An Adventurous Mind

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. — Helen Keller

I stumbled on this quote by Helen Keller in 2012 when I was looking for inspirational quotes to include in a graduation slide show I was putting together for my classmates at UNC. I was looking for something to explain why, at age 46, I was graduating college for the second time with classmates young enough to be my children. It has stuck with me ever since, and has been a basis for my own journey of self-discovery. While the road that took me home to UNC was bumpy, the journey since has been tumultuous and wholly unexpected. As I found myself thrust into a chaotic and insecure situation I realized that when panic would have been a ‘normal’ reaction I found myself instead to be dead calm and optimistic that the situation would eventually resolve itself.

I’m still waiting for that resolution, and while it has taken way longer than I ever expected, it has been one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever found myself on. In the last year I have truly come to understand the value of friendship and why living authentically is the only way to live. That doesn’t mean it is easy, especially when one is inclined toward a life that is, at best, unconventional.

I grew up in the South in the 60’s and 70’s, and while I will absolutely credit my mother with trying to encourage me to be my own person, I still somehow allowed myself to be influenced by the ‘traditional’ gender roles I saw around me. At a young age I got it in my head that I would marry by 21 and have all my kids by 25. Where this idea came from I have no idea, I just know that this is the vision I had as I marched through adolescence and early adulthood. Never mind that I was a tomboy from the git-go who was more interested in keeping up with my older brother than playing house or learning the finer points of domestication. From an early age I knew buried inside me was an adventurer dying to be released, but I didn’t know how to make that work with my vision, so I buried it even deeper. Today, when people say they knew about a certain personality trait from an early age, I believe them, as I knew, well before the age of 5, that I thrived on adventure in a way that other children—especially girls—did not. And I knew that I did not have role models who would allow me to express my true nature. For all of her encouragement, my mother was still a 1950’s era housewife, and that was the only world I knew.

My very early childhood memories are hazy at best, but I was one of those kids that couldn’t go fast enough or high enough, and fear seemed to be wholly absent from my vocabulary. I remember learning to roller skate at two and ride a 2-wheel bicycle at five. The freedom of wheels and the speed they imparted were intoxicating to me. At seven I discovered world travel and set my sights on becoming a “stewardess” so I could fly around the world time and again. When we moved to a house in the woods I loved to explore and teach myself navigation skills, and I spent hours playing in the creek by the house imagining myself running rapids someday. I longed to learn how to rock climb and ski and jumped at every opportunity I could find to get outside in pursuit of adventure, but in the process I failed to find any female role models who could show me how to live the life I wanted to live. In time I found myself turning away from the life that I loved so that I could live the life I thought was expected of me.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly at what point I stopped living authentically. I think it was about the time I realized that the men I was meeting were not interested in settling down with me. I was so intent on fulfilling my vision of marriage and children that I was unable to accept any other possibility. Suddenly I was well into my 20’s with no husband in sight and instead of just rolling with it, I panicked. I got married at 25, divorced at 29, married again at 31, had my son at 35 and divorced again at 41. I’ve spent the last 7 years trying to understand how I could have failed at marriage not once but twice, and what I needed to do differently.

One of the realizations that I have come to is that my quest for marriage and family was really a quest for security and stability. I grew up in a traditional two-parent household, as did most of my friends. Any other example to which I was exposed seemed somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘damaged’ and invariably unstable. Looking backwards now I understand how wrong I was to be so closed-minded and why the quote from Helen Keller is so on target for me. In my own experience, my quest for security and stability—at the expense of my innate need for adventure—ultimately resulted in neither.

As strange as it may sound, it has taken me a long time to accept that living a ‘conventional’ life is not an option for me, and I know I’m not alone. I have wanted to write about my experiences for several years now, but I’ve also wanted to write honestly and openly, and that requires a great deal more courage than I’ve had. I’m usually a fairly private person who prefers to keep the true depth of my struggles to myself. However, events that have occurred in the last year have required me to expose myself, and the feedback I’ve received has been nothing less than astounding to me. Where I have been critical of myself and some of my decisions, my friends have drawn strength and courage from my willingness to break out of convention. It finally dawned on me that perhaps other women will find strength and encouragement as well, hence my decision to go ahead and write out my experiences.

One of the reasons I am particularly drawn to Helen Keller’s interpretation of adventure is because it is obviously quite different than the common interpretation of the word. However, her interpretation is closer to the true definition: “An exciting or dangerous experience; an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks; an exciting or remarkable experience.” When we think about adventure we generally conjure up images of mountain climbing or rafting through the Grand Canyon, or any number of other activities that sound exciting but also beyond the reach of our everyday lives.

So, let me tell you something I’ve learned about adventure. Adventure is a state of mind. It means stepping outside of your comfort zone and pushing boundaries. It means being open to new possibilities and alternative outcomes. It means being willing to try new things, whether it is driving a new route to work, trying a different coffee drink, or putting a pair of ice skates on your feet and taking off, tentatively at first but then increasingly more confident, across a frozen pond.

Adventure is a child. Watch a young child as they grow from being helpless infants to discovering they can do things on their own. They don’t know failure as an option. They just keep at it until they get it and are ready to move on to that next step. As long as we have ‘firsts’ in front of us we tend to embrace growth and the development of new skills. But it seems that at some point in adulthood we lose that drive to try new things. We get comfortable in our routines – so much so that we seek ways to add routine to our lives. Watch as a young mother tries to build a routine around her baby. Suddenly everything revolves around that routine. We get comfortable, and worse, we forget how to be spontaneous. As women, we lose our sense of adventure.

I have been thinking about this a great deal this week. I have always considered myself adventurous, but yet my “adventure resume” consists of things I did mostly in my youth – climbing, paddling, backpacking… The ‘classic’ adventure activities. So I feel that calling myself adventurous at this stage in my life seems disingenuous, especially considering the number of women I know who have gone places and done things I can only dream of. But I AM adventurous and so I have been trying to make sense of what being adventurous really means.

I have come to realize that what makes me adventurous is not my desire to go deep backcountry, or scale sheer cliffs, or run class V whitewater (none of which I can do, by the way), but my newfound willingness to step outside of my comfort zone in almost every aspect of my life. In the last 6 months I have pushed boundaries I didn’t think were movable and watched them move. I have been willing to consider alternate outcomes, and I have found that I have more strength and courage than I ever imagined.

I think it is time for me to start sharing my adventures so that other women can see that it is possible to be a strong, courageous and adventurous woman in even the most mundane aspects of their lives. Being adventurous isn’t just about getting outside and climbing a mountain, it is about deciding today is a good day to try something new.


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