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How High is Your Bar?
Hey Lyle Letter #004
This week’s piece is part of my periodic “Hey Lyle” advice column series. I have some other great questions in the queue already, but I’d love to hear from more of you.
Now, onto today’s column.
As a kid/young adult, I used to find myself in a lot of adventurous scenarios from last-minute road trips to less legal adventures, but those have diminished to almost never as I've aged. What do you recommend to seek adventure or spice up everyday life and break out of routine?
In a Rut in Tennessee
Hey In a Rut,
For decades now, I’ve had this fantasy of going to the airport without a plan, looking at the upcoming departing flights on the monitor, picking a city, buying a ticket, and hopping on the next flight. I’m not sure how this fantasy started. Maybe I saw it in a movie once. It sounds like something out of a movie—it’s a not quite practical or realistic premise but it tugs on this human desire we have for adventure and excitement.
Of course, when I fantasize about this idea, I’m heading to some exotic or far-flung destination. It’s not like I’d scan the monitor and say, “I’ve always wanted to go back to Detroit.”
And, of course, I don’t fantasize about everything that would need to happen before going to the airport, or the drive there, or the cramped seat on the airplane. No, in my fantasy I’m magically transported to the airport, I pick a flight, and the next thing I know, I’m in Bali or wherever.
If I were to suggest this to my wife Allison on, say, a random Saturday morning, it would take some seriously quick planning and jumping through hoops to make it happen.
We’d be thinking of questions like:
Will we take the kids? Who will watch them if we don’t? How long will we be gone? Should we take off work or work remotely while we’re there—wherever “there” is? Will there even be internet access where we’re going? What types of clothes should we pack?
We wouldn’t know the answer to some of these questions until we got to the airport. Not to mention, buying a ticket at the airport might set off some TSA alarm bells.
I get the sense that there’s a deeper worry behind your question, In a Rut. When you say you want to “seek adventure and spice up everyday life”, it’s not about ordering the spicy dish you’ve been too scared to try the next time you order take-out.
It’s about lost youth.
When I think back to my younger, seemingly more adventurous days, I often think of touring in my band. But even that had a pre-planned route and schedule. I remember being at home and itching to go on the road. Then I’d be on the road for a week or two and I couldn’t wait to get back home to sleep in my own bed. And, naturally, I’d be home for a week or two and that nagging itch would come back.
The most spur-of-the-moment period of my life was when I was living in Santa Barbara and playing poker for a living. There were some last-minute drives to the nearby casino or even to Vegas a couple of times. There was the time I won an online poker tournament on the computer I was using to ring customers up for rounds of golf at my job. The prize for first place was an all-expenses-paid trip to Curaçao for two where I played live poker in between trips to the beach and I ended up making money on the trip.
But, similar to you, I feel like those days are rapidly fading into the rearview mirror and merely living on as stories.
It’s normal to feel the urge for something different in your life from time to time. To feel restless. Add in a year-plus of COVID-induced cabin fever and a whole lot of us can relate to your question.
The reality, In a Rut, is that most of us adults have to deliberately plan these types of adventures. We have responsibilities like work and family and pets. Unless you’re traveling around like a nomad full-time—which you very well could be and I might be a tad bit jealous—you’ll have a home to attend to as well. Throw kids into the mix and your anchor to a home base gets a whole lot heavier.
So, how do you break out of your mundane daily routines? The key is to lower the bar for what counts as an adventure. How low it goes depends on how complicated your life is. For me, a family man with a wife, a pre-teen stepdaughter, and an almost-three-year-old daughter with a disability, the bar is quite low. For you, it’s likely higher.
My wife Allison and I set the bar too high early on with my daughter Em and it left us with some emotional scars.
It was September 2019 and it was the first and only time—thus far—when we’ve flown with Em. She was only fifteen months old and we flew to Vegas to visit my family. The trip there went well. But while in the security line on the trip back, her feeding tube came out of her belly. We tried our damnedest, but we couldn’t get it back in, which meant the paramedics were called, and we spent some time in the ER and another night in Vegas.
We adjusted our bar.
During peak-COVID times, we would get a little excited about running errands around town:
Since then, we’ve slowly been branching out as COVID has gotten more under control in our area and especially now that we’re fully vaccinated.
Back in February, it was a big step for us to make an impromptu day trip to the beach. More recently, we went to my wife’s parent’s cabin for the weekend.
Our bar is rising slowly but steadily.
You need to figure out how high your bar is, In a Rut. It’s okay if it’s low. Find a smaller adventure you can do during the day today. Go on a hike you’ve never done before. Visit that museum you’ve been meaning to check out.
Before COVID hit, my wife Allison found a local place in Sonoma that does trapeze classes. Seriously. She loved it and can’t wait to go back once they open back up.
If your bar’s a little higher, plan something more adventurous. Tell your partner or a friend to block off a weekend on their calendar and surprise them with a road trip. If you have kids, surprise them with a vacation you planned in advance. In both cases, you can experience spontaneity vicariously through them.
Reframe what adventure means to you given the responsibilities and obligations you have in your life. As you start thinking of it differently, you’ll find lots of ways to spice things up. Even if it’s just ordering the spicy chicken sandwich from the take-out spot this time.
How do you mix things up and get out of your day-to-day routine? Let’s give In a Rut some more ideas in the comments.
So this happened:
I was seriously blown away. It also made me realize that some other readers might want a way to support me. So I set up a buymeacoffee.com page, even though I don’t drink coffee.
If you don’t hate me after that tweet, please consider supporting my creative work. I will donate a portion of the proceeds to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation in Em’s name.
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