“Ugh. Those people.”
Another day on the internet – and another parade of super-beautiful, super-competent people, bronzed, ripped perfection, living perfectly happy lives of awesome adventure across your social media channels.
If you find this unending display of public excellence absolutely exhausting – not to mention utterly demoralising when compared to your own painfully modest achievements…
Well, you’re not alone. That’s basically everyone feeling like that.
(Well, everyone except those who are filled with their own self-importance. And they’re not worth bothering with, frankly.)
So let’s get real about all this adventure lark.
…there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our “hobbies,” if that’s even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.
If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you?
– “In Praise Of Mediocrity“ – Tim Wu, New York Times
Who you are, of course, is someone who wants to do two things:
1) Do something you haven’t done before…
2) …while having enormous amounts of fun.
Nowhere in there is anything about comparing yourself to the achievements of other people – because frankly, that would be daft.
Firstly, you’d be comparing your insides – the complex bubbling mess of hopes, insecurities, ambitions, fears and bloody-mindedness that defines you as an adventurous person – with their outsides (rendered perfect using filters and flattering camera angles, edited by omission or misdirection, less a person and more a role.)
Their outsides are almost certainly a carefully maintained fiction.
Chances are, behind the scenes, all of your adventure heroes struggle with anxiety, fear and self-respect issues in some form, even if they don’t talk about it (although thankfully, many are starting to do so).
It may even be why they got into adventuring in the first place – because the excercise and self-discipline helped them manage their inner demons better.
They struggle with these things because we all do, to varying degrees – because that’s just part of being human.
It should be seen as normal. The fact social media often pretends it isn’t is a real problem.
The reality is that the struggle, some kind of struggle, is always real – and that applies to everyone.
We’d just finished a long day hauling our sledges, we’d set up camp, three of us in [a tent], I was doing what I loved with my life, I’d managed to turn what I loved into my whole life – it was wonderful.
And then in that tent my good friend Ben, he made some lighthearted throwaway comment – I don’t even remember what the context was – about how I was a terrible dad for being out there on this expedition rather than being at home. He said it as a joke – and to all of our surprise, not least of all mine, I just burst into tears. Great howling guilt-racked sobs.
Because as much as I was living this personally thrilling and fulfilling life of expeditions and travel, it was wreaking havoc with my family life – with my real life.
So I’d left behind my family, I felt so guilty, I felt so selfish – I was thinking oh, what on earth am I doing?
– Alastair Humphreys, The DO Lectures
(Alastair now makes his living microadventuring.)
A nice way to deal with these kinds of feelings when they arise is to just admit you’re a bit crap at all this adventure stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. You may know enough about what you’re doing to stay safe, have fun and do what you want to do. In fact, you absolutely should know these things.
(Staying safe, in particular. We’d never trust anyone who takes stupid risks, particularly if they’re looking after the welfare of others.)
However, on a wider scale, you’re rubbish.
Maybe more than a bit, in fact. There are plenty of people out there who are way, way, way better at this thing than you will ever be – and there always will be.
If this is a race, you already lost – so put all that comparison-pressure aside. Game over. No comparisons to make.
Where your heroes are chiselled and heroic and quick, you’re bumbling, sweaty and all over the place.
Basically, you are Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.
But here’s the thing. If you can internalise this sense of brave, noble rubbishness, if you can really own it, you will become free to compare yourself with the only person who should matter here: yourself.
Instead of pinning all your hopes (and all of your ego) on being the best, and working your tail off to filter what the world sees in order to look the best, you focus all your determination and grit upon being better.
Can you get better at climbing rock than Alex Honnold?
(And seriously, without ropes? Are you crazy?)
Can you get better at rock climbing than you were last year?
Oh hell yes.
So, in 2019, we challenge you to tune out apparent perfection in others (because it’s nonsense), stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides (because there’s no comparison) – and just go do something you’ve never done before.
That’s an adventure well worth chasing.
– The Rug & Rock Team.
ps. If getting better at rock climbing is your thing, try doing this next February.