A few days before Christmas, caught up in a last minute shopping crunch, I signed up for Amazon Prime. Free, two-day shipping guaranteed that my purchases would arrive before the holiday. But it also opened up a whole new world of opportunity. I can get basically anything I could ever want, from designer boots, to organic vitamins to exercise equipment delivered to me within 48 hours. I don’t even have to leave home!
“In our current culture of immediacy,” says author Keri Smith in The Pocket Scavenger, “we have lost the experience of ‘the quest,’ the search for that elusive item and the stories we create in our attempt to find it. These stories, the process (vs. the object itself),” Smith claims, “are often what make life interesting.”
A quest—a search to find something; a challenge, requiring sacrifice in pursuit of a clearly defined goal. Driven on by a motivation perhaps no one else understands, you push forward, and often change in the process.
Chris Guillebeau, in his book The Happiness of Pursuit, recalls a night in the Dakar airport during his quest to visit every country in the world:
Far from home, there’s a feeling you can experience even when you’re bone-weary. No matter how exhausted (Eighteen hours of flying! Two hours of sleep on a plastic chair.), and no matter how ridiculous the situation (I’m flying to Guinea-Bissau for no good reason!), you can still savor the thrill of adventure. As the caffeine kicked in and I stretched my legs, I began to feel better. As crazy as it may have seemed to some people, I was out in the world, doing something I loved. Life was good.
Why put yourself through something so crazy? Maybe sleep deprivation in a third-world country doesn’t fit into your vision of the good life, but consider the benefits of setting out on your own quest:
- Character development bred by struggle and enduring hardships;
- Problem solving skills developed by solving actual, real life problems;
- Adventure and excitement;
- A sense of accomplishment; and perhaps most important,
- A good story to tell.
As Leo Tolstoy said, “all great literature is one of two stories: a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” And don’t we all want that in the end? A good story to tell? We may not be able to control the arrival of an influential stranger, but we can decide to take a journey.
Think about all your favorite books and movies and you’ll recognize that most involve a quest. Whether it’s Star Wars, Huckleberry Finn, or the recent move Nebraska, in which a down-on-his luck son (played by Will Forte) drives his cranky, alcoholic father (Bruce Dern) from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a sweepstakes price, good stories often involve someone leaving home in pursuit of finding something. Or in the case most teen movies, like American Pie, losing something.
And to make a good story, the quest doesn’t even have to succeed. Indiana Jones never did recover the Lost Ark (but it did take out a bunch of Nazis). Nor does it have to meet the criteria of fine film or literature. Lloyd and Harry’s cross-country road trip in Dumb and Dumber, to return a briefcase to the beautiful Mary, certainly qualifies as a quest.
Lloyd: What the hell are we doing here Harry? We’ve gotta get out of this town!
Harry: Oh, yeah, and go where? Where are we gonna go?
Lloyd: I’ll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like salmon of Capistrano. I’m talking about a little place called Aspen.
Harry: Oh, I don’t know Lloyd. The French are assholes.
Not all quests are travel related. You could set out to make a scientific breakthrough, accomplish a set of physical challenges, collect objects, or embark on a metaphysical journey to find peace or purpose. To start, identify your passion, believe that you can do it, and take the first step. Choose something that speaks to you, that you can’t get out of your head once you set on it. Something that will push you, something you’ll have to grow into. No one else has to get it. Just make sure it’s not something you can accomplish by placing an order with Amazon.
And when it’s done, and Hollywood puts your story on the big screen, you can say, like the star of one of the best quest stories of all time, Pee Wee Herman, “I don’t have to see it, Dottie. I lived it.”
To learn more about “author, illustrator turned guerilla artist” Keri Smith, click here to read her blog.
To find out about Chris Guillebeau and discover The Art of Non-Conformity, click here.
Links to buy or watch the referenced movies, from Amazon, of course: