“People have always been captivated by quests,” writes author Chris Guillebeau in his brand new book, The Happiness of Pursuit. Chris, for one, is most certainly one of those people. His book celebrates the completion of a personal quest to visit all 193 countries in the world before his 35th birthday.
Are the rest of us captivated by quests as well? Absolutely. But is the whole concept of questing, journeying and generally living life as an adventure something anybody can pursue? Or are we merely relegated to living vicariously through Chis and his band of fellow travelers? After all, the rest of us have obligations, right? Nine-to-five drudgery is a responsibility. To some, it’s even an honor. We’ve got spouses, kids, mortgages, car payments and PTA meetings. We can’t be gallivanting all over creation in search of enlightenment.
Or can we?
Chris has some pretty strong feelings on that—so strong that the stated lesson of the first chapter in his book is: “Adventure is for everyone.”
Perhaps it depends on how we define a quest? Here are Chris’ criteria:
- “A quest has a clear goals and a specific end point.”
- “A quest presents a clear challenge.”
- “A quest requires sacrifice of some kind.”
- “A quest is often driven by a calling or sense of mission.”
- “A quest requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal.”
By these measures, running a marathon would assuredly be considered a quest for most. How much more, then, is John Wallace’s feat of running 250 of them—in a single year?
Wallace is one of many questers featured in The Happiness of Pursuit, but most of the others’ exploits are far less headline worthy. Chris endeavors to bring the notion of questing closer to home by featuring a largely “ordinary” cast of characters, and in so doing, he succeeds.
But The Happiness of Pursuit isn’t merely a collection of stories woven together in an attempt to titillate our daydreams. Chris manages to wrangle the seemingly fantastical notion of questing into our everyday reality through a combination of diverse mini-narratives and practical advice on everything from how to recognize a worthy quest to how to fund one.
Okay, it’s time that I acknowledge my bias. I’m predisposed to appreciating Chris and his message.
It’s easy enough to like Chris. Despite the overt nature of his call to adventure and a life that backs it up, he’s surprisingly introverted, soft-spoken and selfless. It seems as though most of what he does is for others, rather than himself. I’ve been a fan and friend of his for several years.
Additionally, my own life experience lends itself to Chris’s message. When I was 18 years old, I had a car accident that landed me at the hospital and in a coma with a 5%—give or take—chance of living. I know first-hand that tomorrow is promised to no one, and this knowledge makes me susceptible to the siren’s call for adventure.
I have spent most of my life since the accident, however, making safer, more predictable decisions. Until last year, that is, when my family and I set out on a quest of our own.
In search of a lower cost of living and a higher quality of life, we decided to move from Baltimore—a city that we love, with family and friends that we love even more—and relocate to Charleston, South Carolina, where we knew no one.
It wasn’t for a job. I work from home most of the time. It wasn’t because we had close friends or family who moved before us, providing both a draw and a landing pad. It wasn’t because we were accustomed to major geographic upheavals, either. Before the move, I’d never lived outside of a 20-mile radius, even including college.
But we took the plunge and the water feels fantastic. (Literally, the Atlantic is still about 83 degrees in mid-September and only about 10 miles from our front door.)
My family’s quest meets each of Chris’ criteria. We had clear goals and we arrived at a specific point—our new address. The quest presented many major challenges, both internal and external. The sacrifice of more regular interaction with our families and friends, not to mention being physically absent for the Orioles’ first division championship since 1997, continues to weigh on us. The decision involved many smaller decisions and intermediate steps prior to the big move. All of this was made easier, however, because we felt a strong sense of calling or mission.
The best news about questing, however, is that it begets more of the same. I don’t necessarily mean that we’ll be inclined to move again, or often, but our perspective has forever been changed. I guess we’re questers now.
I’m thankful for Chris’ example, and for the scores of other adventurers whose stories you’ll find inside of The Happiness of Pursuit. If you are predisposed to that sort of thing, you’ll love it. But if you’re not, the read could be nothing short of life changing.
This commentary originally appeared September 19 on Forbes.com
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