Have you ever wondered what happens after an adventure? Or maybe you’ve experienced it and this post will resonate on some level.
This is what I call the process of re-entry. The adventurer has returned from a long trip or expedition where they’ve been immersed in a different culture, or been offline, with not outside contact in the remote backcountry for weeks.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and am convinced that we’re missing a valuable part of the conversation about adventure.
The outdoors holds valuable life lessons and experiences—the longer we’re out there, the more profound these lessons and internal changes can be.
There’s a lot of focus on the build-up to a big adventure, but there aren’t a lot of conversations about the aftermath.
How do we integrate these changes into our daily lives? How do we harness the newfound strength we’ve discovered when we return to our previous environment, around people who may not realize or see these changes? Or don’t want to?
Here’s a quick overview of the situation as I see it:
There’s a ton of build-up to a big adventure, with lots of information available to help with the training, packing and general preparation.
Think about a trip oversees to climb Kilimanjaro. Or a first marathon. Or a year spent living on the road traveling around the country.
If it’s you heading on this adventure, it might feel like the world revolves around it. It’s what you talk about with your friends. You’re hyper-focused on your training and making sure you have just the right gear. There’s support for nervous energy, encouragement and reassurance that it’ll be wonderful and that you’ll succeed.
If it’s a friend, you can see the excitement in their eyes and the extra bounce in their step. There might be some anxiety and stress creeping in with the unknown, but by and large, it’s a contagious, positive energy.
Then there’s The Adventure itself. The experience is amazing. Life-changing for some. New strengths are discovered. Confidence grows. The world is suddenly full of possibility and opportunity.
If you’re a friend, you think about the adventurer, but you’re home in your routine, caught up in daily life.
post adventure: the re-entry
And finally, the homecoming. The re-entry process begins. There might be a trip report with photos and highlights. Slideshows are shared. A few stories told. But then… silence.
What happens in the aftermath of an adventure? Where does all that energy go? The momentum? How do we talk to our friends who are genuinely interested, but might not want to hear about the famine you witnessed, or hear a play-by-play of the perseverance you never knew you had as you slogged up to the summit for hours in gale force winds. The astonishment that you’d made it. The clarity with which you witnessed your own strengths.
There is an emotional rawness around adventure and hardship. Of pushing yourself to your limits and breaking through—or not. It can be difficult to articulate the emotions that are in constant flux around the adventure. Elation, depression, joy and disconnectedness. It can be confusing and hard to understand yourself, much less finding the right words to convey this to another.
changing the way we talk about adventure
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.
Not only because I’m experiencing a lot of these emotions and feelings personally as I re-enter a life-in-one-place after over two years of traveling and living out of either a suitcase or van, but because I think there’s something really important missing in how we talk about adventure.
I’ve had a number of conversations with mountaineering guides (and want to talk to more, so if that’s you, please contact me to chat) about what they and their clients have experienced. And I’ve talked with some of those clients personally as well.
I wanted to share with you guys what I’m learning and what my thoughts are about what we can do. I know I want to help bridge this gap. I want to help find ways to integrate the profound experiences and lessons the outdoors has to offer—whether it’s a 6-month expedition or a one day rock climbing clinic—with how we live our daily lives.
And I believe the first thing we have to do is talk about it. To share our stories and experiences of what helped and what was difficult. What kind of support we received and what would have been helpful.
Below, I’ve complied a few examples of the experiences I’ve heard about.
example of post-adventure experiences:
- A feeling of disconnection from the “old” life. Meaning that when they came back, they returned to their old environment, but had experienced such significant internal shifts during the trip, that they no longer identified—or wanted to identify—with their old routines.
- Prior to the trip, they’d felt a vague sense that “something” needed to change, but they didn’t know what. On the trip, they gained clarity and upon return, quit their job or filed for divorce (or initiated some other form of a major life change).
- A strong feeling of depression or withdrawal. After such build up and momentum, it’s natural to feel somewhat depressed or sad after meeting a goal. (I experienced this myself after my first marathon.) But after a major shift in thinking or perspective on life, it’s more challenging to “bounce” back and these feelings of depression or withdrawal can linger.
- A strong sense of focused energy and inspiration to start a project or make changes. There’s often a ton of momentum and a commitment after returning to begin a new project, or new habit. To set things in motion that you thought about during the trip. If it’s not harnessed soon after the trip, momentum can fizzle and depression or discouragement can creep in.
- A lack of words/vocabulary to explain the depth of the experience. This was especially true for those experiencing profound changes in thought process. Finding the right words to articulate the changes they were feeling can be tricky.
- Disillusionment with friends and colleagues. The adventurer seeks deeper, more meaningful conversations about the experience, yet others may have a hard time relating to it, preferring to return to more comfortable topics.
- Feelings of isolation. After a group expedition, staying in touch with other members of the team was an important aspect in helping to stay connected. But as time wore on, after photos had been exchanged and the initial excitement post-adventure wore off, conversations began to slow down as everyone returned to their respective lives.
I should note that all of these conversations were with women (and I’d guess the experiences and modes of adjusting are different between the genders), but the core question remains: How can we support our family, friends, colleagues, and ourselves upon returning home?
If you have thoughts, ideas, observations of your own (male or female), please leave a comment or contact me directly. I’m really curious to hear and learn more.
Question: What are your experiences with re-entry?
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- The Importance of Taking Risks
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