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What are you getting yourself into? 😏
On embracing new levels of discomfort, and where it takes us 🌅
I’ll never forget the bus ride from San José to the town of Puerto Jiménez, on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. It took eight hours to drive 340 kilometres in a school bus with little suspension along winding, often unpaved, roads. Each time we hit a bump (roughly every five seconds) loose equipment in the cargo bay beneath me clanged so loud it reverberated through my body. With my headphones plugged into my iPod (this was 2009), I listened to some familiar tunes as the world floated by. In between bangs in the cargo unit, my thoughts drifted in and out, at times asking the question: What are you getting yourself into?
I was alone in Costa Rica. It was my first time travelling abroad on my own and I had little backpacking experience under my belt prior to that. But in recent years, I had adopted the mindset that my zest for new experiences would trump the doubts and drown out the voice saying, This is not who you are. I was an adventure wannabe, making things up as I went along. I was diving into the unknown with this solo trip – a journey that tested my gumption many, many times (see Chapter 3 of my book).
The bus ride felt endless and when I finally arrived in Puerto Jiménez I was the last person on the bus. As I descended the stairs to the pavement, I noticed it was pitch black and pouring rain. I felt vulnerable and exposed. But even my minimal travel experience had taught me that some degree of preparation was crucial in certain moments. In the last few minutes of the bus ride, I had studied the Lonely Planet guidebook map, by headlamp, so that I could walk without stopping from the bus stop to my hostel. You’re OK, Meghan. You’ve got this. I powerwalked through the darkness and safely arrived at my accommodations, soaking wet from head to toe. As chance would have it, the first people I found were Canadian ex-pats.
That night, I lay on my bed decompressing from the day. Ultimately, I was proud of myself for the courage I had already displayed on this solo adventure. The experience empowered me through the trials that would meet me in the weeks ahead. And it’s because of those trials that I feel it was a trip that really shaped me.
My arrival in Puerto Jiménez was just one of many experiences in my life that pushed me to embrace new levels of discomfort and adventure. I say this for the other apprehensive adventurers out there, the kind who might seem stoked on the outside while questions and doubts rage within. Or perhaps you’re afraid to even step outside your comforts, concerned you’ll look like a fool, wondering if you’ll be biting off more than you can chew. I’ve been there.
It’s important to know our limits. But have we truly stretched ourselves to know where those limits are? Having been at this apprehensive adventuring for nearly two decades now, I believe we can do this in increments by gradually upping the adventure quotient or the degree of unknowns, building one experience upon the other. By tiptoeing to that edge, whether it’s with an outdoor experience, a speaking engagement, or putting my neck out there with new ideas, I’ve had a chance to test my curiosity about myself and see what I’m capable of. Likewise, it’s been important to develop a relationship with my mental chatter and know when to listen and when to ignore the nonsense. I think this kind of discretion is developed through experience.
When I hit the limit, I know it. I’ll feel myself mentally shutting down or even physically freezing in place. I’ll recognize that my energy has been sapped and there’s nothing to fill my battery, or that I’ve reached the “red zone” of overwhelm. Sometimes, surprisingly, I’ll hit new limits that weren’t there before. More recently, for example, I’ve developed vertigo when standing on the edge of a drop (a position my photographer husband has many times requested of me for the purposes of his images). 😏 It didn’t used to bother me; suddenly even when I’m standing safely a metre from the edge I can feel the world spinning. My brain tells me, You are going to fall. He inevitably asks: “Can you get a bit closer?” These days, I find myself saying, “Yes, if I can sit!”
But I think new limits can work both ways. At times they encroach on us, at others they expand us. It’s this potential for growth that gets me excited, but it’s the journey to test those limits that keeps me grounded.
The apprehensive adventurer that landed in Puerto Jiménez on that rainy night is the same person writing to you today. Every day, I do things that scare me, whether it’s climbing a mountain or putting my reputation on the line in my creative work. I don’t do it because I’m comfortable doing it; I push my limits because it makes me uncomfortable. The discomfort is the signal that I’m reaching the edge and gives me a glimpse into what lies beyond.
One thing I know for certain: all the things and experiences that I cherish most in my life have been the result of tiptoeing to that edge. Giving birth to two daughters, a marriage to a very adventurous spirit, building businesses, writing books, backcountry trips, reaching summits and even nurturing relationships that were challenging to me — my life has been greatly enriched when I’ve been brave enough to see what’s possible.
Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the author of Lights to Guide Me Home. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications.
What’s caught my attention lately… ✨
How Review-Bombing Can Tank a Book Before It’s Published in the New York Times (thanks to a fellow writer who gifted this article for others to read). I felt it was important to share about the plight of authors whose works are so negatively affected by reviews. It’s unfortunate that these book platforms even allow reviews by people who have not read a book. It all goes to say, positive reviews go a long way, so if there is a book you’ve enjoyed, consider leaving a review or providing a rating on Goodreads, Amazon or wherever you buy your books.
Check these out too… 🙌
Lights to Guide Me Home: A Journey Off the Beaten Track in Life, Love, Adventure and Parenting - my memoir (reviews welcome on Amazon and Goodreads)
The Wonders That I Find - my children’s book
My Email Newsletter - updates about my books, projects, and 1:1 coaching