Richard Meadows writes about his lifestyle experiments at Deep Dish. He’s done experiments like Eating 222 Large Pizzas In a Row, Hiking the Himalayas in Jandals, and travelling for one year in Asia with a 22 Litre Day Pack and we can guarantee that he’ll be able to inspire you to get off the couch this weekend.
You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to have an adventure. I just finished trekking across the highest pass in the Himalayas in flip-flops, but I got the bug when I lived in suburban Auckland.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was all about adventuring: ‘Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions,’ he said. ‘All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.’
I’m addicted to doing experiments now, because there’s so much joy in not knowing where they might take me. It’s like being a little kid on Christmas! I don’t have a five-year plan, or any fixed strategy. I try out things that seem promising, and they pull me down paths I would never have considered. You don’t know what you don’t know.
My two favourite experiments both took place at home. First, I thought it would be fun to try and get in shape while eating a large pizza every day. Seven months and 222 delicious pizzas later, I somehow ended up nude on the cover of a magazine.
At the same time I was stuffing my face with pizza, I was running another experiment in frugal living.
I’d interviewed an engineer who managed to retire at age 30, after optimising every area of his spending. His philosophy was to figure out what really makes you happy, and cut everything else loose. I was intrigued, and I had nothing to lose.
In three and half years, I went from being penniless to stashing $100,000 in the bank. Hitting six figures was the trigger to quit my job, get rid of all my stuff, and buy a one-way ticket to Bangkok. I’ve been roaming around Asia ever since.
Living frugally turned out to be a sort of meta-adventure. It’s a trip all by itself, but it also enables lots of other experiences — if I hadn’t learned to love simple living, I wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much fun stuff. I do care about money, but only in the sense that it buys me freedom and time.
My way is not necessarily the right way. I’ve traded off having nice possessions and fancy meals and career stability to pursue the things I’m passionate about. Other people prefer to make a different trade-off, and that’s great. Just know that you have options.
So many options! My bucket list runneth over with all the ideas I want to try. Most of them come from reading. A book is a self-contained adventure that you can have while you’re curled up in your beanbag chair. OK, it’s not quite as good as the real deal! It gives you ideas though. Most of my ideas are terrible, but even one good idea is better than no idea.
Books break you out of the narrow prism of your own experiences, and give you a window into the world of people from every culture and background. These people have already done the hard work. You don’t have to think outside the box — just go shopping for boxes. Try on different ones until you find a good fit.
Adventures don’t have to be big and bold, either.
Take baby steps and ease into it. Change your brand of breakfast cereal! Once you have the mindset, you can build from there. Remember, most people are nowhere near as adventurous as their carefully curated Instagram feeds would lead you to believe.
This is nothing new. Back in 1845, Emerson’s mate Thoreau went and built a house in the woods so he could live off the land. He wrote about his experiment in Walden, which is one of the most famous books ever written. What did Thoreau forget to mention? Well, he was a bit of a sook. His mum still did his laundry for him, and dropped off home baking every week (it was a brilliant adventure anyway).
Thoreau was an unreliable narrator. You should read him with a big pinch of salt. That goes for me, too. If you’re interested in something, don’t take my word for it — give it a try! For a month, or a week. Maybe you’ll hate it — that’s OK.
What could you possibly have to lose?
Sometimes your experiments will be painful, but that can be a good thing too. The Himalayas hike was brutal at times. It was pretty stupid. But now the pain is only a distant memory, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.
Here’s the rest of that Emerson quote:
“What if [your experiments] are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again — you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.”
My dad always used to tell us kids that ‘only a fool never makes mistakes’. I never really got what he meant until recently. You have to try new things, and you have to expect some failures. That’s the mindset of every successful entrepreneur. It’s the driving force of life itself. Testing small variations and keeping the ones that worked is how complex, beautiful human beings arose from the primordial slime.
Sometimes people won’t like it when you do things differently. They see it as an attack on their own lifestyle, or they want to control you. It’s impossible to please everyone, so you better start developing a thick skin soon. Pay attention to the opinions of people you respect, and people who care about you. Tune out everybody else. The only way to avoid criticism is to hide under your bed for the rest of your life. Even then, your mum will probably yell at you.
It helps to remember that everyone is almost certainly wrong about most things. Throughout history, we humans have consistently been wrong. Flat earth? Nope. Newtonian physics? Not quite. Slavery? Hell no!
We’re making progress, but it would be naive to think society has everything perfectly dialled in now. So, dare to be different. Be a pioneer. Question everything. Say things you’re not meant to say! You and I are probably not going to be the next Galileo, but we can help push at the frontiers in our own small way. It doesn’t matter if you go build a cabin in the woods, or just change up your breakfast cereal. Most people drift passively through life along the path of least resistance. Do something — anything! — to shut off the autopilot, and take a step off that path. Who knows where it might lead you.
Richard Meadows is a New Zealand journalist and writer currently based in Southeast Asia. You can follow his experiments in travel, money and simple living at Deep Dish.