How Pursuing a Quest Can Bring Purpose to Your Life
In 2002, I walked into a cafe, laptop in hand, to begin a grand adventure.
My adventure did not involve swords, dragons, or golden cups; it didn’t require me to hike the Appalachian trail or steer a boat solo across the world. All I had to do was sip a cappuccino and tap away at my keyboard. After years of detour as a corporate lawyer, I was finally allowing myself to reach that mythical state of being I’d dreamed of since age four: becoming “a writer.”
Believe me when I tell you that I had no idea I would ever publish a best-selling book. My goal was simply to publish something — anything — by age seventy-five. That took the pressure off and put me in a state of near constant flow, and occasional bliss. I wrote a play, a memoir, poetry, and half a novel.
After three years, I started writing Quiet and knew instinctively that this was the one.
But the adventure began long before Quiet and its runaway success. The adventure was the simple act of trying to become a writer in the first place.
In September 2014, my friend Chris Guillebeau came out with a wonderful new book. A book about quests and adventures and about how doing that big crazy (or quiet and intimate) thing you’ve always dreamed of may be the best thing you’ll ever do.
I’ll let Chris tell you all about it…
How Pursuing a Quest Can Bring Purpose to Your Life
by Chris Guillebeau
We all like to adopt habits and make choices that improve our lives — or at least we like the idea of doing so. Small changes can lead to big results, whether it’s being mindful about what we eat or trying to get an extra hour of sleep. Improvement is good.
But what if there’s something bigger that you could do…something that would fundamentally change your life for the better? After thinking carefully about what you enjoy doing and what you find most meaningful, maybe you should think about making that thing the focus of your daily life for years to come.
Perhaps you should consider a quest.
For the past ten years, I’ve been pursuing a grand adventure. Even as an introvert (or perhaps because I’m an introvert), I’ve always loved travel, whether it’s exploring new cities and losing myself in foreign markets or heading into a small village after an extended bus ride from a larger hub. After going to a bunch of places, I decided to create structure around those discoveries. Instead of just traveling for fun, I’d turn it into a mission: I’d attempt to visit every country in the world.
Every country, no exceptions — and in case you’re wondering, there are 193 of them, as determined by the UN.
This quest became a focal point for me. I spent more than 100 days a year either traveling or planning for a trip somewhere. I went all over the world, literally, in pursuit of the goal of going “everywhere.”
It was a lot of work, of course, with many challenges along the way, but it was also a lot of fun.
I wrote a book about my journey as I’d always planned. In the writing process, though, my editor nudged me toward a better goal. “Don’t just write about your own experience,” he said. “Write about quests. Write about other people who found a calling of their own, and see how they were changed through the experience.”
So that’s what I did. When I wasn’t jetting off to Afghanistan or hiking the national forests of the Congo, I spent my time meeting other people who were also pursuing a quest, learning from them in meetups around the world or — as they wrote in — from my website.
I heard from an incredible array of remarkable people from all walks of life.
Some of them were doing truly astounding things like the man who ran 250 marathons in a single year or the young woman who circumnavigated the globe in a small sailboat. Stories like these were incredible!
But I also heard from dozens of ordinary people who had made brave decisions to incorporate adventure into their daily lives.
In Omaha, Robyn Devine set out to knit 10,000 hats. Why 10,000? I asked her — why not just “knit a bunch of hats?” Her answer contained a clue that would guide the rest of my research: “Because having the number makes it real. When I made it tangible and specific, it gave me something specific to work toward.”
In Oklahoma City, Sasha Martin wanted to raise her young daughter with an international perspective. She wasn’t able to travel, certainly not to 193 countries, but she had an idea: why not make a meal from every country in the world?
That’s exactly what she did, week after week. She started with Albania and kept on going all the way to Zimbabwe, thoroughly researching each country’s culinary history and sharing it with her family. She also shared the journey online, with weekly recipes and commentary on her “Global Table” mission.
Stories like Robyn’s and Sasha’s were the ones I enjoyed the most. They found something they enjoyed and built some parameters around it, transforming it from a hobby to a quest. For the most part, these were solitary, individual pursuits. These were projects that required spending a lot of time alone, building or working toward something more public and shared.
I learned a number of lessons along the way, both from my journey and from the quests of others I studied.
I learned that you must believe in your quest even if no one else does. I learned that experience produces confidence, and many questers saw their vision grow in scope as they worked toward the goal.
I learned that many of these people had what I called an emotional awareness of mortality — they were focused on putting each day to good use, aware that life is all too short. Many of them enjoyed charting the incremental progress toward their final destination, making lists and celebrating milestones.
But mostly, they found that the quest improved their lives. They were better off for choosing the value of adventure. They spoke of the fear of regret as a precursor to saying yes: when they realized they’d always regret it if they didn’t try, they pushed further and embraced the value of adventure.
I finally ended my journey in April 2013, when I arrived in my final country, #193 of 193. I felt a lot of different emotions as the month drew near: I was excited and proud, as one might expect, but I also felt sad. The quest had given me a sense of identity and purpose for years, and now it was almost over.
I knew I’d need to find something else to work on next…but not right away. First, I had to appreciate all that had come to pass and to express gratitude to everyone who’d been a part of it from country to country.
By the way, the book I wrote isn’t merely a sociological study. It contains a clear message: a quest can bring greater purpose and meaning to your life. The value of adventure is for everyone, not just world travelers, and if you choose to embrace it, you’ll never be the same.
Chris Guillebeau is The New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness of Pursuit, The $100 Startup, and other books. During a lifetime of self-employment, he visited every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. Every summer in Portland, Oregon, he hosts the World Domination Summit, a gathering of creative, remarkable people.
The above post previously appeared on Susan Cain’s former blog, The Power of Introverts.
SUSAN CAIN is the co-founder of Quiet Revolution LLC, a company dedicated to unlocking the power of introverts for the benefit of us all. Susan is the author of the award-winning New York Times bestseller QUIET: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, and her record-smashing TED talk has been viewed over 10 million times. Sign up here to receive updates about the Quiet Revolution. Follow Susan on Twitter @susancain, and on Facebook.
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