Today we bring you a guest post by Charles Scott, an endurance athlete and family adventurer who believes that embracing new experiences is the key to living a full and happy life.
In his autobiography, Jim Whittaker, a renowned mountaineer and the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, wrote, “I believe the key to a life well lived… is discomfort.”
Whittaker saw discomfort as a way to stretch “yourself beyond what you already know or know how to do.” We all experience pain when we twist an ankle or touch scalding water. But ‘discomfort’ represents an altogether different experience, one that offers the promise of personal growth and character development.
I took Whittaker’s message to heart a few years ago when I cycled for 46 days and 1,500 miles around Iceland connected to my 10-year old son on a trailer cycle and my four-year old daughter in a bike trailer. Sometimes the headwind was so strong that we struggled simply to maintain forward momentum. On the days when the temperature dropped into the 40s F and rain soaked us through, my son and I shivered, despite layers of clothing, and pedalled harder to stay warm (my daughter was comfortable and dry in her trailer). I told my son, “This ride was supposed to be hard. Sometimes an adventurer just suffers for a while.”
The value of discomfort comes from the context in which it is experienced. It was precisely in those moments of discomfort during the ride that I most deeply appreciated the simple joys of life: a meal shared with people I love, soaking in hot water, snuggling up to read to my kids in bed. The suffering made the pleasure, when I finally experienced it, so much better! And, to Whittaker’s point, handling the discomfort was really a lesson in perseverance for my children and me. While my instincts as a father – rightly so – are to protect my kids, I think that a parent shouldn’t make a child’s life too easy. I wanted them to internalize one of the most satisfying experiences in life: overcoming hardship through effort and focus.
Discomfort is not only physical, but may also come in the form of emotional resistance to making a needed change in our lives. I have met people who would like to unshackle themselves from their desks, from unbalanced lives, or unhealthy work environments. Some are looking for opportunities to express parts of themselves that they do not utilize at work, or follow a direction that is more aligned with their true interests rather than, as one friend put it, “continue to unconsciously participate in the herd.” But many people remain stuck, often because they are intimidated by the consequences of taking action and the discomfort that comes with change.
Organizations are emerging that recognize this issue. A while ago I spoke at a well-attended event in New York City organized by a group called Meet Plan Go. The event encouraged people to take a “career break” to travel the world “and have it be beneficial to your career.” The room was filled with hundreds of people interested in taking a sabbatical from work. Some were dissatisfied with their jobs, felt that something was amiss, and wanted to take initiative to radically change their life direction. Others wanted to volunteer abroad or simply to learn about foreign cultures, then return to their professions rejuvenated.
I told the audience about enlightened employers like Intel Corporation , where I worked for fourteen years, that provide full-time employees a paid two-month sabbatical every seven years. One of my fellow speakers, Rita Foley, co-author of Reboot Your Life, conducted interviews with hundreds of people who had taken a career break to travel. She said that, “We could not find a single person who had regretted the decision.”
When my son and I give presentations about our ride through Iceland, we always finish by saying, “So what are you waiting for? Go out and create your own adventure!” We could just as easily add Whittaker’s advice: embrace the value of discomfort.
Charles R. Scott left a 14-year career at Intel Corporation to become an adventure speaker. A National Geographic-featured adventurer and author of the book Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan, he gives keynotes and executive workshops about developing an adventurous mindset. Charles has cycled over 7,000 miles with his young children across Japan, Iceland, Europe and the U.S., and has been featured in media around the world. He is also a guide to disabled athletes, and in October 2014, guided the first blind runner to cross the Grand Canyon and back nonstop. For more information on his adventures, visit www.teamseepossibilities.