Book Review: Adventure in Everything

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Life is meant to be an adventure, and author and climbing guide Matt Walker knows how to find it everywhere.

In his new book he offers a formula for taking the kind of adventure usually found in the mountains and bringing it to our everyday lives.

Matt breaks it down into five elements, showing us how to truly find adventure in everything we do. I recently caught up with Matt and asked him a few questions about his book, Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration.

Q: THE BOOK IS CALLED ADVENTURE IN EVERYTHING. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Matt:  Adventure in Everything is both a framework and a lifestyle choice. It is a framework that supports living with intention and purpose in the moment, daily, and in a larger sense of making sure that our actions, how we spend our time, and who we spend it with, align deeply and significantly with our values.

A life of Adventure in Everything utilizes the Five Elements of Adventure as a set of tools to assess, maintain, and sharpen our ability to be present, make the best choices in our lives, and operate from a place of gratitude and curiosity.

Q:  WHAT ARE THE 5 ELEMENTS OF ADVENTURE?
Matt:  The Five Elements of Adventure are High Endeavor, Uncertain Outcome, Total Commitment, Tolerance for Adversity, and Great Companionship. When we are aware of how we interact with these elements and how we activate them in our lives, we gain a deeper awareness of our strengths and challenges. With this information, we can begin to make specific shifts in how we see the world and how we operate in order to increase satisfaction in our personal and professional lives. Once you’ve gained this increased awareness, I like to think of the Five Elements of Adventure as a guardrail on a curvy mountain road: the guardrail gives your journey a checkpoint, tangible assist, and definition. But you are ultimately responsible for driving your car, choosing where to go, and the pace and manner in which you get there.

Q:  WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF EMBRACING LIFE AS AN ADVENTURE?
Matt:  Embracing life as an adventure is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. When we embrace life as an adventure, we tap into a deep source of energy, love, creativity, and generosity. I like to view life as an expedition. And while on an expedition all sorts of crazy things can happen, but how we respond to those challenges and successes, how we engage with our partners and teammates, and how we take care of our personal and physical health all impact the shape of the journey. I believe this perspective also allows for a significant amount of grace in our lives, for forgiveness, and for failure. We can experience the negative and challenging moments, but build from them with awareness as we continue on the expedition.

Q:  IS THIS A BOOK FOR MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS?
Matt:  Excellent question, and one that I get frequently. No, this is not a book about mountain climbing or only for mountain climbers. While it builds on the metaphor of adventuring – it is about taking the Five Elements of Adventure and applying them to the everyday. Adventure in Everything is really about thinking bigger about who you are and what you offer the world. It’s not just a path toward personal and professional success, but even more importantly it is also a path toward aligning your values and actions. So, it is for mountain climbers, sure, but also it’s for anyone interested in bringing more joy, satisfaction, and a deeper sense of purpose into their life.

Q:  CAN YOU GIVE ME AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THIS ADVENTURE METAPHOR TRANSLATES INTO THE EVERYDAY?
Matt:  Sure. I like this example. Imagine a rock climber on the edge of a steep rock face. She is standing on two small footholds and her hands are grabbing two small handholds. The next move is around a blind corner – she can’t see what comes next. She stands there, hands sweating, heart racing, and her mind begins to conjure up all kinds of dangers and difficulties around that corner. As she does this, her muscles fatigue, her fear increases, and she becomes short of breath.

We all find ourselves in this kind of situation. A difficult decision can produce all kinds of anxiety and projected outcomes based on fear of the unknown and possible loss we might incur. We can trick ourselves into believing that perceived risk (what could be around the corner) is actual risk (what really is around the corner) and become susceptible to paralyzing anxiety and fear-based decision making.

Back to the climber. The irony is that the climbing moves around the corner aren’t difficult or dangerous, and, with a few steadying breaths, she quite capably makes a smooth and easy passage. So many wonderful experiences are available to us in life, and the Five Elements help us open up to them, in part by learning to become more comfortable with the unknown (Uncertain Outcome) and reducing fear of failure (Tolerance for Adversity).

Q:  HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF ADVENTURE IN EVERYTHING AND THE 5 ELEMENTS OF ADVENTURE?
Matt:  It started on Mt. McKinley in Alaska, the highest point in North America. While on an expedition to the summit, which takes about 25 days, I was cold, and miserable, and scared as hell – the clients often even more so. But we were all also so incredibly alive – infused with vitality and a strong sense of purpose, highly aware of the consequences of our actions, undeniably a critical member of a team, and filled with accomplishment at even the small, daily progress we made ascending the mountain. I spent a lot of time thinking, what is the best way to take the lessons learned from here and apply them to our everyday lives? How do I maintain this heightened awareness without risk of frostbite?
I returned home from this expedition with a fire lit inside of me and spent the next couple of years interviewing others, discussing the qualities that make up the best adventures, and researching best practices to create and maintain an authentic presence. I decided along the way that I needed to deepen my own understanding of the human experience and went to graduate school for a Master’s in behavioral science. Combined, these experiences all led to the creation of the Five Elements and Adventure in Everything.

Q: DO YOU SEE EVERYTHING IN LIFE AS AN ADVENTURE? SHOULD IT BE?
Matt: No, I am just like everyone else in the sense that there are some things in my life that are routine, a little boring, and not too exciting or adventurous. I have ups and downs in my energy as well. It is true that we all have significant challenges in our lives: a personal illness, caretaking an aging parent, financial stress, marital difficulties. These are all very real parts of our lives. Adventure in Everything and the Five Elements of Adventure are not a polly anna prescription to challenges in our lives. I am advocating that reframing these dilemmas and challenges can help us to be our best selves – help us to remain committed, help us to see the larger picture, help us to bring our best selves forward when things are difficult. I am advocating bringing your personal values in alignment with action, and reframing our lives in terms of an adventure.
Personally, I do work hard to engage in the highest endeavors in my life with intention, presence, and curiosity – to engage the 5 Elements on a daily basis and as a mindset to support the highest endeavors in my life. Adventure in Everything supports this emotionally, cognitively, and with specific exercises to reinforce the learning.

Q:  WHAT’S YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE?
Matt:  My current adventure is raising our one year-old daughter while being the best husband I can be. It is quite an adventure – and certainly demands all Five Elements of Adventure! Embracing Adventure in Everything in this stage of my life has been one of the most rewarding and most challenging things I have ever done – talk about taking a dose of your own medicine!

And an adventure strictly for myself – well, I am switching gears a bit here from mountain climbing and racing the Leadville 100 in 2012, a 100 mile mountain bike race in Colorado. I am embracing the Five Elements here as well, in my training, the partners I ride with, and the cycling coach I work with.

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