Apathetic Living and the Edges of Reality

Edges of Reality

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.

And nothing…

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.


Impossible

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?

Update: Some people have asked about my travel stories – you can see photographic proof of them in my flickr steam.

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.

The McKee-Fields Story Sessons: Pt. 1Pt. 2Pt. 3Pt. 4Pt. 5

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?

[Photo Credit]

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Comments

  1. says

    This really resonates with me. So many times in life we are told that we can’t do things, for whatever reason. I think Steve Kamb just wrote about the same thing. Why NOT? Why not me?

    You can do anything you put your mind and hard work to.

    For me, the best motivation is to live a life that I am proud of, to where I will never look back and say “i wish i would have done….” and reminisce on passed opportunities.

  2. says

    It’s amazing Joel how our nature is to doubt ourselves, even though we’ve accomplished so much or achieved what was once impossible.

    I’m stoke that we have you around constantly pushing the envelope and motivating me, personally, to do more!

    Have a wicked Christmas!

    Eric

  3. Kurt Swann says

    Joel,

    Great post and thanks for the book recommendation. I notice the more I do things on “edge of reality” the bigger the reality circle gets. And next time the stories will be even better . . . life is good!

    Kurt

  4. says

    Thanks Joel, I appreciate an eye-opening post like this. I once heard the “Your life is a story. Make sure It’s a good one” advice and sought out to do just that. Then somewhere along the way, things got boring, I got complacent.

    It is cool to see the spice you added back to your life after you graduated college when you say things got boring. Really motivating; great post before 2011! “Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around”

    Cheers
    Kevin

  5. says

    Joel,

    This is an amazing and brutally honest post that I throughly enjoyed. At times, I’ve been where you were before. I was doing the daily corporate grind, bored to tears, and basically living for the weekends. Then it dawned on me that I was literally wasting 5/7th of my life away (and sometimes the whole 7/7th if I had to work on the weekend). It just had to stop so I decided to focus on doing the things that mattered the most to me such as traveling, writing, volunteering, etc. Life has been much better since.

    It’s great to see that the things that drives you to do the impossible are also some of what drives me to make a change in my life – to live a more fulfilling life. I’m also glad you mentioned “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”. I’ve read and re-read that book many times over. It’s one of my favorites. The book forces you to look at life in a whole new way. It makes you drop the bs excuses and take responsibility for your own actions. One of my favorite part was when Miller asked a fellow biker why he was on the bike tour and the guy said that he quit his marriage and his children and everything in his life before but he just wanted to finish something in order to prove to himself that he’s not a quitter. Talk about the book being motivational and heart breaking at the same time.

    One thing I wrestle with, however, is that no matter how much I do the things that makes my life more fulfilling, that in itself is not enough. I think a truly well lived life is one that is personally fulfilling and socially impactful at the same time. One without the other is meaningless to me. What are your thoughts? Do you think that living a fulfilling life should be its own end game or do you think that life is about making an impact on others in a way that is also personally fulfilling to you as well? In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to choose. I find this issue coming up more and more as I start crossing things off my bucket list.

    Can’t wait to read more!

    -Stella

    • says

      Stella, thanks for the comment :). Glad you enjoyed A Million MIles as much as I did.

      I’ll be hitting on this as a little more in the future, but I think I talked a little about it in this post – How To Really Write About Stuff That Matters. I think doing stuff you enjoy is great and meaningful, but I also think stacking up accomplishments for the sake of stacking up accomplishments ends up being very similar to just going through routines for the sake of going through routines. I think you definitely need to make an effort to impact others [that's why I purposely put some things at the top of my list]. Hope that answers your question…if not. Stay tuned…there’s more to come.

  6. says

    Joel,

    This is one of the best posts you have written in a while, no offense. Here is why: I think that many of the people that read your blog have done some awesome and pretty impossible things before the age of 25 and then miss the feeling. Just like you talked about. Your connection with me and, I think, many others was remarkable in this post.

    Okay, that being said, here is my interaction on your post. I have been able to do some amazing things, from living in the wilderness for months and visiting just under 50 countries so far to war and much more. This has been a struggle for me. I actually started a blog as part of this because I was scared of it an thought it impossible.

    It seems that a great deal of what we consider impossible can be accomplished with a little bit of knowledge. I love following your blog and am so connected with you in stuff like this it is not even funny.

    I am excited about some of the impossible things that are coming for me in 2011. I am interested though if you are going to list your impossible goals that might be around the corner for 2011. Would you be willing to share?

    Thanks again Joel, for all your work.

  7. says

    As Timothy Morris comments, “many of the people that read your blog have done some awesome and pretty impossible things before the age of 25.” That’s cool, and I’m happy for them, but sometimes it starts to feel like, if we HAVEN’T done “impossible things” at a young age, we don’t belong here. There are certain posts or discussion threads which make this start to seem like “Logan’s Run.” Anyone over 30 may as well leave.

    Maybe “old people” aren’t your target demographic, maybe “geezer stories” don’t “sell” (or attract traffic or whatever the internet jargon is), but here’s an article idea I’d love to hear your take on, if you know of any stories: older people (50s, 60s, 70s) who do NOT have a background in “adventure” or “awesomeness” who take up “impossible quests” at a later age with no previous excitement in their backgrounds. Does that ever happen? I don’t want to hear about the guy who’s been “sailing since he was a kid” or whatever and decided to chuck the office and sail around the world. I want to read about a guy who has never been on a boat in his life who quits the lower-middle class rut and sails to Tahiti. Are there any stories like that? In your “impossible” adventures and among your questing cohort, do you ever encounter people who, rather than trying to recapture the adventure of their youth, are out to experience sleeping under the Eiffel Tower or puking in a foreign country for the first time at twice the age of the examples you usually cite?

    Long-winded comment, sorry. In short, do you have any “impossible things” stories to tell about people OLDER than twenty-five?

    (I see my local library system has “A Million Miles…”, so I’ll be reading it soon! Thanx for the suggestion!

    • says

      That’s a great idea Dave. I will be profiling different impossible doers [impossiblists?] in the coming year and I’ll see what I can do :). If you read AMM, let me know what you think!

  8. says

    I really enjoyed this post especially how you held yourself down in the past (I’ve done that so many times: I’m not a good enough singer to be in a choir, etc.) and the point that 100 years ago putting a man on the moon was crazy. I’m currently working on a few of my personal impossible things: starting a personal blog and selling my handmade goods on etsy. It’s a baby step right now, but I’m learning as I go and creating larger, more impossible goals.

    I’ve heard about A Million Miles In A Thousand Years before but never really looked into it. I’m looking forward to reading it now. Thanks for the great info, personal story, and recommendations!

    • says

      Big goals start with lots [and lots] of small steps. It’s important where you start, but it’s more important that you start. If you check out AMM, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

  9. Megan Hafer says

    JOEL!
    James just posted this on my wall because I’ve been kind of down lately thinking about what life will be like when I finish school in May. You’re such a great writer! I guess I’d never really thought of my life as a story. I know I want to do things out of the ordinary and uncomfortable because that’s how you can make yourself grow. I really enjoyed reading this and you’ve really inspired me more than you know. Keep up what you’re doing-it’s awesome!!! Hopefully we’ll see you over break.
    Take care!
    Megan Hafer

  10. says

    Joel, seriously…one of the best things I’ve read in a long while and I’m not just saying that because you are my EBT either!

    So, what is the next impossible thing for Mr. Runyon?

  11. says

    “Your life is a story. Make sure It’s a good one.” << Love it, dude! Your writing has always brought me loads of inspiration, and this post is certainly no different. Kudos to you for making the decision to lead a storyworthy life. And thanks for sharing that story with the rest of us. Happy Holidays, Joel!

  12. says

    Hi Joel!
    Just discovered your blog today and this was a great post to start with! Very inspiring and well written.
    My life was good…but I wanted more so I chucked it all 4 years ago to travel around the world. Best damn thing I ever did! You are so right about travel bringing stories and excitement to every day. That near constant adrenaline rush is addictive.
    I’m check out that book.
    Rock on…
    Lisa

  13. says

    great post Joel! Thanks for the resources and I particularly enjoyed your diagram! I’ve stopped blogging since I moved home in September, just because I feel I have nothing really great to write about. Even though I’ve got some great stories behind me, I’m at risk of repeating them to the extent that I sound like my Grandad over the Christmas dinner table :0

    It seems like you have a great outlook on life and I’m sure you’ve got decades of amazing stories ahead of you thinking like this.

    As a side note, the question “why?” is useful because you find out reasons for things. If you repeatedly ask “for what purpose?” about what you do you can get some pretty interesting insights on your motivation. e.g.

    For what purpose tell amazing stories?
    For what purpose (answer to previous question)?
    and so on…

    Happy Christmas buddy!

  14. says

    So many thoughts on this one. I feel like I have an amazing story on the macro level. Things have been suffering on the micro level…
    1. I have what I thought would be my dream job and its not what I expected it to be at all. Part of me wants to move on and part of me wants to prove that I can make things work (it is a challenging position occasionally in some ways).
    2. I’m a rock climber and I haven’t been climbing in probably 8 months
    3. I love the beach and yet about half way through summer realized, OMG its summer I’d better get to the each after work b/c that’s the only way its going to happen.

    I feel like these things are part of my identity and I rely on that too much to tell my story. Maybe my “edge of reality” is much further out and my stories are only good or on the edge to other people. I was at at conference where one of the optional things was to belay yourself off of a building. Then they filmed people’s reactions after and when watching it seemed like people had overcome so much to take that first step off the top of the building. I thought… really? That’s it? Although I can think back to the rush I’ve felt when belaying off of something where you’re worried about your footing and that makes it hard to lean back and trust the rope.

    I also have very high expectations and a tendency not to celebrate my successes or experiences.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kelly! It’s important not to discount something just because you’re good at it. Sure, belaying off a building doesn’t seem like much to you, but to someone else it’s completely IMPOSSIBLE. Rock climbing is sweet. If you love it, do more of it. I’ll be talking a little more about putting goals you’ve accomplished into perspective, so stick around and we can tackle in an upcoming post :).

  15. says

    Joel,

    I can confidently say this is the best thing I’ve read in the Blogosphere all week and I read A LOT of things in the blogosphere. It’s funny because I was reading this in my bed this morning from my iphone, half asleep and I clicked on the twitter link. As I browsed through it I couldn’t help but find myself nodding with every point and then I though to myself “man I wish this guy was my friend in college” hehe. I hope you’ll consider a trip out to Cali for some surfing. I’m also going to buy that book. Congrats on what is probably going to be your first big tipping point as a blogger.

    -SRini

    • says

      Srini, I saw your Facebook recommendation and came here to check out the post. TY TY TY~!!

      Joel, really incredible post. I know, kinda lame, but I don’t know what else to say. This blew me away.

      I go around all the time talking about “everything being possible” and I believe this, as you do. But your spin on the word “impossible” has actually transformed the meaning for me from something negative and to be avoided to one of “inspiring” and “challenging” and “rewarding.”

      As a self-proclaimed wordsmith, this was a real a-ha moment for me (OK I do not like that phrase but I’m too lazy to think of another atm.)

      Thanks to you both, Srini and Joel, and Happy Happy Merry Merry!

      Jenny

    • says

      Thanks man :) I’m glad so many people seem to be able to relate to it

      I’m definitely going to make it out to Cali at some point. It needs to happen. Thanks for being part of the story. Let me know what you think of the book – I hope you like it.

  16. says

    Great post, Joel! I love your perspective! I just discovered your blog the other day, and I’m looking forward to reading about your adventures! I kept a travel blog when I was traveling in London and Scotland two years ago, and I’ve been searching ever since to find out how I can make my writing as joyful and vibrant as it was when I was caught up in the novelty that is whirlwind travel. As you are proving, there are stories everywhere and we must not let them go to waste. You have found the key, my friend! Kudos to you!

  17. says

    oh wow this really inspired me! thank you so much :)i really should stop wishing and start doing something. i do want to make my life a good story but i have to take those first steps. i think it was a Chinese proverb that says “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” i am putting this page in favorites too :) its a good reminder for me to go toward my dreams however impossible they may seem.

  18. Rachel says

    Great, great, great post. And all-around terrific blog. I’m doing my best to transform my own life into a story worth telling. Thanks so much for the inspiration – I will be checking back for more!

  19. says

    So I realize I’m late to this party, but this post was great. I love the idea of living on the edge of reality. I also loved this part:

    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.

    Well said.

  20. says

    This has really resonated with me. I have had an itch to follow a dream, and I just can’t quite shake it… Following through means big change for me career wise, big risks, less cash, etc. But we only get this one life to live, and I want it to be a good one. I don’t know how I can make it happen, but I know I have to try. I want to live my truth, and “be the change”, professionally too. Thanks for the push!!

  21. Kapila De Silva says

    Why don’t you come to my country ( Sri Lanka) you will have a superb experience about life. if you want to come be friend with me and mail me and know me then i will arrange beautiful tour for you. tc

    Kapila

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Reader Kurt had a great comment on the post earlier this week, “I notice the more I do things on “edge of reality” the bigger the reality circle gets.” That’s both a good and bad thing. Every year, what’s “impossible” means something new and every year there’s a whole new list of impossible things I’ve accomplished, but also a whole new list of impossible things still out there. [...]

  2. [...] Apathetic Living and the Edges of Reality “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.” ~Joel Runyon at Blog of Impossible Things [...]

  3. [...] Good stories don’t happen in a vacuum and the best stories have a lot of ups and downs. Not everything is happy-happy-joy-joy all the time and the people you read about, look up to and do amazing things aren’t some other type of entity that are incapable of failing. They’re not superhuman and neither am I. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m very much human [which is total crap, because I'm even wearing my Nerd Fitness shirt in the video]. [...]

  4. [...] If you’re not doing interesting things offline, you’ll struggle writing interesting things online. The more interesting things you do, the more people want to read about you. If you live an interesting story with your life, you won’t have a problem writing it down. So do something interesting…then write about it. Need help making your life interesting? This post by Fabian Kruse  might help. You can also read my story about living life on the edges of reality. [...]

  5. [...] of a few people, it’s still a worthwhile legacy.  In a recent post Joel Runyon described the power of creating a compelling story. If you looked at your blog from the 5 year perspective, I think you’ll be less attached to the [...]

  6. [...] bucket list is focused on making your life as great as possible. The impossible list is focused on telling as good of a story as possible. Sure that involves doing some great things to enrich your own life, but it also involves actively [...]

  7. […] Reader Kurt had a great comment on the post earlier this week, “I notice the more I do things on “edge of reality” the bigger the reality circle gets.” That’s both a good and bad thing. Every year, what’s “impossible” means something new and every year there’s a whole new list of impossible things I’ve accomplished, but also a whole new list of impossible things still out there. […]

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