The word has been in my head a lot lately.
It’s Chris Guillebeau’s fault really. I cannot put down his new book, The Happiness of Pursuit.
Having completed his own quest to travel to every country in the world by his 35th birthday, Chris set out to talk with other people who had embarked on major quests. He writes about a teenager who sailed the world, a woman who taught her family about foreign cultures by cooking one dish from a new country each week, a guy who walked across America, and many other remarkable stories.
I’m enjoying the book partly because it’s so inspiring and fun to read, and partially because it seems to have arrived in my life at the exact right time.
A few weeks ago, I hinted that I was preparing for a big adventure. Thanks to Chris’ book, I am now fairly certain that my adventure qualifies as a Quest. Here’s what I’m planning:
When I get back to Portland in a few weeks, I’m going to buy a pickup truck and camper. In early 2015, I will head out for 6 months to explore the Northwest. (The length of my quest may increase if I fall in love with the experience or feel as though I need more time). It will just be me and my dog, Grendel.
The goal isn’t specifically to travel, though I do wish to see more of the region. It’s more about living off the grid, outside of technology and urban life, and seeing how that impacts my health and worldview. I will be checking in with you guys and working at cafes with wifi in near-by towns once or twice a week. Other than that, I will mostly be disconnected, although I will have a cell phone in case of emergencies.
My plan is to spend my days hiking, reading, playing music, exploring odd towns, maybe even dropping into random yoga classes or going to some events in nearby towns if I feel like being around people. In other words, the structure for this quest is very loose, and that is intentional.
Why am I doing this?
Because I feel a deep sense that I must do it. As Chris writes in his book, many people who embark on quests simply feel a pull deep within, and once they come up with the idea, can’t get it out of their heads.
I don’t know what I’m going to find out there. I don’t know how this trip is going to change me. I do have a few guesses as to why I’m being pulled in this direction though:
1. A desire to unplug and live in peace
Living in Chicago this past year has made me crave nature, quiet, peace. It’s not just Chicago, which I find to be a very hard and chaotic city, it’s the modern world. It feels unnatural to me, living among concrete and chemicals, addicted to technology, and reachable at any given moment. I know it’s what most of us do, but there’s something very un-human about it.
I want to wake up around streams and trees and mountains. I want to put my feet in the dirt and know what it is to be human.
2. My health
I got very sick a few years ago. My recovery has been a long and slow process, and I’m doing much better now. I am still having some anxiety issues though, something that Chicago and everything I mentioned above contributes to.
I truly believe that living a slower-paced life, surrounded by nature is going to help me feel better than I have in years. I eat a paleo diet, so I plan on visiting farmer’s markets and co-ops along the way (thankfully these are relatively easy to find in Oregon and Washington).
3. Simplifying and learning how NOT to plan
I have a tendency to over-plan and then stress out about everything I “need” to do. On this quest I plan on leading a much simpler life. While my tendency is to set all kinds of goals to check off on my quest (climb mountains, write a solo album, write a memoir, etc.), the true goal for me is to learn how to be goal-less. To learn to live each day with nothing pressing that I must accomplish.
4. Gaining a sense of self-sufficiency
I come from a wonderful, upper middle class family, where comfort is a major driving force and discomfort is seen as something that serves no purpose and should be avoided.
I also come from a world where the mind matters more than the physical domain. Throughout my childhood, I spend many hours at cultural events, but relatively zero hours camping. I learned how to write an A+ essay, but I never learned how to change a tire. I never even learned how to properly clean a house or paint my own walls (though I picked that stuff up after receiving numerous lectures from roommates in my early twenties).
I’m grateful for the opportunities that my upbringing has afforded me. But I’m also sick of feeling incompetent and uncomfortable in certain settings that aren’t ACTUALLY dangerous.
Although I will not be ruffing it in any real way (my camper will have a bed, stove and probably a flushing toilet), this quest still feels extremely foreign to me. The idea of even owning a pickup truck feels foreign to me.
My hope is that I will gain a real sense of confidence and self-sufficiency out there. That I will walk away feeling capable and strong.
In The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris sets out the various components of a quest. One of these components is that a quest must have a clear goal.
This presents a bit of a problem for me, since the point of my adventure is to try to be less goal-oriented and learn to live in the moment. However, I recognize the purpose of having a goal, and so I’ve set a deadline. I will be out there for at least 6 months. This way, I won’t hit a rough patch two months in and call it quits. If I reach my end point and wish to keep going, I can always extend my goal.
The only other rule is that I am not allowed to use the internet or text outside of my 1-2 work days per week. The exceptions are, of course, emergencies and to check in with my partner and family.
Not Quite a Review…
As you may have noticed, I haven’t exactly written a review of The Happiness of Pursuit. Nonetheless, I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to be inspired to make a major (or even a minor) shift in their life and gain a greater sense of purpose and adventure. It’s a great read.
And if you’re already planning something big or have an itch that has been hard to ignore, this book will provide you with plenty of wonderful advice and inspiration to help you shape your quest.
The Happiness of Pursuit comes out on September 9 (pre-order it here). And the happiness of MY pursuit you will be able to read about right here in the coming months.
Have you ever embarked on a major quest? Or is there a quest that you’re planning right now?
Emilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe
scientist carpenter. Learn more about Emilie here.