Adventure can, of course, be experienced in many different ways. However, a universal component of adventure is uncertainty of outcome. Many of us, myself included, often find that concept uncomfortable. Engaging in any activity in which the outcome is uncertain requires taking risk, which again is something that most of us would quite naturally prefer to avoid if possible. So, why seek out adventure in our lives? Because as Christopher Barnes, founder of the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colorado said, “Success without the legitimate potential for failure is not legitimate.” What follows is an attempt to understand what he could have meant by that.
Most of us in the Merrie-Woode community are able to live a life that is relatively stress free. Sure there is the ever-present hustle of work, school, family, and social engagements – life, that can sometimes put us on our heels and at times send us reeling. But the truth is that most of us have grown quite comfortable with what life in our modern day culture affords us. Instant access to information, social media, climate controlled homes, comfy cars, smart phones, and countless options for what to eat or watch on a flat-screen television are all part of what we now largely consider to be “normal.” If you don’t believe me, the next time you are at the grocery store, count the number of breakfast cereals that are for sale on the shelf and you will start to get a sense of what I mean.
It is for those reasons that I think making a conscious choice to incorporate adventure into our lives has never been more important. My 11th grade history teacher once said, “learning is compelled by discomfort.” At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but I am now inclined to agree. It isn’t until we step outside what we are comfortable with that we are able to gain a new perspective on what we believe possible for ourselves. Most often our culture focuses on the element of risk that is the potential for loss or harm. We think of Evel Knievel and skydiving and other such things and think, “why would anyone do that?” To be clear, this is not what I am advocating for. Risks have to be managed and carefully assessed by both trained facilitators and participants alike, but most importantly risks must be allowed to exist. Rather, what I am advocating for is a balanced emphasis on the element of risk that is the potential for gain. What do we gain when we take risks? We learn to exercise good judgment. We learn vital decision-making skills. We learn to take ownership over the outcome of our choices. We gain the understanding that our choices have consequences that can mean the success or failure of our endeavors. We learn how to succeed with grace and fail with dignity. We learn that most of the time, what we might have perceived as an insurmountable obstacle really isn’t anything all that terrible.
In my experience thus far, I have found that summer camp and adventure in the outdoors is one of the most impactful and nurturing environments in which this type of learning can take place. It is for this reason that I believe whole-heartedly in what we do here at Merrie-Woode. I would also submit that in order for those lessons learned at camp to have any real value, they must be put to use outside those iconic Camp Merrie-Woode gates.
Fortunately for us, the number of ways to incorporate adventure into our daily lives is nearly infinite. Not a day goes by that we don’t have some opportunity to do so. Meet up with friends to go on a hike, a climb, or a paddle. Take the scenic route instead of the interstate. Try out for the school play. Cook a new dish for dinner. Talk to a stranger at a coffee shop. Learn to play a musical instrument. Ride your bike instead of drive. These adventures that range from the simple day-to-day to the most epic of undertakings may just be the things that inspire us to tackle even bigger challenges in our own lives, in our communities, and in the world that we share. At the very least, this perspective on adventure is bound to lead to a more exciting and enriching life, not one that could be found in a box in the cereal aisle.