I’ve encountered the character that is Kepler twice in the last few days and one thing I’ve learned about him is his willingness to do absolutely anything he wants. He imagined his future adventures in space with almost no fear or uncertainty.
“Who would have thought that navigation across the vast ocean is less dangerous and quieter than in the narrow, threatening gulfs of the Adriatic, or the Baltic, or the British straits? Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies—I shall do it for the moon, you Galileo, for Jupiter.” – Kepler
Kepler embodied the spirit of adventure which is innate in humans as history has proven. This spirit has inspired our overall progress – it pushed us, humanity, to always embrace the new.
This thirst for new, exciting experiences is part of our DNA. These scientists have identified a key region of the brain that encourages us to be adventurous. The region, located in a primitive area of the brain, is activated when we choose unfamiliar options. Seeking new and unfamiliar experiences is a fundamental behavioural tendency in humans and animals,” says Dr Wittmann. “It makes sense to try new options as they may prove advantageous in the long run.
So I liken adventuring to “high agency”, gaining the capacity to do something differently from, or in addition to, the events that simply happen to you. It’s the path we choose to go towards.
But for the past century, we stopped choosing. We’re now waiting for the prewritten pages of our lives to turn, one after the other, for events that have already been planned out or can be easily predicted. We go through our lives like we’re lost in a trance from one ish to another without exercising agency. Nothing seems worth doing anymore. We kill time, play status games and do what everyone else wants us to do except what we actually want to do. We live a life void of any kind of imagination.
And technology has helped us do this. It has improved our leisure time, made us comfortable and introduced a new wave of information technology that makes everything simpler. However, the internet has become sort of a pacifier. We consume constantly but most of us don’t dare to step out to create.
We settle into comfort and end up finding ourselves slowly sinking into a routine and going through the motions. In the name of safety, we’re trapped and only move backwards.
We need to harness the vision and awareness to guard us against falling into any sort of complacency.
Peyton Manning said, “You have to decide: do you want to make things happen or do you want to watch things happen?” It’s been my experience that most of the people who watch things happen are wonderers and those who make things happen are adventurers.
A Little Obsession
A little obsession goes a long way. Adventurers don’t play games or do things that might impress society or even take the most promising route. However, obsession is not an all-around positive word, you can be obsessed with things that are no good to the soul. Adventurers have an obsessive interest in something that matters. When you’re obsessed with something, you’re doing it for its sake so curiosity and interest drive your effort.
Curiosity is basically a cool word for learning. And Lewis Lapham described it in the sweetest way : “The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honou r trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
Adventurers never regret deep, meaningful or niche learning.
Plato’s __Symposium__; or Thales, who reportedly fell into a well from looking at the stars; or Diogenes the Cynic, whose only request to Alexander the Great upon meeting him was that he get out of his sunlight. Perhaps most extraordinary is Plutarch’s account of the great mathematician Archimedes, so taken up in a mathematical proof that he did not notice his city being taken by the Romans, and killed by a soldier when he insisted on finishing his proof before being taken to the Roman authorities. This is obsession although somewhat unhealthy.
Our devotion to interesting activities brings us into this sweet spot – the zone of emotional labour between nonchalance and healthy fear – the place that engages us. Psychologists call this a state of flow.
What Game Are You Playing?
If life is a game, how and what game we play determine our choices and thinking. And adventurers play positive some games. They don’t chase zero-sum games that might involve chasing status or competing with people. They’re too obsessed with the thing.
Positive sum games are win-win situations where gains and even losses are both greater than zero. Adventurers win even during the process because they enjoy what they’re doing. Any extra win is just a by-product.
They look to the future, keep going and keep their focus on figuring out what’s possible. They play one game. Unconcerned with status games, they are more about positioning themselves onto the next thing and dealing with challenges.
“Play stupid games. Win stupid prizes.” – Naval Ravikant