the worthwhile things in life are difficult

Alastair Humphreys is someone who has the soul of an adventurer. Fierce and fearless, he has always been open to taking new and daunting challenges. His adventurous pursuits have also led him to be named National Geographic Explorer of the Year once.

However, Humphreys changed his ways later on. A few years back, he had a wife and two young children, and was about to enter his forties. He was living a “normal” life, packing lunches or changing diapers most of the time. But, he felt like a fraud. In 2016, a train trip re-awakened his adventurous soul one more time, and he started experiencing a midlife crisis. 

Soon after that, he started his walking trip, planned from the coast to Madrid, a long way for sure, hundreds of miles in fact, without a roof over his head. This adventure was modeled on the same undertaking by British author Laurie Lee, who busked his way across Spain back in the 1930s and consequently wrote about it in his book As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. However, unlike Lee, Humphreys was not an established musician. 

All Humphreys had was a violin and an unskilled hand, but he had to make that work because he brought neither money nor extra food with him. It was a play-or-starve situation for him. Although he found this experience terrifying, it pushed him to accept and embrace vulnerability. 

“If you can just persuade yourself,” Humphreys says, “to stand in that plaza and just think to hell with it I’m going to give it a go, and start playing away, suddenly by admitting to the world ‘I am terrible,’ it becomes a great superpower.” He further shares, “Rather than trying to pretend that you are more than you actually are, which is a horrible characteristic in people, vulnerability is actually the secret road to strength.”

As he came closer to his destination, Humphreys became bolder in his performances, although not exactly more skilled, and made more money. Embracing vulnerability allowed him to not only overcome the difficulties that had been holding him back on his daring journey, but also the anchors that were limiting him back home. The power of vulnerability set him free, and helped him again become the person he used to be.

By the end of his adventure as he reached Madrid, Humphreys shares that he learned an important lesson: The worthwhile things in life are difficult. 

Even regular things like getting a job, losing weight, and raising children are all difficult, but totally worth it. Humphreys realized that the struggles and the valleys actually make the endpoint worthwhile. Feeling the urge to quit but tolerating the pain and misery to eventually come out the other side without giving up brings an unparalleled feeling of joy and fulfillment.

Being an adventurer, Humphreys is someone whose identity, both professional and personal, has been built on reaching destinations and endpoints, but over time, he has learned that the end isn’t satisfying if you don’t appreciate how you got there.

Humphreys points out, “Doing big adventures is not the route to happiness in life. You think you’ll go do this big thing and when you finish that big thing you’ll be happy and fulfilled and rich and handsome. And when you get to the finish you think, now what? You are right where you were at the beginning. There’s a hazard in thinking that reaching goals will solve your problems. The much better approach is to just enjoy the process and the progress.” 

(This essay is inspired by the article “The Adventurer Begins” which originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.)