When I walked the length of the Amazon River I was 33. For some reason, when I told people this in Peru, they would say, “Oh, the age of Christ when he died on the cross.” I would snap back, somewhat intolerantly, “Yes – a great age to die.” Actually, it was a great age to live.
Back in my early 30s I was single and had no kids. This made me independent and free to make choices without having to consider anybody else. That felt indulgently good – like a hot bath with a good book and a glass of red wine. Combine that with a new confidence, germinating out of life experiences I just didn’t have in my 20s, and I had a powerful combination for the makings of the most exciting decade of my life.
On my 30th birthday, I wasn’t an explorer
On my 30th birthday I wasn’t an explorer. I wouldn’t have had the balls to call myself one, even if it were slightly true. I turned 30 in the role of a country manager of gap-year expeditions in Argentine Patagonia. I would bang on about the cool trips we led but, more often than not, the truth was that I was sitting in front of a computer organising stuff for other people.
Day-to-day, I dealt with complaints about food and the sustainability of the environmental projects we were supporting. I became restless – this surely wasn’t the culmination of a life of adventure, was it?
I wanted to tear up this mundane life. I wanted adventure
I had a conflicting internal dialogue. Voice A would say, “I should be happy. I’m free of the discipline and seriousness of the Army. I’m in charge of a little team in Argentina and we’re doing meaningful work.” However, Voice B would say, “I don’t really care about condors, reporting to my boss is just frustrating, and I want to tear up this mundane life and scream “Bo**ocks!” at the top of my voice. I want some adventure.”
That last bit seemed odd but it was true. I started “acting up”. I was almost fired for sending an email to the other country managers pretending to be my boss and mimicking his erratic ALL CAPS writing-style and unreasonable requests. I began drinking more and staying out later in the hope of finding excitement somewhere.
I decided to walk the entire length of the Amazon River
As if out of boredom, I was glibly playing around with a self-destruct button. I felt like there had to be a more exciting life but I wasn’t self-aware enough to understand what that was and what I needed.
The catalyst was two events that I won’t describe here. Events that disgraced me. Events that made people mention me in concerned whispers. Shameful events that had aftermaths and made me want to crawl into a hole and die.
Yet, out of the depths of despair, came an idea to escape. To flee the judgemental stares and the condescending advice. To go somewhere where no one would find me. To put myself almost deliberately in harms way for a very long time. So, I decided to try and walk the entire length of the Amazon River.
This was my two-fingered salute at the world
As I mentioned, I was 33. By the time I finished I was 35. And, from a personal development perspective, those were the two most valuable years of my life. Did I do it for personal development? Did I f*ck. This was my two-fingered salute at the world, “Damn you, with your boring lives, I’m going to do something dangerous and I don’t give a sh*t what you say about it.”
I don’t swear needlessly anymore, but it reflects an Ed that I want to paint large. So many of us walk around with this burden of needing to conform, to fit in, to tow the line… For me, it was only by petulantly taking all of my toys and throwing them into the fire that, I realized, some people aren’t meant to conform.
I was learning what I wanted in life
Hard as it was, I eventually thrived in my new world. For the first time ever, I was doing things just for me. I began to recognize my own character for the first time. By casting myself into a massive adventure, I was actually learning who I was. I’m not talking about going to Goa, taking acid and “finding myself” whilst hallucinating. I mean I was learning what I stood for, what I agreed with and what I wanted in life.
There’s often an odd misconception that you should have learned your lessons and be grown up by the time you are, say, 28. But, in today’s crazy connected world, with tons of conflicting information streamed into our frazzled heads, that doesn’t always happen. As the incredible book A Road Less Traveled opens, “Life is difficult.”
You may be drowning under layers of societal “shoulds”.
My recommendation to anyone in their 30s and to whom this is even slightly resonating? Press self-destruct. The crutches in your life that you think are keeping you safe are actually the chains that are imprisoning your true self.
Do you grin widely at life and feel energy cursing through your veins? Do you get overwhelmed with joy and feel like the luckiest person to be alive? If not, I suggest that you may be drowning under layers of societal “shoulds”.
Take the road less safe every time
I should really keep this job as the salary is good and its quite close to home. I should be happy with this partner as they tick all the boxes and my dad likes them. I should try and lose weight so that I look more attractive. I should stay at home as mum’s not going to be around forever.
Honestly, this is the decade to cut these cords. To allow yourself to fall apart, in order to put yourself back together in a unique and amazing way. Is that scary? Fantastic – it should be. Take the road less safe every time and hold your own hand through it.
I’m happy now because my 30s weren’t conventional
You’re old enough and ugly enough to walk your walk now. Your 30s are your opportunity to travel, to seek adventure and to grow into yourself. To an extent the boring stuff (mortgages, pensions, marriage) can wait until you’ve started to put yourself first.
I’ll finish by noting that, despite what you may think from reading the above, I’m not an anarchist. In fact, I’m now 46 and live in a conventional house with a mortgage, wife and three children. I still go on adventures and so does my wife. But, I believe the reason I’m happy, and at peace, is because my 30s weren’t conventional. Not even slightly.
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Images: ©Chris Bethell & Ed Stafford