Here is the full transcript of Dave Cornthwaite’s TEDx Talk: How to Create a Life You Don’t Need a Holiday From at TEDxBrussels conference.
By my mid-20s, I’d gained everything. I’d always been told that I needed to be a successful Western adult. I had a job, a relationship, a house, a cat.
My life must have looked great from the outside. I had all the trappings, but there is a reason they call them trappings. Comfort kills ambition more than anything else in our lives. I was the world’s worst graphic designer, with an eight hour a day PlayStation habit, and two incredibly comfortable beanbags. But every morning, it was just that little bit too difficult to get up.
I had accepted that monotony was an integral part of life, that a week of work in exchange for a fulfilling weekend or holiday was a fair trade, but actually, I think I just became lazy. I never considered there was another way. Sometimes, we crave for change but wait for a reason, a sign, a car accident, a friend dying. Sometimes, even being made redundant. Or you could wake up on your twenty-fifth birthday and realize that your cat is having a much better life than you have. It happens.
Imagine that life is a staircase, and the ultimate version of you is waiting at the top. It is not easy doing things for the first time, but Richard Branson had to set up his first business. Pele had to kick his first ball. Donald Trump needed to send his first tweet. Confidence and optimism are muscles. We have to exercise them every single day in order for them to grow. A thousand mile journey does not begin with a single step. It starts with an idea. I skated up my first step.
Four and a half thousand miles across Australia, breaking the Guinness World Record for the longest journey ever traveled by over 1,000 kilometers. The only reason I did it was because I decided to. But it wasn’t that easy. We live in a world which teaches and expects more or less the same from each of us. It is ever so hard to stand out from the crowd without being drawn back into “Why?” “It’s impossible”, “You’re crazy,” “You’re irresponsible and selfish” “What about everything you’ve worked towards?” It’s like being attacked by an angry crowd of parrots. But often, they are talking to themselves, and you don’t need to take advice if you didn’t ask for it. The bravest thing we can do is become comfortable with the fact that we’re different from everybody else. After skateboarding across Australia, I was lost.
Without the kaleidoscopic color, promise, and excitement, surprise, blisters, and hills that marked every one of those 156 days on the road, life seemed gray; oh, so gray! It took me two years to go off and do my next adventure. Two and a half months in a kayak; I loved it. But afterwards I was depressed, again. How could this be that in adventure I had found the one thing that brought me fully to life? And yet, it came with the compromise of sadness. To try and beat this, I came up with the project called “Expedition1000.” The idea was kind of simple, if not audacious: 25 different journeys – each one a minimum of 1,000 miles in distance, each one using a different form of non-motorized transport. I had already completed two, so I only had 23,000 miles left to go. Easy.
But when you realize what your puzzle is supposed to look like, it doesn’t really matter that all of the pieces aren’t in place yet. But what about money? It’s not about what you earn, it’s about what you don’t spend. I had saved a little bit before my Australia trip and designing the occasional website got me by for a while I learned to cut my own hair. I lived out of a bag for the best part of a decade. Sleeping in spare rooms, and on sofas, and in city parks; anything to keep the cost down. Every single one of my journeys came in at less than 1,000 pounds.
I don’t research, and I don’t plan the route Often, if you know what’s to come, you probably wouldn’t want to go for it. Three months paddle-boarding down the Mississippi River cost less than it would have to live in London for the same period of time. I don’t train. In fact, when my parents gave me some swimming goggles for Christmas, I jumped into the Missouri River having never swum more than 100 meters in one go in my life before.
I can still see the faces of those people there on our first day. That incredulous realization that “He can’t swim.” But I learned. And 58 days and a 1,001 miles later, I pulled myself up out of the water in Saint Louis, and I was a pretty good swimmer by then. Sometimes when you remove the complications, life becomes so much simpler, and luckily, most of the complications are in our heads.
Humans are the only creatures on the planet who are capable of consciously developing ourselves just by choosing to act. Every time we do something new, we grow. So, wouldn’t it be a tragedy if we didn’t choose to find out what we’re capable of? And to make it easier, still, let’s take each one of these steps and just break it down into 100 small ones, or maybe, even 1,000. We live in tense times. It has never been more obvious that millions and millions of people don’t feel the way you do. That’s pretty tough to take.
But blaming other people for our troubles? It’s just an excuse. We’re human, we don’t need to be the same to get along. It just doesn’t work that way. The more corners we dig into, people we talk to, walls we climb, and breakthroughs we make, the better place we are to relate, to care, to have a positive impact.
Adventure for me is an incubation chamber for self-reliance but also vulnerability. We rush around our cities, heads down from meetings to stations, to home. We don’t really need much from anyone. So, we engage less. Strangers are just friends waiting to happen. And never is this more a parent than when you’re on an adventure, when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Not a week has gone by on any of my trips when I can remember someone not taking me in to their home. I am constantly reminded that the default for humans is to be good and kind. I am baffled that our world is so often presented as a place full of fear and danger. It’s quite the opposite.
And these days, it seems the simple act of wonder is only allowed for children. But I am determined not to forget that that joy I felt as a child is still allowed, even despite the responsibilities and restrictions that we feel as we grow older. In fact, every decision that I make now is based upon whether it makes me smile. Does anything feel better than laughter Cake for breakfast, anyone? Paddling out of Memphis, dressed as Elvis? Dog sledding for a day? There is a time and a place for a suit, and I think this is it.
It’s easy to forget that we are wild. It’s really strange saying that in this room. We haven’t evolved as fast as the infrastructure around us. Extended time within walls, systems, and rules makes us ill. We should never ever make a big decision in a room.
So many of the mental health issues we face today are a direct result of a lack of contact with nature. And of course, the dying of community in an age where direct communication has been fragmented by social media. But there is a simple antidote. Let’s get outside, just once a week. Not onto the pavement or the sidewalk, but into countryside, into woodland.
A night under the stars – or under the clouds if you are from England – is basically like pressing the reset button. In June 2015, I decided to see whether my Facebook audience were real people. So I invited them camping. Nineteen real humans turned up underneath the clock at Liverpool Street Station, and we took a train out for half an hour, got to know each other around the campfire, and then slept on a hill. The next morning, everyone was back at work in plenty of time.