In the four months I’ve been interviewing some of the world’s top performers for the Off the Ropes Podcast, I have identified a commonality between each guest. Whether they’re a round-the-world cyclist, mountaineer, BASE jumper, endurance runner or serial adventurer, they are all seeking something. They have an itch to scratch; an unending quest; a pot of gold to retrieve from the end of the rainbow. Except, there is obviously no such thing. There’s the challenge, a point to prove, an answer to be found, a wound to heal, but afterwards? There is usually a void; thoughts of ‘What now?’ rush to fill the vacuum. Depression often ensues. The solution? Embark on the next life-affirming adventure. Maybe the answers, absolution, resolution, peace and contentment will be found on the next trip. But will they ever find what they are looking for?
And they are not alone in their pursuit of…..of what? What is it precisely that they seek? And aren’t we all searching for something more from our lives? Even if we’re unable to pinpoint exactly what it is that we’re looking for. How many times have you wondered: ‘Is this it? Is there more out there for me?’
Typically – and, this post is a huge generalisation – such introspection peaks in our 30s-40s. Before then, we’re far too preoccupied with status, success and the ever-increasing acquisition of ‘stuff’ – nicer clothes, smarter car, a bigger house. We leave college, go to university and then climb aboard the bottom rung of the career ladder alongside everyone else who hasn’t yet questioned what the hell they’re doing there. After all, our parents think the graduate trainee scheme for a large supermarket chain will be a ‘job for life’ and after four years of extending our overdraft, we’re overjoyed just to receive a regular pay cheque. The inevitable and nagging desire to question our purpose in life hasn’t yet taken up residence in our brain. But it will come.
Why Am I Here?
Ater a few years of the monotonous 9 – 5; of comfort and routine; of being cooped up like a battery-farmed chicken, life begins to stagnate. The new clothes don’t really bring a great sense of joy, the latest model of car no longer excites, and the last few days of the much awaited yearly holiday is overtaken with dread and thoughts of, ‘What do I really want to do with my life’ & then BOOM, we’re bungee jumping just to feel alive!
So what exactly is missing? Why are we not content with our life of privilege and comfort (and when I say privilege, I mean most of us have a comfortable home, clothes to wear and enough food to eat)? Why do we seek more?
The answer to this question is as complex and potentially contentious as questioning whether the Big Bang, God or ALF created the universe. However, I have a theory to share. I believe our perpetual search is for purpose, (underlined to really bring home the point), or to understand why we are here for our short three scores and ten. Deep down, we know that we weren’t created purely to live in a box, drive to work in a box, and spend our eight working hours inside a claustrophobic box; let out at the weekend for one day of fun. Sunday doesn’t count, as it’s usually full of dread for the pointless week ahead. Many of us have tried that (or are trying) and we know it’s utterly meaningless, unless you’re one of the few who actually make an impactful and genuine difference to the harmony, safety and wellbeing of the planet. Most jobs and businesses exist purely to make profit, adhering to the ethically-redundant philosophy of ‘greed is good’, or ‘money makes you happy’. Does your job have soul and purpose? What have you done today to make a contribution to the well-being of the world? If your answer is ‘nope’ and ‘nowt’, I’m guessing you’ve repeatedly pondered what you’re doing with your life.
For me, I believe our purpose is to help others. Whether this means becoming the best, most supportive, loving parent or friend you can be; rescuing birds with broken wings, or building orphanages in sub-Saharan Africa. Whatever or whomever you help is not really the point. Your humanity is not measured by the size of your charity. But, I feel, that the soulfully fulfilling box would be well and truly ticked, if we stopped focusing on ourselves; our own needs, gains and desires, and looked externally; to see how we can make an impact on the world.
So, cycle up Everest, walk a tight-rope on the Moon, or pongo across the Bolivian salt flats, but do it for a purpose greater than your own enjoyment and accomplishment. If you’ve not made a difference to anyone else’s life except your own, I doubt your epic adventure is going to leave you feeling fulfilled. Unless, of course, you’ve achieved all these things, AND raised millions of pounds, AND discovered a cure for cancer, and yet, you still feel empty. Hmm, I’d give religion a go. That could fill your hole.
What do you think? Are you missing something in life? Or searching for something you’re unable to put your finger on? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Ps.To hear how some of the world’s most inspiring, pioneering and adventurous individuals got their lives ‘off the ropes’ listen-in to the Off the Ropes Podcast, from 8pm BST, every Friday, or via iTunes and Stitcher.