In 2001, I went backpacking around the West Coast of Australia for six months. I was 33 at the time.
This wasn’t a journey that I had to take to “find myself”. Instead, it was just about taking the time to make an experience. I’d been telling myself since I was 19 that I was going to go backpacking, but never did it.
Coming out of a relationship at the time, and with no ties to bind me, I thought, “Fuck it – I’m going to do this before I get much older.”
So I did. And it was everything I expected, and more.
I stayed away from the typical tourist traps and roads, and used my connections over there to trek around the best places for people who wanted to live life and experience it at the pace it was meant to be experienced.
For six glorious months, I probably interacted with less than 30 people.
I was able to look at night skies and enjoy what they’re meant to look like, versus the smog-ridden versions we have today. I was able to swim, fish, camp, break a couple of [minor] bones, and feel what life is like when you want to experience it, versus just existing in it.
And I wonder why we don’t do more of that today.
Life Moves Pretty Fast…
In his 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, director John Hughes shared one fantastic day in the life of uber-schoolkid Ferris Bueller. The movie delivers a great line from the title character early on:
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
From that premise, the movie follows Ferris, his best friend Cameron, and his girlfriend Sloane as they skip school and take a trip around Chicago. Among many stand out-moments is a scene where the three end up at the Art Institute of Chicago.
As life goes on around him, and Ferris and Sloane catch a quiet place to kiss, Cameron finds himself in front of artist George Seraut’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
The overriding message in this scene is one of living an experience. In an interview, Hughes explains the inclusion of the museum scene as “…self-indulgent. It was a place of refuge for me, I went there quite a bit, I loved it. I knew all the paintings, the building. This was a chance for me to go back into this building and show the paintings that were my favorite.”
It’s this feeling of escape, and refuge from all the issues Cameron has in his relationship with his father and where he sees himself in life, that makes this particular scene such an experience in the movie – at that moment, we feel Cameron’s solitude, his hopes, his fears, his life.
While we may not follow the same path as Ferris and his companions in experiencing one crazy day in Chicago – and if you’ve never seen the movie, get out and find it now! – we should be making experiences every single day.
The Fallacy of Too Busy
Of course, any time you mention taking the time to make an experience, there’s always the usual push-back.
- I’m too busy
- I don’t have time as it is
- I can’t afford to do that
- That doesn’t sound like me
None of them are real reasons, though – they’re simply excuses based around the fallacy of being too busy.
My wife made a great point to me the other week when I said I wanted to work out, and get healthier, but I just don’t have the time.
My commute sees me travel four hours every day, and so when I get home it’s usually play with kids, have dinner, play with kids some more, put kids to bed, spend some time with my wife, and then have my own time to do stuff. At which point sleep is usually a persuasive friend.
So, yes, I’m too busy. Except I’m not.
As my wife pointed out, if I really wanted to, I could make exercising part of playtime with my kids. We have a cool little leg workout machine where you stand on two “steps”, and move your legs apart and back in on rollers. I could do that while my kids count the steps, and maybe even throw things back and forth at each other.
I could sit at my desk and use the little arm and wrist workout thing my wife has, while reading blog posts I want to catch up on, or when watching Netflix with the kids.
There are many other things I could do – I simply choose not to, through the belief that I don’t have time to do it. It doesn’t even cost any money – we have the equipment, it’s not as if I need to pay gym fees to be healthier.
So, yes – all the reasons we give to not do are pretty much meaningless. It’s just we don’t want to admit as much, because that would mean we need to have experiences.
The World Doesn’t Know Us
Another reason we don’t want to try and experience life more, and have moments that last a lifetime, is the Fear of Missing Out syndrome, or FOMO.
We believe that if we take a day from life’s everyday humdrum, and do something for us, we’ll miss something important. Someone else will get that promotion we’re after; someone else will get that special deal we’re after; someone else will steal the girl or boy our hearts are after.
In short, someone else will do something or gain something that should have been ours, because we weren’t there.
But let’s think about this and compare.
- Someone else gets that promotion because they’re more qualified. The extra stress that promotion would have brought you because you weren’t ready isn’t there, and your health and relationships are better because of it.
- Someone else got that special deal you were after. So what – did you really need that thing that was so specially priced, or were you buying it because the price told you you needed it, as opposed to truly needing it?
- Someone stole the target of your affection’s heart before you. This sucks. I’ve had this happen many times. But then I thought, If I was so right for that person, why wasn’t the feeling mutual? Love-filled hearts are two-way – did you really miss out?
We often have such an important view of our place in the world, and yet we don’t take any time to actually make ourselves a part of that same world.
We tweet, we post updates on Facebook, we make Vines of how cool our lives are, we Instagram perfectly-caught moments in time – and yet they’re more often than not a vision of who we wish we were.
If they were truly how we are, why does Instagram have so many filters to get our picture in a perfect light?
We have an inane fear of missing out through not being where we need to be (or so we believe), but in reality it’s us that’s missing out on the world.
Add Flavour, Savour and Enjoy
In about six weeks, my son Ewan turns five. Five.
I have no idea how he got there so fast. I was watching some old YouTube videos of him when he was my daughter’s age (she’s three), and it struck me how quickly the time has passed between then and now.
Then, he was a stumbling, finding-his-balance not-quite-baby-but-not-quite-little-boy. Now, he’s a confident little boy that doesn’t seem so little.
He has great friends and play dates. He gets dressed himself. He can get his own breakfast. He knows how to switch on the Xbox One and work it with voice-commands. Simply put, he’s independent and thinks for himself.
Yes, he still needs mummy and daddy for the important things, but he’s his own little person. And it’s great to see.
It’s also a reminder that these halcyon years will soon be gone and, while they’ll be replaced with new memories and experiences, the ones we can create now shouldn’t be put off.
The email I’m crafting can wait to give a hug. The image I’m searching for a blog post can wait for kick ball. The cleaning I’m going to do can wait until after the trip to the park while the weather allows. The newspaper can wait and be replaced by sitting on the sofa reading books.
All these little experiences we can make now. And not just little ones. We can take a train trip; draw silly pictures on our driveway; make a project out of the backyard where the kids can build their very own play area to their liking.
We can build memories.
Even for ourselves, we can do this.
- We can hold our loved one’s hand for the simple act of doing so connects us.
- We can smile at a stranger for the simple reason warmth is better than blindness.
- We can sit on a hill, close our eyes and enjoy the breeze on our face.
- We can make a meal we’ve never made before and ruin it, and smile at the failure, because who cares?
We’re building memories. We can add flavour to these memories, to make them uniquely us, and we can savour them for as long as it takes to satiate us. We can experience what it actually means to be, versus the belief of what’s meant to be.
We just need to slow down and see where that experience begins.