Imagine you’re at a gathering with friends. The mood is light and lively. Adult beverages and tasty snacks abound. Each person tells stories that elicit sighs, laughs, or both. Anecdotes about the time they drifted out to sea on a float, survived an avalanche, drove a riding lawnmower into a canal, or accidentally blew up their work shed. Perhaps it’s the story about completing a marathon is most enthralling.
Now it’s your turn. Which stories will you tell?
Now imagine that you’re in a hospital bed dealing with stage four cancer. You take stock of your life and spend time with friends and family. Once the talk moves past treatment plans and prognosis, you recall and share the experiences that made you feel alive. Which stories will you remember?
Although these two situations couldn’t be more different, I believe we’d share some of the same stories. We love tales with twists, near misses, triumphs, conflicts, and flawed but determined heroes—in fiction and real life. Whether we’re chatting it up at a family reunion, reconnecting with a friend, or navigating a mid-life crisis, the anecdotes we share are often those where things went seriously sideways. The times we nearly failed or did something we didn’t know was possible. We triumphed, or quasi-triumphed, through grit and a healthy dose of devil-may-care attitude. We played full out.
I’ve participated in lively gatherings and faced serious health troubles and noticed how stories affected my engagement and which tales pulled others in. In early 2020, these observations went KABOOM in my mind and I realized, for the first time in a palpable way, that our misadventures fuel fulfillment and contribution as much as, or more than, trouble-free experiences. Run of the mill successes are important but unremarkable. We don’t boast about the time we saved money for a year and bought a new Honda Accord. It’s the time we snuck into the monks’ hot springs that we brag about!
While this epiphany was fascinating and welcome, something else was brewing. Then I asked myself a simple but transformative question. How should this realization affect how I live?
These are the opening words of an essay collection I'm working on called, Far From Ordinary.
This epiphany is real, and something that is both haunting and shaping my actions. I fear that I've been living far too ordinarily for my spirit to thrive. And I am fueled by the notion that I know how to shake things up.