by Vella Mbenna, author of “Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, From the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond“
Have you fallen into a routine of drudgery? Do you feel stuck there? You’re not alone. If we’re honest, many of us will admit that we’re kind of going through the motions — work, home, eat, TV, sleep, repeat — and living by default instead of design. Life isn’t bad; it’s just dull. Uninspired. Actually (and ironically), a bit lifeless. We shouldn’t just accept our adventure-starved status quo.
Life is meant to be really lived. I’ve come to believe adventure is a deep human need. We read about it in books and we watch it in movies because deep down we crave it.
And we owe it to ourselves to pursue things that give us that spark, that jolt of excitement. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your income is. You can and should weave some adventure into your life.
Growing up in rural Georgia, I dreamed of travel and excitement. But after college I found myself broke, divorced, and struggling to raise my child alone. All that changed when I joined the Foreign Service and embarked on a 26-year adventure in which I lived in dangerous parts of the world, performed high-states diplomatic work, and defended my country in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks. My career provided the adventure I had always craved.
If you too feel adventure-starved, don’t worry. There are plenty of small ways to infuse totally ordinary days with life-shifting excitement — and it doesn’t require a globetrotting career or a big budget.
Follow these tips to create the adventurous life you’re dreaming of:
First, commit to a self-imposed TV or social media ban.
Before you can start your adventures, you need to stop doing the stuff that sucks up all your free time and keeps you in a state of lethargy. When turning on the TV or browsing Facebook is no longer an option, you’ll have to fill up your time with something. If nothing else, boredom will push you out the door.
Force yourself to do something that scares (yet excites) you.
You’ll never reach your full potential by living small. So take a risk and challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and do some things that intimidate you. Start training for a marathon or sign up to be a foster parent or go for that promotion at work or even start the business you’ve daydreamed about for years. When you challenge yourself, you’ll truly find out what you’re made of.
It’s okay to start by taking small risks. If you’re normally silent in a meeting, speak up. Or if you’re getting over a painful breakup, join an online dating service. The idea is to practice leaving your comfort zone in small degrees, until you’re ready to make a bigger leap.
Take a class or learn a new skill.
Learning shouldn’t end once you’ve left school. Exploring our interests is what keeps us alive. You might take a coding class, or learn to speak Russian, or learn how to scuba dive. The learning itself is an adventure, and so are the activities that naturally flow from that learning — the trips you go on to speak the new language you learn and the events that pop up when you meet new people in the classes you take.
Plan frequent mini adventures…
When you need to shake things up a bit, choose a destination you’ve never visited within 100 miles of where you live and take a day-long road trip with your friends or family. This quenches your wanderlust without breaking the bank.
… and budget for a great trip.
If you dream of traveling to the exotic locales you’ve seen only in photographs, you can absolutely make it a reality someday. Start an “adventure fund” by putting a small amount of money aside each month. Over time, it will add up, and even if it takes a few years, you will one day be able to go visit those places you dream of today.
Expand your circle.
It’s fine to socialize with a core group of friends most of the time, but don’t close yourself off from meeting new people. You never know how a new friendship or relationship could transform your life. So, go to a Meetup group that interests you or join a sports league or running club as a way to socialize and have fun with new people.
Say yes to every invitation that you possibly can.
As you start meeting new people, they’ll invite you to do things. Maybe they’ll ask you to be on a committee or join them in a fundraising effort. Hopefully the events themselves will be exciting, but they will also lead you to meet new people who, in turn, may invite you to do other things.
Don’t waste the weekends.
Yes, you’re exhausted after the work week. I get it. But if you’re not careful, you’ll go into crash mode and squander the weekend “recuperating.” Don’t. Napping all weekend isn’t rejuvenating, anyway. Ever noticed how sluggish it makes you feel?
Plan ahead so that there’s a mini-adventure scheduled into every weekend. Be intentional about how you spend this rare and precious time away from work. Weekends are for trying new things, taking day trips, attending local festivals. If your spouse or partner doesn’t want to get out, grab the kids or a girlfriend and just go.
Get outdoors every chance you get.
There’s a reason we associate “adventure” with the great outdoors. That’s where the mountains and oceans and rivers are. It’s where you get to camp under the stars or navigate whitewater rapids or hike dark, wooded paths to the top of hills to see the sunrise. It’s also where you might get caught in a thunderstorm or encounter a snake — and that’s part of the adventure equation too.
Being out in nature is a little risky. That’s good, though. It’s hard to be adventurous inside four climate-controlled walls.
Find novel ways to celebrate your milestones.
Big achievements — like promotions, anniversaries, graduations, or even birthdays — deserve thoughtful commemorations. Celebrate them by doing something you’ve never done before. You don’t have to go skydiving on your 50th birthday — unless you really want to — but you could go ziplining or save up for a trip to Costa Rica.
Instil curiosity and wonder in your kids.
You can teach your kids to enjoy an adventurous life by exposing them to the world from an early age. Take them with you when you travel, introduce them to other cultures and unusual foods, and challenge them to be brave even when it feels uncomfortable to do so.
You really get out of life what you put into it. So if you’re stuck in a life that’s underwhelming, it’s up to you to shake things up. It’s never too late to infuse your one and only life with great adventure. And the passion, excitement, and joy that you discover along the way will make any temporary discomfort you feel well worth it in the end.
Vella Mbenna is the author of “Muddy Roads Blue Skies: My Journey to the Foreign Service, From the Rural South to Tanzania and Beyond“. Throughout her youth, Vella dreamed of escaping small-town USA and traveling the world. In 1989, that dream came true when she was offered a position with the US Department of State Foreign Service. During her highly successful 26-year career as a diplomat, Vella served with honor in 13 foreign countries as well as two tours in Washington, DC.