Feats of physical courage

March 2019

Therein lies one of the pitfalls of an adventurous spirit. If you define yourself only by your exploits and travels, your feats of physical courage, when the time comes that you can no longer live such a life, you’ve lost the standard by which you measure yourself.

When I read those words in this article they really stuck with me. The writer describes the struggles of his father, whose ageing body begins to fail his physical ideals.

It’s something I fear in myself. It’s when I’m injured, or ill, and either have to withdraw from adventures or not continue with exercise routines that I’m often at my lowest. I realised that the things I fill my life with are largely physical and I get restless if I’m bed-bound for a while.

The big issue is how we define ourselves and our lives. At times, my self-identity has been closely tied to my physical exploits and ambitions. If this was taken away from me, I would find it challenging to adapt, to say the least. If I’m not being physically adventurous am I failing? Am I not me?

A shift in perspective has helped. I feel most alive functioning at full capacity, be that physical or mental. If that capacity were reduced, I could still find the edge to my abilities and walk (literally or metaphorically) that line instead.

I’m not saying I’m going to be less active, but just that I’m making a conscious effort to separate my self-worth from my active achievements. It’s been a year since I finished walking the south island of New Zealand along Te Araroa and I’ve been reflecting a bit on what the walk means to me.

It was an incredible 3 months, with lasting friends made, experiences gained and memories formed. I appreciate the position of privilege I held in being able to go on the walk.

What it was not, is life-defining. I believe my life is, and will be, more than the sum of my individual exploits. It was certainly the most sustained deviation from a “normal” lifestyle so far, and so it’s easy to focus on such experiences as highlights and pivotal moments. I would love to undertake similar human-powered journeys again, and I plan to. However, I’m not living just for those trips, or measuring my value through those physical endeavours.

Because that is just one component of our multifaceted world and if we limit ourselves to one thread we would be missing out on so much else. I admit I find it difficult at times, particularly with the insta-praise and kudos available through social media garnered from increasingly ambitious adventures. But this is an intent to be kinder to myself, and to keep finding the edge of all my abilities, whatever they may be.

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