“Anything that is worth pursuing is going to require us to suffer, just a little bit.”
This is my favorite line from a TED Talk I stumbled upon while in Sweden. World-renowned surf photographer Chris Burkard delivers the inspiration when discussing his penchant for shooting cold-weather sets in places you’d be more likely to find snow boots than board shorts.
I was drawn to the TED Talk because it involved Iceland, where I had recently spent a wonderful couple of weeks; Burkard spent his time in that region nearly dying in the frigid sea, just to get the perfect picture. He discusses how, as his friends pulled his borderline hypothermic body from the surf, he had a big, goofy smile on his face the entire time.
While far more extreme than anything I’ve encountered, this level of suffering and sacrifice for one’s passion really stuck out to me. I’ve written in the past about the difficulties of traveling for a long period of time. One thing I’ve learned over and over on this trip is that the most rewarding moments come from challenging myself.
In Morocco, I hiked about 4,000 feet of the 4,225-foot Jebel El-Kelaa peak in the Rif Mountains in scorching heat and the thinnest air I’ve ever choked down. In terms of difficulty, it easily surpassed my hike in Malaysia, which coaxed enough sweat out of me within the first half mile to end the California drought. The hike in Malaysia trumped my scaling of Mt. Amos in Tasmania, which was about the closest thing to a vertical slope I’ve ever seen.
My first true solo travel experience was in a boiling hot, cockroach-infested Filippino island hostel. In Iceland, I pushed myself along a steep, coastal, cliff side trail until the frigid clouds swallowed me whole. I’ve eaten chicken feet, ox tail, wallaby pie, and a still unnamed raw fish concoction.
I challenged myself to a day of fasting for Ramadan in Morocco, out of curiosity for the Muslim tradition. I’ve put myself in uncomfortable position after uncomfortable position whether it be physically, socially or financially.
So, yes, this amazing adventure has required a fair bit of suffering. Most has been self-inflicted, and much more has been canceled because of time or money crunches (I’ll get you next time, Running of the Bulls, cliff jumping in Australia and fermented shark tasting in Iceland).
But it’s all been in the pursuit of my basic goals for this journey: to meet people, see places and challenge myself. The challenge lies in becoming a better writer, more well-rounded person and more engaged citizen.
So far, it’s worth it. It’s working.
Craving the next adventure and meeting the next challenge has ignited my self-confidence and made me a stronger, smarter, more ambitious human being. Even in the inevitable moments of monotony (I can only see so many Spanish cathedrals or Scandinavian palaces before they start to blend together), there’s a renewed sense of excitement in each new city or each new friendship.
Even the most glamorous, life-changing trips can start to wear you down. Especially when it consists of constant unpacking, repacking, planning, hello’s, and goodbye’s.
So, what? Am I tired of the “suffering,” running out of steam and ready to come home?
Not yet. Sorry, Mom! I just want to drive home the point that a little adventure and a little challenge can do wonderful things for people. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you, as they say.
Rather than feeling like I want to call it quits, any monotony or hardships this trip has created leads me instead to the pursuit of more new experiences with more new people in more new places. That’s a great place to be; chasing the poison with a larger helping of delicious medicine.
Being pulled out of a wild, freezing sea of uncertainty, if you will, by the people I’ve just met in places I’ve only just arrived. And doing so with a big, goofy grin on my face.
Consider this another friendly reminder from your resident world traveler to take a break from work, school or whatever else and try something out of your comfort zone. Try a longer, harder hike, or a new, exotic recipe, or a difficult foreign language. Don’t take opportunities like that for granted, as I have in the past, and remain stagnant. Do it now, and do it as often as possible.
You may suffer, but I bet when you come out the other side, you’ll be rocking a big, goofy grin too.
Watch Chris Burkard’s awesome Ted Talk here: