The Explorer’s Club, now a prestigious New York institution, was founded in 1904 with the mission of advancing “field research and the ideal that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore.” The club is famous for its luminary members’ “firsts” (although many of those people were made honorary members after the fact): first to climb Mt. Everest, reach the poles, reach the depths of the ocean, reach the moon.

But after the club’s annual awards banquet a couple of weeks ago, a Science Times article suggested that perhaps the club was past its prime. “Today’s explorers face a daunting prospect,” the reporter explained. “Our maps are fully drawn, and there is not much left for [explorers] to do.” He also noted that “the growth of new technology poses problems for one of the club’s most cherished precepts — that exploration means adventure in the field, carried out by visionary risk-takers.”

It certainly raises an interesting question. What does exploration consist of? And how important are the physical and risk-taking components in classifying something as exploration?

My Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives several definitions for the verb “explore”:

  1. To investigate, study, or analyze
  2. To become familiar with by testing or experimenting
  3. To travel over new territory for adventure or discovery
  4. To examine minutely for diagnostic purposes
  5. To make or conduct a systematic search

Nothing in any of those definitions requires physical activity to be part of the equation, (although I guess that depends how you choose to interpret “territory” in definition #3). There’s also no explicit mention of risk.

In truth, however, investigating, examining, traveling in, or searching anything unknown or uncertain always has an inescapable element of risk, because you don’t know what you’re going to discover, or how it’s going to turn out. You risk something if you’re exploring. The question is what you risk. In some cases, you only risk wasting your time. Or you risk an investment of money and resources into an effort that fails, or fails to discover what it set out to find. You might risk failure, loss of status, reputation, or money. You might risk ridicule, disappointment, or other humiliating outcomes. Or you might risk physical injury or death. [click to continue…]

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I‘m big on lessons. Anyone who’s read any of my writing knows that. For all the adventure writing I’ve done, over the past 25 years (including my “Flying Lessons” aviation column), the adventure itself was rarely the point. Typically, even when I’m telling an adventure story, I’m using the story to illustrate some bigger lesson or insight about life, humans, living or society at large.

Getting caught in deteriorating weather conditions while flying my airplane over the mountains of North Carolina, for example, was not, in and of itself, rewarding. Or any shade of fun. Its value lay solely in what it taught me about the danger the emotion of fear poses, and how to overcome it.

But there are times where the reward of an adventure isn’t some great piece of wisdom or insight, but the sheer richness of the adventure experience itself. As a friend of mine likes to say, “There are some experiences that are only available to those who are willing to have them.” (For a long time, I even had that particular saying posted up on the wall above my computer.)

I found myself thinking about this again, recently, when I traveled to Australia to check off one of the big “bucket list” items I still have on my adventure list: diving the Great Barrier Reef. Sport-level scuba diving isn’t nearly as complicated (or risk-laden) as flying, or high-altitude mountain climbing, BASE jumping, or other adventure opportunities that exist in the world. But even if you don’t go more than 90 feet below the surface, it’s still an adventure. Stuff happens. On one of my Barrier Reef dives, for example, my air tank came loose from its fittings some 60 feet below the surface. Fortunately, I had a dive buddy at hand (my husband) who was able to secure it again so we could continue. But securing an air tank underwater is still an abnormal checklist kind of event. Which is to say, any time we venture into realms where we cannot survive without artificial support (space, the sky, the ocean…), it’s an adventure. There’s an element of risk, and unknown challenges with potentially significant consequences, that we agree to take on when we leave the comfort zone of our natural habitat. [click to continue…]

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David Carr and the Power of Voice

by Lane Wallace

A few days after the sudden death of New York Times columnist David Carr (referenced in my last post), the paper ran a final column, pulled from comments and curriculum notes Carr made in a class he was teaching at Boston University. The class, titled “Press Play,” focused on “making and distributing content in the [...]

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Jon Stewart, Brian Williams and the Power of Authenticity

by Lane Wallace

Ed note: I wrote this post the day David Carr’s analysis of Brian Williams and Jon Stewart’s contrasting approaches and situations (referenced in the post) came out. Shockingly, David Carr collapsed that night in the New York Times newsroom and died. The piece he wrote, and I referenced here, was his very last. I’m posting [...]

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The Super Bowl, Everest, and Decision Making Under Pressure

by Lane Wallace

In the wake of last week’s jaw-dropping Super Bowl finish, for which Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is still being criticized for a critical play call that cost Seattle a probable victory, a few thoughts on decision-making under pressure–relevant to any adventurer, entrepreneur or, yes, even business leader.
For anyone who didn’t watch the Super Bowl [...]

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The Power of Powering Down

by Lane Wallace

I had planned to write this post next anyway, even before the events of the past week, which gave me new evidence of its truth. After all, I’d had a clipping (yes, I still get print newspapers, and I still “clip” articles that spark ideas for discussion topics in my mind) about the importance of [...]

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New Year’s Resolutions: Seeking what leads to happiness

by Lane Wallace

The dawning of a new year! Aside from a good opportunity to throw a great party, it’s a good opportunity to press the “restart” button (more on this in my next post), and at least make an attempt to do some things better, or differently, in the future, than we did in the past.
Resolutions are [...]

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More on the Importance of a Meaningful Job and Path

by Lane Wallace

On the heels of my last post about the importance of believing that your job matters, both in terms of mental fatigue and creativity, here comes a study from the University College of London (UCL) with yet another reason to look for work that you find meaningful:
Researchers from UCL, Princeton University and Stony Brook University [...]

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More Evidence on the Power of Purpose and Community

by Lane Wallace

The motivating power of feeling as if what you do matters, and the collective power of working as part of a group, team, or community, are not new ideas. For years, I’ve had a little purple postcard posted to a bulletin board in my office with a quote by the anthropologist Margaret Mead that says, [...]

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The Courage to Leap: Two Recent Stories

by Lane Wallace

A friend of mine–an entrepreneur who pitched aeronautical engineering to become a philosophy grad student, pitched philosophy for medicine, and finally pitched medicine to make wine–says that when his kinds are worried about risking some new adventure or endeavor, he tells them, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
He’s certainly a poster child for the success [...]

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