A bit of a brain dump for you…
The significance of goals during my journey cannot be understated. They were both the life and the death of my journey. They served me as faithful coaches leading me to achieve what I set out to do, but at times they also took on the role as merciless, oppressive task-masters. These contrasting characteristics of goals has led me to now to rewrite what the story I believe in says about ambition. It was a difficult place to be in, during the last 3 months of the journey. Physical exhaustion and the accompanying symptoms haunted me the entire 5.5 months it took to skate across China. I was a shell of a human, operating on the fumes of the singular vision of being the first human to skate across China. Over-exertion and exhaustion would not allow me to sleep at night. I couldn’t digest food. I was losing weight. I knew that what I was doing was adding to a corporate understanding and exploration of the world (I had over 5,000 people following my journey online). I’m sure that this sense of communal participation in something bigger than my individual goal was certainly the only thing that kept me going across China. I am sure my achievements meant much much more to the emerging global long distance skateboarding community than perhaps the average blog reader, and in the end my achievements meant nothing to me.
Arrival in Shanghai, the terminus of my world record breaking journey, was more of an anti-climax than I care to recall. There was no one to greet me at People’s Square in Shanghai, and I felt nothing. I just felt empty. No sense of achievement. Looking back now, I realise a big mistake that I made was that I lost sight of what my end goals were there for. I ended up serving my goals rather than my goals serving me. Until the China leg of the journey, my goals were not ends in and of themselves. They were a means to an end. They were a means to discovery. A means to adventure. In China however, my goal of skating to Shanghai became the end in itself. I had unwittingly bought into a story that told me that ambition for ambition’s sake was fulfilling and worthwhile. At the time I still wanted to beleive that story. I wanted it to be true. But the reality was that my daily existence was hollow and unfulfilling.
Social sicence experiement
In retrospect, I consider my journey, especially the China leg, to be a social-science experiment of intensely personal degrees. I pushed my body to the absolute limit of my own strength. In the last 1,000km approaching Shanghai, I struggled to cover more than 50km a day. I had chronic indigestion, I slept less than 4 hours a day, my feet ached. I was exhausted. Like I said, my non-negotiable goal of getting to Shanghai on my longboard was the only thing that kept me going. It was not only physical exhaustion that ailed me however. Surrounded by millions of Chinese, I felt the most alone I ever had. There was a cultural and linguistic divide between me and the hundreds of people I would come in contact with every day. Compound intense physical exertion, immense disconnectedness from people and nothing more than a shallow surface level communication with humans, and I got a hellish experience. My only outlet was my blog – an impersonal detached replacement for real human contact.
I am confident the blog, as impersonal and detached as it was, was the second thing that kept me going on the China leg. In 2006, when I left Japan, I still believed in the story that is prevalent in our culture today that us humans can be fulfilled and successful on our own. I believed the story that told me that I didn’t need anyone’s help. But I now believe in a different story. I believe in a story that says that us humans need each other. I believe in a story that says that with support, we can achieve awesome things. I believe in a story that says that any successful endeavour is an endeavour that involves teamwork and sharing of experiences.
Living a story
I really do think that every human on the planet is living according to some kind of story. We all believe in some kind of story. In life, to improve and to move on, we have to ask questions about those stories.
I know that is true for me. When I got home to Christchurch, suddenly finding myself without a clear goal, I was lost. The great thing was that it gave me a massive amount of time to think.
John Cleese, who most of us know as one of the most hilarious comedians alive but who is also one of the most intelligent characters alive today, recently said this in an interview:
I think we basically build up our beliefs (we could call them stories) without really examining them, when we are really quite young. We think that we’re…Conservatives or Socialists…we’re Republicans or we’re Democrats. Or we decide we believe in God or we don’t believe in God. And then for the rest of our lives, we tend to filter all the information that’s coming back to us, all the feedback, so that we only take in the bits that confirm this view that we already have, and we carefully get rid of all the bits that contradict the view that we already have.
What story do you believe in? Are you filtering information and being selective, not really giving much attention to other ways of doing things, in order to support your own story? For most of us, our stories are positive. They are pushing us on to do great things and be effective people. But I guarantee there are parts of each of our stories that need re-thinking and be influenced by new ways of thinking.
What does your story tell you about your ability to pursue your dreams? The story I believe in tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can achieve almost anything. What does your story tell you about human interraction? The story I believe in tells me that irregardless of culture, status, or opinion, people are people. Everyone’s approachable. What does your story tell you about ambition? Does your story tell you that ambition is a purely individual thing? My story tells me that goals and dreams are effective and fulfilling only when pursued in community.
Subcounsciously and thankfully, my story about the world was being constantly re-written and edited as I travelled. Bits got added. Bits like the chapter about how the world is a safe place. And somewhere in the appendix it got added that you don’t need lots of stuff to be content. And another chapter was padded out with a simple truth such as “a little perserverance and a keen will to achieve a goal will pave the way to more learning experiences than you could ever imagine.”
After the journey, and over the last few months back home, bits have been scrubbed out from the story that shapes my life. No longer does the story I believe in have anything about achievement for achievement’s sake. My story about the world now reminds me constantly that you’ve gotta appreciate the journey. As a good friend once told me, “If we end up serving our plans, instead of them serving us, we’ve kinda lost the plot”. That line is in my story there somewhere now.
I believe that everyone and every group has a spark of adventure within them. I am convinced of this. A comforting yet disquieting spark of an idea that when dwelled upon, compels us to dream. A dream that fills our minds with images. Images that take us away from the present and promise progress. Progress that enriches our lives and draws others into a more vibrant and purposeful existance together in community.
Let’s have the courage to rewrite our stories together.