Losing My Sense of Adventure

Lauren: I know I left it around here somewhere

When I think about my early twenties, the memories are framed against a backdrop of constant excitement. I woke up in a new city of my choosing every week in Europe, took a job as a carny in Australia, and flew to Egypt for a couple of days because why not? I believed that I could do anything, be anything, and I took that feeling with me everywhere I went. There was a very vivid knowledge that my whole life was stretched out in front of me, and I could mold it in whatever way I chose.

Remembering those years, I sense a feeling, a smell, a memory of something just out of my grasp. I can never put my finger on it, but the memories are distinct in their vagueness. It’s the way that a whiff of Clinique Happy still sends me straight to Paris, the watery taste of Coors Light to Indiana University, and the sound of squealing brakes to the train stations of India. Those bursts of recollection are still in me, but the sense of adventure that created the experiences seems to have wandered off.

I first suspected that I was losing my sense of adventure when I was no longer pumped about going to the airport. I used to love it; I’d wait patiently in line to check in, occupying my thoughts with what food they’d serve or what the in-flight movie would be. I ate everything on my neatly partitioned tray and didn’t mind that I couldn’t quite hear the film, because I was on an adventure (and cake is cake, even when it comes as a cellophane-wrapped square of brown icing). Now I’m bummed if I don’t have a personal seatback monitor with a working remote; sometimes I don’t even eat the perfunctory bread roll.

Somewhere along the way, I allowed myself to slip into autopilot. Jared and I put travel on hold, rationalizing that we wanted to take some time out to get organized: jobs, wedding, house. This year has been earmarked for building a foundation. In theory, what we do now will allow us more flexibility in the future. Staying put doesn’t mean getting stuck, I told myself, but getting ahead. Keeping with this theme, I took on every freelance opportunity that came my way, plus a part-time job vaguely related to writing. I was working too much, but it was only temporary. On the surface, it seemed like I was heading in the right direction, but I knew that something was missing. Something small, but vital, like I’d made a batch of chocolate cookies and forgotten to add the chocolate chips.

It wasn’t the lack of travel that niggled at me, but the fact that my mind had gone dull. Adventure, for me, is rooted in creativity. It’s the freedom to explore both your internal mind and the external world, then attempt to braid them together in a way that makes sense. It is the crucial ingredient that makes me tick, that keeps me balanced. When my creative side isn’t given room to breathe, the edges of life become blurry. The trouble is, I don’t always notice that it’s happening until I hit a crisis point.

One morning in late June, I was reading my emails over a bowl of oatmeal. Jared was asking me a question about dinner as I scanned an email from my mom while actually calculating how many minutes I had before I absolutely had to get on my bike and ride to my office job. Suddenly, something snapped; I burst into tears and Jared froze, trying to figure out if it was something he’d said. I don’t remember what it was, exactly, that set me off, only that I had finally realized that there was too much busy going on and not enough fun.

The next day we booked flights to Melbourne, something we’d been talking about doing for months. The act of buying a plane ticket shook me awake, reminding me to nurture my creative side. I picked up a stack of new books and bought a puzzle. I applied for a new job that combined education and travel, landing an interview for the Friday morning of our trip. Instead of angling to say what I thought my interviewers wanted to hear, I told them what I wanted out of the job. “I’m not sure how it went,” I told Jared, “but I’m glad I tried.” We boarded the plane and I found myself eagerly pressing my face to the window, trying to trace the landscape beneath me. It felt familiar, the feeling of anticipation for something new. It felt pretty darn good.

The following week, much to my surprise, I was offered the job. I cut back on my freelance commitments. I went for a beer after work, Skyped my mom, worked on my puzzle. Our rapidly advancing wedding looks like a party I can’t wait to attend, instead of an obligation I can’t wait to stop planning. (Even though I will not miss one single thing about planning a destination wedding.) As I make room for balance in my life, I have found my misplaced sense of adventure—waiting patiently, right where I’d left it.

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  • cschell

    Wow, thank you for this. It’s just what I needed this morning. I’m a recent IU graduate who is trying to find the next adventure to go on while working a job simply for the money. I felt a similar way last night when I submitted a resume to a dream job in San Francisco. Little things like that help me keep my sense of adventure even when the day to day seems stagnant. ( and I drink Angry Orchard, that reminds me of IU) Your article is a true inspiration!

  • Amy March

    Woah! Did you guys change a setting? Reading this on an iPhone and the font size of the comments is finally large enough to read without squinting. Massive improvement.

    • Ellenga

      I cannot express how happy I am about the new font size/layout!
      I hated having to switch to a computer to get my APW fix.

  • Jen

    This was inspiring to read! Onto new adventures!

  • River

    Lauren, thank you for this beautiful post. This line rang especially true for me:

    “When my creative side isn’t given room to breathe, the edges of life become blurry. The trouble is, I don’t always notice that it’s happening until I hit a crisis point.”

    That sensation of the edges of life becoming blurry always happens for me if I go too long between shows. And usually, I hit a crisis point before I realize it. Being a young, indebted actor is like walking a tight rope. I have to do work in my field to feed my soul, improve my resume, and grow as an artist – but since I am not yet well established, I also need to take on other work to pay the bills.

    Thank you for reminding me to look for adventure ;-) I needed that today.

  • Bets

    Thank you for this! I was similarly nomadic in my twenties, and am only just starting to come to terms with “staying put but not getting stuck.” It’s really helpful to read about it from your perspective.

  • Sara

    I have this feeling constantly, the settling down but not stuck anxiety. The truth for me is that I might actually be stuck. At some point, I got scared of change and I’m not sure what happened. But my heart longs to be on adventures and seeing the world. I live in Chicago, so I try to make do with exploring new areas of the city. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just makes me a sadder that I have no stamps in my renewed passport yet.

  • kcaudad

    Thanks to Lisa Diederich Photography for letting APW use this photo of the girl spinning in her dress. I have a similar picture of my neice spinning in her flower girl dress. Such a beautiful image that brings back memories of the kiddos dancing the night away! (I’ll have to read the full article and comment more later…)

    • Awe, what a lovely comment @kcaudad! Sorry I am only seeing it just now, a month later! The image of your niece sounds absolutely precious and the reception sounds like a blast!

  • I really needed this: “Instead of angling to say what I thought my interviewers wanted to hear, I told them what I wanted out of the job.”

    I have a tough time trying to please myself–I tend to try to appease others first. The next time I’m looking for a job (or negotiating anything, really), I’m going to try to keep this mind. Thanks, Lauren.

  • Erin E

    I feel like “staying put without getting stuck” is one of the big challenges of growing up. When your thinking starts to change from short term (should I renew my lease here?) to long term (is this the right neighborhood to buy a house in?), there are suddenly new obligations that lend themselves more to the “stability” and “regular income” side of life than the “adventure!” side. It’s really hard to combine the two… I struggle with this as well.

  • This was a great read!

    I love to travel but have been moving into short vacations (weeks) as opposed to long trips (months). My job is very stable (but not my dream job, or even in the same industry) and I’ve been flipping back on forth on whether or not I’m okay with progressing in a career that maybe doesn’t fill me with bursting joy everyday but allows me the time and financial stability to do things that do outside of work.

    Right now I feel like I’m doing a lot of “setting up” for the next phase. hm.

  • I am so jealous of your relationship to airplanes. Reading how calm and dare I say excited you are about flying….wow, that’s amazing and I envy you!

  • MC

    Fiance just accepted a new job, and starts next week. It’s a little less pay, but way more up his alley, and it definitely feels like an adventure to us – moving a little more slowly and intentionally through life, trying to find things that will feel exciting to us in the short and long-term. And we also do puzzles when we’re tired of heading straight to the computer for entertainment :) Congrats!

  • Caitlin_DD

    Excellent piece! I’m very similar to you, so I can relate to all of this. Having recently returned from our year long adventure, we’re slowly (slowly) working on having some semblance of settled. I know I want a little break, but still, some days the lighting reminds me of Hong Kong, or the smell of hot rain reminds me of my home in Shanghai. This is a good reminder to find other forms of adventure… something that can be easy to miss.

  • Georgina

    Thanks Lauren. I too feel like I’m on the treadmill and last week I said to my husband “where has the joy gone? ” I’m consciously trying to recapture that sense of adventure, starting with a surprise date at a trampoline park tonight.

  • Anne

    This was a great post. I related to almost everything! I’ve spent most of my twenties living in Europe and am returning to Australia in 3 months…. I’m concerned and nervous about swapping my every-day life here of travel and adventure into “ordinary”…. but will do my best to maintain some of the magic!

  • Kari

    See, trips to Melbourne fix everything.

  • Jco

    Maybe this should be titled “stuff white privledged people have time to contemplate and complain about.”

    • KayDeee

      Word. If only everyone had the time off and the means to jump on a plane every time they were feeling blue. A Practical Wedding has become anything but, instead of useful information it’s a dumping ground for more privileged navel-gazing than I can stomach anymore. Time to check out.

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  • “Adventure, for me, is rooted in creativity. It’s the freedom to explore both your internal mind and the external world, then attempt to braid them together in a way that makes sense. ”

    So much! This is a perfect explanation to me. And I think adventure doesn’t always need to happen thousands of miles away; it can be a local day trip or a weekend away. Some that’s just enough to give your mind a break and your eyes a new a point of view.