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An canyoneer encounters rich vegetation at the entrance to Cow Pot in the Yorkshire Dales, England; Photograph by Robbie Shone, My Shot

The Best of Life Happens Outside of Your Comfort Zone

What do you envision when you hear the word “adventure”? I think of excitement, challenge, the unknown, and probably a little adversity. The thing about adventure is that it gets you out of your comfort zone. And it makes you vulnerable—because no matter how carefully you plan, the fact remains that you don’t really know what is going to happen. That’s part of the fun. It gives you those jumpy butterflies of anticipation.

Consider the word “vulnerable.” Its soft syllables suggest exposure—like you’re opening yourself to possibility. You’ve got to risk a little exposure from time to time. Surrounding yourself in a womb of safety doesn’t provide room to grow.

“If it terrifies you, do it.” I read this somewhere once, and it is absolutely sage advice. Things might not work out how you expect, and you might get a little banged up along the way. But in the end, you’ll be a stronger, happier, more confident person.

When I was in college, I spent a semester in Tanzania. I knew I wanted to go somewhere adventurous, so I chose East Africa even though it terrified me. I’d traveled before, but never to a developing country. I’d never spent four months away from my friends and family, in the company of strangers in a foreign land. I was scared. But I did it anyway, and to this day it remains one of my greatest experiences. It unleashed my lifelong passion for exploring other cultures, and gave me a totally new perspective.

It’s the adventures that really challenge us—the ones that touch our deepest vulnerabilities and fears—that etch the most indelible marks on us. They also teach us the greatest lessons. Every one of them is an opportunity to tease out the essence of your character. What happened when the going got rough? How did you cope with the difficulty? What would you do differently next time?

The older we get, the more we get set in our ways. We think we have ourselves figured out. “I like to do this, I don’t like that, etc.” But guess what? You’re actually a continually evolving human being. To put yourself in a box because you think you have yourself dialed is cutting off your soul to a whole realm of possibility.

I recently went trekking in Peru with a woman in her late 50s. This was way outside her comfort zone. She hadn’t really hiked in 25 years. She raised four kids on her own, and didn’t have time or money for such pursuits. But when friends invited her, she answered the call to adventure. In the course of her preparation—which involved hiking several times a week, strength class, doing stair workouts, and wrapping her head around the upcoming challenge—she completely changed her lifestyle. It was a transformative experience. She ended up having an amazing trip, accomplished far more than she ever thought possible, and fundamentally changed her life view. She’s now healthier, happier and more confident, and has a stronger bond with the outdoors.

You never regret the things you try in life, just the things you don’t. What I’ve learned over the years is that I typically wouldn’t change a thing. Because even the adventures that turn me upside down help make me who I am. And they make for darn good stories later on.

So go ahead, put yourself out there. Try something new. Be scared and vulnerable. Let things get messy. You might discover you can achieve more than you thought you could. Or it might not work out as you hope. But at least you tried. And I’m willing to bet that just the act of trying will make you feel really alive.

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich