Ed note: This is the first entry in what I hope will become a regular element on this blog: short guest essays by adventurers, entrepreneurs, and brave explorers of experience, uncharted territory, and life. As the title indicates, the essays will offer the authors’ reflections on why they chose the path they did, and why they continue on that path, despite all the challenges, costs, and discouraging moments that come with any uncharted adventure. So if you know of anyone you think would make a good guest essayist, or have your own answer to why you’re pursuing the particular, challenging path you’re pursuing, please share it!
It’s a nagging question that haunts me late at night, well past the midnight hour, when normal people are asleep. When I’m exhausted beyond words and even the rest of my own household have long since gone to bed, but I’m still up trying to finish a piece of writing for a deadline that doesn’t move just because I had 17 other fires to put out that day. Or early in the morning, when I wake from a stress-dream at 5 am and can’t get back to sleep because of discouragement and worry over finances, repeated rejections, or the overall uncertainty of this entrepreneurial, independent, freelance life I’ve chosen. Or in the middle of one of my many physical adventures, when things go wrong and I find myself fighting to keep fear at bay, and wishing for the life of me I was back home—comfortable, safe and sound.
It’s in those dark, unprotected hours that I hear a voice inside my head—a voice of reason, no doubt, and most certainly the voice of my exhausted, frightened, and most vulnerable self—asking in plaintive, pleading tones, “Why in God’s name are you doing this???”
Why are you doing this? Or to put the question in plainer terms, “What the hell is wrong with you, that you choose to put yourself though this kind of ordeal? Not just once, but over and over and over again! Are you masochistic? Insane? Or just an idiot—because surely only an idiot would voluntarily take on a path this difficult!”
In truth, part of the answer is simply that I don’t know—indeed, can’t know—when I make the decision to take road “A” instead of road “B,” just how difficult that choice is going to turn out to be. I suspect that if you asked most explorers, entrepreneurs, inventors, or passionate pursuers of justice, world change, or other bold ideas whether they would have chosen those roads if they could have seen, in advance, just how long and hard the effort was going to be … they’d say no. But then, most parents would probably say the same thing about parenting.
So the real question isn’t whether, if I’d had perfect knowledge and foresight, I would have chosen the paths I have. That’s not a realistic question or choice. The real question is, why did I make those choices at the time … and why do I continue to stick with them, now that I see far more clearly how challenging those roads can be? After all, unlike parents, I have the option of quitting. I don’t have to continue seeking out new professional and world adventures. At any time, I could sell the airplane, close down this site, and find a job with a steady paycheck and regular hours. The job might not be that of a writer, of course, but the life that came with it would be a lot easier-especially in terms of stability and finances.
So why don’t I do that? Why did I choose this path, and why do I continue to stick with it, despite its challenges, frustrations, and uncertainty? My answer to that voice that cries out in the dark of the night follows.
Lane Wallace: “I Do This Because …”
I do this because I believe that life is a precious and fleeting gift of time we are given to make as much of as we can. I also believe that each human on this planet has something unique to contribute to the whole; a voice and gift to add to the tapestry of human song, strength, love, and quality of life. And that to find that voice, and then to find the courage to sing with it, strongly, for all the rest of your days, is one of the most important tasks that every human has in his or her lifetime, beyond survival itself and the obligation to care well for those whose lives and well-being depend upon you.
So part of the answer is, I do this because I stumbled upon this thing called writing, after trying a couple of different career fields. And three days into my first job as a writer, I felt, in the same way people feel a sofa is the perfect sofa, one particular house is the one they want to buy, or a partner is “the one” they want to grow old with, that I had come home. That I had found a craft I could imagine working at, day after day, and year after year, without ever tiring of it or wishing to retire from it. And, equally importantly, that writing was perhaps the best and most unique gift I could contribute to the world.
People often make career choices based on what they think will be successful, or what will bring them financial or professional acclaim and reward. But when I got stuck in Paris a few years ago, waiting for a story to materialize (and worrying to death that it might not), I spent an afternoon meandering through Auguste Rodin’s house and museum. This is a man who spent 10 years working on his statue of The Burghers of Calais—a dramatic sculpture of six men who’d agreed to die to save their town from a siege. Rodin drew sketches, did clay studies of hands and expressions, then sculpted full-size, naked figures of his men to make sure he got the look of the bodies right underneath their sack cloth clothing—all before he ever sculpted the final pieces.
No artist motivated by a desire to be the trendy toast of the moment, or the top of any best-seller list, would invest that kind of time and effort into a single piece. You’d miss whatever trend or moment you were hoping to capture, and you’d never make enough to recoup your investment. Looking at all his preliminary studies, it was clear to me that Rodin put that kind of care into his pieces not for external reward, but because being the best sculptor he could be, and conveying emotion and the joy, pain, and breadth of human experience realistically and compellingly in his figures, was the unique voice and gift he believed he had to bring to the world.
So even though the path of being a writer has proven far more challenging, with far more discouraging moments and set-backs, than I ever imagined when I started out, I continue with it because I continue to feel that writing is not only part of my own true voice, or at least the best conduit I know to let that voice out into the world … but also because, regardless of how much money or acclaim I ever get or don’t get, it’s the best gift I have to bring to the world. And if you approach a job, career, or craft from that point, the frustrations and disappointments become far easier to bear.
I also do this because I believe it’s important to try and understand, as far as possible, the complexity of both humans and life itself. Why? Because I believe a better understanding of the human experience—our fears, suffering, hopes, needs, and complex motivations—helps us develop tolerance and compassion. And because a better understanding of life—here on Earth and in the Universe beyond—can help spark the creative imagination, growth, and innovation to expand the horizons of life as we know it.
The adventures I’ve undertaken may not have been comfortable, and none of them has been easy. But immersing myself in experiences and cultures has expanded my knowledge and understanding of life and human beings far more than just reading about them ever could have. All my adventures have also given me many gifts of learning, joy, and vivid life experience that are beyond price or measure. (You can find a discussion of these gifts in far more lyric detail in my first Flying magazine column, “The Price of Adventure.”
The final reason I do this, however—”this” being not only pursuing an adventurous path myself, but also encouraging others to do so through my writing and projects like this website—is because I fervently believe that Franklin D. Roosevelt was correct when he said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Fear - of failure, of risk, of others, of uncertainty and of change—is, I believe, one of the most lethal forces in existence. It leads people to live lives proscribed by timid and heart-deadening limits, instead of lives inspired by possibility. It constantly shrinks the size the world in which we feel comfortable. It robs us of our ability to think rationally and creatively, or to encourage those traits in others. What’s more, it forms the basis of the far more damaging feelings and actions of prejudice and hatred. If I do nothing else in my writing and on this website, I hope that I provide a touch of inspiration or motivation for readers to keep that force of fear in check in their lives, rethink some fear-driven ideas, and believe more strongly in their own strength and the many possibilities life holds, instead.
So when that voice cries out in the dark of the night, “Why in God’s name are you doing this?”, my answer is … I do this because writing is my calling and the gift I have to bring to the world. I do this because the life I have chosen allows me to expand my knowledge and understanding of life and my fellow human beings, and to share some of that understanding with others. I do this because it allows me a life that is vivid, full, and meaningful. And, finally, I do this because all my seeking, questioning, writing, and encouragement of others is my small contribution to fighting fear in the world and nurturing more positive ways of thinking and living in both myself and those around me.
And I am at peace with that.