Every once in a while, a reader will ask me a really good question that makes me think. A few days ago, Lach asked me one that I hadn’t been asked before:
Why do you do impossible things? The experience? The trophies? Or the new you?
Like I said, it’s a really good question and one I surprisingly haven’t actually addressed here at BIT. After all, I’ve written about why your why is important and about how it will keep you going even when you feel like giving up, but I haven’t actually told you why I’ve set out to do impossible things. That all changes today.
A Short Story
I love travel. It’s right up there with people, culture and sports [if you ask me to play a cultural sport with other people in another country, I might be in heaven]. Back in college, I used to travel a lot and because of the traveling I did, I had a lot of cool stories to tell.
I slept under the Eiffel Tower, I climbed Machu Picchu, and I got offered crack by a man in Peru who claimed he used to be a guitarist for Santana [he wasn't]. I went surfing in Hawaii, climbed a volcano and got within feet of red-hot lava. I spent 3 1/2 months in the Dominican Republic. A few of those days were spent sitting on some nice beaches at an all-inclusive resort, but I also spent over 3 months in very humble housing with 2 amazing Dominican host families [I also got sick from lack of clean water and lost over 20 pounds when I was there - dirty water sucks, help fix it].
When I traveled, I blogged. I blogged to keep my family and friends updated about what I was doing but I also wanted to tell them the stories I experienced. When you’re in a new country, everything is story-worthy. The food, the architecture, the people, even going to the bathroom is a new experience. Whether I was surfing or puking, exploring jungles or sitting in a room not much bigger than my bed, there was always something new happening, something exciting to talk about and some story to tell. I loved it.
Then I came home.
I graduated college.
Life was boring. Everyday was the same. No adventures, no sickness, no beaches, and not even any interesting outhouses. I was apathetic, uninspired and fairly bored with life. Without travel forcing me into new and interesting scenarios every day, I ran out of stories to tell.
Then one day, I read a book…and it wasn’t the Four Hour Work Week.
A Million Miles
I read a book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. It’s a great book and it’s one of the ones I consistently recommend it to anyone who asks. The two sentence synopsis of the book is this:
Your life is a story. Make sure It’s a good one.
I had never thought about my life like that before but it made complete sense in retrospect. The times I was most happy was when I was doing something I was excited about and the times I was excited was when I was telling a great story:
- Sleeping under the Eiffel Tower in Paris
- Getting sick, getting better & getting sick again in the DR
- Coming in 4th place at conference meet in an event I wasn’t even supposed to compete in.
- Hiking a volcano and walking on top of lava.
- Winning a Track & Field National Championship without having a track to practice on.
When I stopped & looked at my life’s story at that point in my life, I realized at that point, I wasn’t telling a good one. I also realized I could do something about it to make it better.
Travel sounded like a good idea, but I had no money [I literally had maybe a hundred dollars in the bank] so I put that on hold and started to think about other things I wanted to do in my life that I could do right now, in my current situation.
One of the first things that came up was to do a triathlon. As soon as I that idea came up, I put that out of my mind — too impossible. The only swimming I had ever done involved swimming to the pool ladder after doing a cannonball off the diving board, I hadn’t been on a bike since high school and I had never ran more than a 5k in my entire life. There was no way I could do all three things in one race, so I put it out of my mind.
Then I got pissed.
I realized I had done this before
- I told myself in high school that I couldn’t do football because I was too skinny
- I told myself for the first two years of college that I couldn’t do track & field because I wasn’t fast enough.
- And now I was telling myself I couldn’t do a triathlon, just because I had never done one before.
That’s when I decided, screw it, I don’t care what it takes, I’m going to do it.
So I decided, about this time last year, that I was going to run a triathlon in 2010. I didn’t know how, why or when, but I was going to do it. I also decided I was going to start a blog. I didn’t know what I was going to write about, but I was going to do it…so I did.
Life on The Edge of Reality
Good stories are told on the edges of reality, and impossible is right on the edge of reality, if not off the map completely. They’re just far enough out there to be a little unbelievable. That’s why we enjoy them. Most possible things in life are in dead-center in reality – that’s why most people settle for the possible – it’s easier. That’s also why a lot of people are unhappy, bored, or just feel like they’re stuck.
I used to be one of those people. It’s not that they’re bad people, it’s just that nobody’s told them they don’t have to be stuck.
You don’t have to settle for the possible things just because other people tell you that you have to. You don’t have to settle for only the possible things just because you tell yourself you have to.
If you don’t like your story, you can change it. You can write yourself a new one. One where you do things worth writing about. Things on the edge of reality. Things that are impossible.
Possible things don’t tend to be very interesting. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but there’s nothing special about them either. People see the possible happen everyday so nobody seems to really care much about reading it. After all, if you’re only attempting things that are considered considered possible, you’re almost expected to accomplish them.
Impossible things are different. When you do something that people assume is impossible, people pay attention.
What’s Really Impossible?
Here’s a secret: There are a lot more things that are assumed impossible than there are things that are actually impossible.
100 years ago
- Putting a man on the moon was crazy.
- Flying was something birds did.
- Everyone in the world being connected by an invisible “waves” sounded like witchcraft.
When people talk about something being impossible, I feel like we should just add the two words “for now” after it, because if we can learn anything from history at all, it’s that we’re pretty bad judges when it comes to determining what is and is not possible.
The fun part about doing the impossible, is that the more impossible something seems, the less people actually attempt it. The number of people who accomplish it is actually even smaller! Of course, all this does Is make your story stand out all that much more when you actually do set out to make something impossible happen.
Of course you’ll have the people who will sit on the sidelines and tell you that it can’t be done. The irony here is that while those people are busy telling you something is impossible, they’re actually making it easier for you to succeed doing it [by opting themselves out and making the competition less fierce]
So, Lach, here’s the answer to your question. The reason I go out and do impossible things is because I want to tell a good story. I want to live a life worth writing about, by doing things at the edge of reality…things that by most people standards, aren’t possible.
That’s why I do impossible things. Why do you do what you do?
Here are some other great resources on how to tell a great story:
A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller. This is the book I was talking about. You can get it for less than $14 on Amazon and it’s worth every penny. Fair warning: the book does have a religious slant to it. I’m a strong proponent of reading as many good thinkers as I can whether I agree or disagree with them [in fact, sometimes I learn the most from the people I disagree with]. If that’s not something you’re interested in, that’s your call. Whatever your religious affiliation, I think you’ll get something out of it. If you’re still on the fence, Chris Brogan gives a solid review of it here.
The Jonathan Fields & Robert McKee Story Sessions. Jonathan recently did a 5 part series on storytelling. Robert McKee is the world’s foremost expert on storytelling and was actually one of people who inspired Don to write the A Million Miles. If you want to learn about storytelling, this is good stuff.
If this post helps you tell a better story with your life, tell a friend [it's the best way to hold yourself accountable to actually do something] and share this post with them in whatever way you like. Imagine if everyone tried to do something impossible and tell a great story with their life. What would happen?