Life is an adventure

Adventure in UCL
Traffic cone in Ramsay Hall, UCL

Last weekend I was invited to London for a weekend of fun things.  My train landed in Paddington. I could tell I was in London because of all the barbed wire, spikes and CCTV. It was so exciting. I transferred to the tube and went to King’s Cross so that I could visit Platform 9 3/4, but it turns out I was in King’s Cross St. Pancras, which didn’t have any fractional platforms at all.

When I met up with my friends, we stayed in student accommodation provided by University College London.  Checking into Ramsay Hall, we were presented with the keys to New York. The elation of this slowly wore off as it became apparent that New York was two flights of stairs upwards and consisted mostly of a long corridor of rooms and a communal bathroom.

Adventure at UCL

The eeriness of New York pervaded all around you and if you weren’t careful it could mess with you. Staying in New York you could sometimes make out the sounds of the hoovering ghost, slowly haunting the corridor in a lamentful to-and-fro, presumably carrying dust-related regrets. If the spirit of a student’s dead dreams came too close you could feel the temperature drop, but a sceptic might say this might have been the university’s all-expenses-spared approach to double glazing.

Being a student at UCL seemed like playing a beginner’s version of Russian Roulette, where instead of a 1 in 6 chance of dying on the spot, it’s a 1 in 6 of spending a year with curtains that smell of urine. But I don’t want to put anyone off – not everything is a gamble in Ramsay Hall. Some things are constant, such as the disquietening interior decor and the claustrophobic sunshine-yellow hallways – the latter as if it were the only thing they could do to add a ray of light to a world of gloom and sadness.

Some friends and I made an intrepid first foray into the harsh environment of the common room. With its low-quality sofas, coin-operated desktop computing, empty vending machines and a traffic cone, it was truly a summation of the student experience. But if these weren’t enough, between all of the computers there was only one mouse, which was underneath a desk and running around. But even in places of such unendurable austerity, if you look closely enough, you can always find something of value. In the common room’s case it was a Galaxy Ripple bar, which I ate and enjoyed very much.

The weekend itself was full of adventure.  There were about thirty of us and we had an itinerary full of fun things.  I hadn’t met very many of them before going on the trip, so I was effectively travelling 140 miles to hang out and party with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well.  I went because I strongly believe that life should be an adventure.  It’s far too easy to play it safe and miss out on so many opportunities that would give you some really touching memories.  This post is inspired by my trip, since if I weren’t the kind of person to push myself to get involved with things, I would never have found many of the friends I have, and never created the memories I can now enjoy.

Don’t sit back too readily

What I see when I look at the lives of most people is that they go through education, maybe university as well, find a career and save up to buy a house nearby.  After a while they meet someone and start a family.  They change jobs here and there, move around a bit, go on holiday once, maybe twice a year if they can afford it.  They accumulate stuff, watch a lot of TV, and maybe pick up a hobby or two they enjoy.  Their life revolves around their job and family and slowly they get cemented in place.  But all the while, deep inside them lurks a secret wish that their life was more exciting.

Everyone wants their life to be fun.  They want it to be an adventure.  You can see this in people’s regrets – they almost never regret the things they do, and instead regret all the things they didn’t.  They wish they had had the nerve to have taken a few risks.  Before they know it, they’re tied down – they feel stuck moving along a set life course.  It’s all been decided for them.  They don’t get to backpack in Nepal, or birdwatch in New Zealand, or whatever their passion might be.  It’s too late.

Well, that’s BS.  The human mind can accomplish a remarkable amount if only it decides to.  Whatever you want to make of your life – whatever adventure you have in mind – chances are you can get pretty close to it if you really want to.  But to do it you can’t sink into auto-pilot.  You can’t get stuck in whatever role society doles out to you.  If you want your life to be an adventure, you have to go out and find that adventure yourself!  You have to be clear on what you want and be open to new opportunities.  You have to take risks and decide that your satisfaction in life is worth losing some of the security of playing it safe.

What will be your adventure?

Now, I’m fully aware not everyone wants to travel or climb mountains or machete their way through the Amazon Basin.  But people do tend to have a vague idea of something they would like to do if only they had more time, more money, more balls.  For me it’s learning aikido in Japan.  For you it’s probably something else.  The point is to take ownership of your life, work out what you’d want to do if life were easier, then find a way to do it anyway.  Chances are you can make it work – you just have to put your ass into gear and try.

Yes, it’s effort.  Most worthwhile things in life are effort.  The question is how much effort are you worth?  Is your happiness, your satisfaction, your self-esteem, worth the effort?  Hell yes they are.  You’re worth all the effort you can muster.  Don’t shy away from effort – it’s a measure of your commitment to yourself.  People who put effort into themselves start to love themselves, because they’ve built the belief that they’re really worth it.

And when you’re investing in yourself, taking advantage of opportunities, cool things naturally start to happen.  When I started volunteering for a website, I didn’t know I’d get invited to annual all-expenses-paid parties.  But there I am, hanging out in UCL, drinking free G&Ts and disco-duelling in a boat floating down the Thames.

There are so many cool things out there in life, and most of them aren’t accessible when you let opportunities pass you by.  Most of them are invisible.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is to hold your hands out, and every once in a while something will land there.  But you have to make that effort to hold your hands out.  You have to be open to trying new things and actively trying to live your life to the full.

Life has the potential to be a glorious adventure.  There’s plenty of excitement out there.  And it’s all waiting for you – sitting there, just outside your comfort zone.  So get off your ass and go and get it!

Matt Bowen

Matt is a blogger, budoka and software developer. He sold his things, quit his job and moved to Japan to study Japanese and martial arts. Sometimes he writes about it.

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