I can’t emphasize this bit of advice enough. Part of what has helped me be the writer I am (good or bad, you can judge that yourself) is that I have embraced the opportunity to do stuff.
Granted, we have to keep that stuff in perspective. Have I mushed across the polar ice cap, learned to fly or jetted off to Paris or Mozambique on a whim? No. And honestly, I – like many people – have probably spent too much time in a room in front of a screen of some sort when I could have been doing six dozen other really cool and interesting things.
But – and this is a big “but” – I’ve never hesitated to take an opportunity when invited. Part of that is related to my former line of work as a newspaper reporter. In that job, I got the chance to fly with a stunt pilot participating in stunts you’ll likely only ever see in an air show. I got to fly a glider plane, ride with the Army Golden Knights parachute team, rappel from a bucket truck suspended 40 feet in the air and interview some important and influential people.
“But Scott …. I’m not a newspaper reporter.” OK, quit whining. I know that in our daily lives (mine too, these days) it’s hard to find the chance to do things even remotely close to that level of cool, unusual or fun. You don’t have to be Indiana Jones to have experiences worth remembering. You just have to push yourself out of your comfort zone a bit.
It can be as small as going out to eat by yourself. This horrifies some people. “Why would I ever do that?” they’ll ask. “Sitting at a table alone in a restaurant is just depressing.” So don’t sit at a table. Head for the bar, where all the other folks dining alone will sit. You can chat up the bartender (and they’re always full of stories) or strike up a conversation with a fellow diner. Some of the most interesting conversations you’ll ever have will be with strangers while sitting at the bar in a restaurant.
If you’re shooting for the middle ground, ask that cute person in accounting out, join a MeetUp group that interests you, volunteer with a political campaign or for a mission trip with a social services or church group. Start a band. Join a community theater or improv group. Or, you can follow my wife’s example and join an Outward Bound or other outdoor adventure trip. Ask her, and she’ll tell you nothing makes you feel like you can conquer the world like making it alone after being dropped on an island off the coast of Maine.
Want to shoot for big? Enlist in the armed forces or join the Peace Corps. Or, if you’re single and free to do so, move. Look for a job somewhere you’ve never been, get one, and go there. I did it, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me prior to my wife and kids. In fact, it went a long way toward making me the man my wife and kids love and respect.
Most of all, don’t be paralyzed by “what if?” That single phrase has killed so many adventures, ruined so many potentially life-altering plans and generally sucks the life out of any thoughts of doing something different. I’ve enjoyed half a lifetime of experiences I consciously undertook – some of which were dangerous – and never suffered a scratch. Want to know when I nearly got killed – twice? Just driving. Not in a race car or with police – just getting from A to B. Two years ago I broke the crap out of my leg, requiring an ambulance ride, two ER visits in one day, a 90-mile train trip, external fixation – trust me, if you don’t know, you don’t want to – two surgeries and four months of physical therapy. And it didn’t happen doing anything crazy. I jumped over something and landed wrong on the other side. I wasn’t trying to get out of a comfort zone. I was just going through my day.
My point is that if terrible stuff can happen to anyone on any day under any circumstances, why assume that it might happen if you do something unusual?
Still, doing even the smallest of the things I suggested above seems impossibly ridiculous to plenty of people. And that’s why they’re less fun to be around and aren’t trying to write stories or otherwise create art. They are happy being safe. Having experiences doesn’t necessarily mean being unhappy with safety, but it does involve a certain discontent with being in a rut. The only experience anyone ever has in a rut is complaining about being in a rut. To get out requires effort, for which you’ll require energy. Don’t waste that energy on whining. Look around. Have some experiences.