I was catching up with some friends a while ago when one of them mentioned that she’d biked across the United States. The rest of us immediately told her how impressive we thought that feat was. My friend demurred, saying it wasn’t a big deal. She merely got up every day, pedaled, and eventually she was in San Diego.
As someone who is in the process of hiking hundreds of miles in all corners of the world, I’ve had similar conversations before. Friends and family have said what I’m planning to do is “crazy.” It’s striking to me how closely my own feelings about adventure mirror those expressed by my friend.
More significantly, I think that that framing provides a great explanation for why people do “crazy” things.
Prior to undertaking an adventure, you have the same perspective as anyone else. You see the pending journey as a daunting challenge. Once you persevere and achieve your goal, however, your perspective changes. You come to understand that you accomplish something “crazy” just by showing up every day and taking the next step. It’s just another thing that you do the same way you would do anything else. “Crazy” doesn’t really apply anymore.
That insight can be extremely powerful. If you’re biking, you just keeping pedaling. If you’re hiking, you just keep walking. If you’re trying to lose weight, you just keep eating right and exercising. If you’re starting a business, you just keep working.
Try to make progress every day and eventually you’ll achieve your goals. When you look back on it, you’ll see how an utterly mundane process can result in something impressive.
I had my first true taste of this approach to life in 2011. Early that year, a good friend gave me the opportunity to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.
At first glance, there were many reasons to say no. I’d only been on a sailboat a couple times in my life. Even then, I’d never been out of sight of land. We would likely face harsh conditions, mechanical troubles, and any number of other unexpected and potentially disastrous events. To top it all off, I’d be confined to a tiny cabin for at least three weeks with three men, two of whom I’d never met before.
Yet when presented with the opportunity, I never considered saying no. It seemed like it would be a great experience, but I really couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend three weeks on a small boat crossing an ocean and had no idea how I’d handle it.
What I did know, though, is that it’s most basic level, the trip was just an extended series of alternating 2-hour watch periods and 6-hour rest periods. If I hated it, all I had to do was get through the next set of watches until there weren’t any more of them. I knew I could do that.
In the end, I made the trip (the same one Columbus made on his fourth voyage to the Americas) and loved every second of it. It was an opportunity I easily could have missed out on if I’d had a different approach.
For me, one surprising outcome of this mindset is that adventure and accomplishment become addictive. Once you realize that the process of adventure is the same as for everyday activities, you begin to wonder how far that approach can take you. You feel an overwhelming sense of curiosity about just what your limits are.
So there’s my answer for anyone who wonders why people do “crazy” things. They don’t do them despite the craziness. They do them because of it.