How to be an explorer
I wanted to have an adventure. I’m an explorer.
I woke up and dragged my kids out of bed and said we were going for a walk. They screamed “WHY!?”
“SHUT UP!” I yelled back.
We zigged and zagged through Chinatown until we found an obscure alley that I had read about: Cortlandt Alley.
In the alley there was a shaft elevator that was open. Some people were inside it.
It’s also the smallest museum in New York City.
Three walls, four or five exhibits per wall. There was one exhibit in particular I wanted to see: the final iPhone texts of people who were about to die.
I knew about this place because of the 2006 US Memory Champion.
Josh Foer is an explorer. First he was sent, as a journalist, to cover the memory championships.
Then he said, “I can do this!” And he trained for years until he won the championship himself (imagine being shown 5 decks of cards in random order for a few seconds and then saying out loud the exact order of the cards).
Then he got a $1.2 million advance to write “Moonwalking with Einstein” about the shady, and often violent, super-memory subculture.
And finally, he became a full-time explorer, devoting his efforts and the efforts of thousands of volunteers who help him, to collecting the 10,000 most interesting places of Earth.
Including, in his brand new book, “Atlas Obscura,” the “museum” that I visited with my kids.
The Explorer’s Code:
I wanted to wake each morning, not anxious about my day anymore. Not worried about what so-and-so would say, or where my career was going, or what was I going to write today.
My only job each day is to explore something new.
So I called up Josh and asked him how I could be an explorer. He told me.
– Have a Mission
Every day, whether it’s “be creative today.” Or “go some place you’ve never been” or “talk to ten random strangers”, make a mission.
Learn something new.
Missions are for people who DO. Mission statements are for people who DON’T.
– Uncomfortable Situation
Try to put yourself in as many uncomfortable situations as possible.
“For instance,” he said, “you should apply for a temp job. See what it’s like.”
Or maybe one day you and a friend can make a bet: who can get the furthest out of town with just $100.
The uncomfortable zone is where you find out who you are, the comfort zone is where you sleep.
Task: make a list of uncomfortable situations. Stretch the idea muscle.
Josh has 100s of people who submit items to Atlas Obscura and atlasobscura.com. “There’s over 10,000 weird and obscure places on there now.”
He also started it with two partners.
Even superheroes need a team. Superman still needed the Justice League. Luke Skywalker still needed Han Solo and Princess Leia. Luke Cage needs Iron Fist and Jessica Jones.
Who are on your team? Are they good people? Do you each have your super power?
I am constantly looking for my team of fellow explorers.
“Try to experience wonder every day,” Josh told me.
A few months ago, my mission was to throw out everything I owned.
What would it be like after 40 years of collecting things, to own absolutely nothing.
And a few months before that, my mission was to track down someone who had disappeared from my life.
I failed at that mission. But I experienced wonder along the way.
And today, I’m going to change my life forever. I will text you about it.
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