dots — while the expert aims at making their competence as detailed and nuanced and possible.
Neither of them is better than the other, and they are both needed in the world. They just explore and learn within two different paradigms which enable them to do different things.
The same goes for the “adventurer-seeker” lifestyle vs. the “stable-committed” one. The first travels the world and collects experiences for the sake of diversifying their worldview. The second stays within their backyard and explores their everyday and often repetitive experience in more depth.
Both can be equally valuable — and loaded with meaning, too.
I thereby wouldn’t praise any of the two as better, more enriching or growth-oriented than the other. However, I have a feeling that the mainstream culture does favour the “adventurer.” The instagrammable, self-improvement chunk of our culture reinforces the obsession with always looking for new experiences as some sort of a Holy Grail.
In the words of Rainesford Stauffer again:
“The obsession is spun as ‘adventure,’ or ‘wanderlust,’ or ‘exploration,’ descriptors that make transience sound not just appealing but like a kind of spiritual obligation.”
These words resonate with me because they perfectly capture the attitude that directed my life until about a year ago. I felt like it was only right to push myself to explore, see more and do new things as the main point of life. I simply couldn’t comprehend the value of commitment, sticking to one long-term project or investing in stable relationships.
But there is immense value in those things — and this is what I am coming to tell you. It is definitely possible to enjoy a “mundane” life — and also, to find meaning in it. You just need to see past the omnipresent praise for “stepping outside your comfort zone” and “looking for new experiences.”
The experience you are already having every day holds a richness of meaning. It can be found in all the small interactions with the people who are already in your life. In taking a moment to observe your cat, smell the roses or enjoy an ordinary coffee. It is available whenever you become present, appreciate what you have and look at things you know full well with a beginner’s mind.
Besides, the “mundane” of today will not last forever, either. No matter how it may appear to you, life is always changing. What you take for granted today, may appear precious tomorrow. So why not see it as a treasure now, already in this moment?
Adventures and thrills have their value — and I am not trying to deny it. But truth be told, we cannot rely on adventures and thrills to see our life as valuable. As Niklas Göke wrote, happiness is loving the boring days.
I will always remember the moment I set out on that solo hike in the Alps — and everything that happened afterwards. I hold all the memories of travels, hitchhikes and people I met on the road as very dear to me. But I cannot make my happiness dependant on them. I don’t want to turn my life into a mere chase for a faster heartbeat and constant excitement.
Right now, I am learning to love the boring days to the point when they are not boring anymore. I can see that it is definitely possible to go very deep into the most ordinary experiences. Yes, it is a different kind of exploration than the “horizontal” one. But it is equally meaningful.