“The Happiness of Pursuit”

002I just finished reading “The Happiness of Pursuit” written by Chris Guillebeau. I received an advanced copy of his book, which was one of the gifts that were available for this year’s World Domination Summit attendees. This book is about a quest and I enjoyed reading it. Chris said this was the most difficult to write of his three books he has published so far, and I could see why – he told us many stories of the people who took on a quest, including himself.

People often talk about a “hero’s journey” and the word “hero” has this connotation that the mission is heroic in nature. It is quite prevalent in pop culture from Star Wars (my husband’s all time favorite) to Harry Potter (my personal favorite). But reading this book, one thing I realized is that a quest doesn’t necessarily have to be about saving the world. Many people whose stories he showcased in this book do/did have a great cause, such as Miranda Gibson who lived on a tree in Tasmania for over a year to protest illegal logging (she saved the forest!). But there are others who did things as a personal pursuit, such as travelling great distance on foot, bicycle or by sailing the ocean. The author Chris Guillebeau’s quest was to visit every country in the world before his 35th birthday. For each quester in Chris’s book, the quest started out as just a thought. An idea each person started contemplating, because he or she felt the strong pull to it and just couldn’t stop thinking about it, until one day they felt compelled to put that thought into a plan and took action. Pursuing it brought the quester joy and a sense of purpose.

This is great news for people who has read this book, and started thinking about their own quest but have no idea what to do or where to begin. In summer of 2012, Chris gave out $100 to all the 1000 attendees at World Domination Summit(WDS), an annual gathering of people living unconventional life. A few months later, when I talked to a few other fellow attendees, I heard from some people that they were still sitting on that $100 because they felt the pressure to do something amazing (such as multiply that money a 100 fold), and the thought of whatever idea they come up with might not be “good enough” stopped them from moving forward. I can imagine some might feel the same pressure and challenge in their attempt to decide on a quest that is worthy to pursue. For example, would collecting every stamp that was ever produced in my country be significant enough? Does it meet “WDS standards”? Having been to WDS a few times, I can say that it’s easy to compare yourself to fellow attendees and feel discouraged that you are not as accomplished. However, I believe those are the wrong things to worry about when you think about your own quest. As you will read in Chris’s book, a quest doesn’t have to solve any problem in the world nor does it have to be practical for anyone involved. The quester that will strike most people as “odd” would be John Francis who one day decided to not use a car (so he went everywhere on foot) and then also decided to not speak for 17 years. Because of this vow of silence, it was very difficult for him to explain to others why he chose that for himself. This tells me another aspect of a quest; the pursuer (you) need to believe in it even if it might not make sense to other people. You need to be convinced that this is something you will do, as it takes commitment and courage to see it through especially when others don’t understand or support it.

A part of the book that spoke to me the most was the last part. Chris illustrated what happens when quest comes to an end. I felt a little sad to read about what happened to Howard Weaver who took down a competing newspaper company in Alaska. After the competition was destroyed (by the newspaper he built), he was pushed out of the company he spent years building, and eventually he left the town he grew up in. There is definitely a sense of loss after a quest ends. A quest does not guarantee that you’ll live happily ever after once you have completed it. Through a quest, you will most likely grow as a person and become a different version of you, but from these stories in this book, I can tell that people don’t do it to make money or to be famous (“those are called career move”). You do it because you want to (or you feel you have to), no matter what it may bring. I personally think that while you are on your quest, you might not even feel happy 100% of the time. Gretchen Robin said that being happy comes with three components: feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right. Every quest has its own process and there will be times that it becomes another daily grind…that’s the “feeling bad” part. You might even die while pursuing your goal. But the questers in his book all say they were glad they did it, despite everything, and after that’s over, some will chose to take on another challenge.

I am writing this in a hotel room with a partial ocean view of Coronado beach. It just so happens that my 12 years of San Diego life is coming to an end this week, we had moved out from our apartment last week and we have been living in a hotel since then until we finally leave in a few days. It was not that I was not happy here…that is not why we are leaving…if anything, we have been living a nice, comfortable life where it is almost always sunny, people are friendly and beaches are just a few minutes away. As my husband put it, we are leaving a perfectly good ship. And yet, I know I need to do this so that I (and we as a family) can experience and grow. People ask why we are moving to Japan for a few years, and the left-brain answer would be so my kids can learn Japanese language and culture, so they can get to know their Japanese grandparents and relatives, and that it might give me more opportunity in terms of business and writing my next book – but my right-brain answer is just one word: adventure. I just have to move my family across the ocean so we can experience what’s out there; the good, the bad and the ugly, all of it. While I wouldn’t call my move back to my home country a quest, it is certainly an adventure as I have never lived there with my chosen family who grew up in the U.S.A. and have Japanese language skills that are emerging at best. I am certain I will miss my life here in San Diego that I worked hard to make it easy and comfortable, especially when things get stressful and tough as I am sure they will be at times. But I also know I will regret it if I did not do this. In that sense, the words of the questers in this book on why they chose to pursue what they pursued resonated with me a lot.

As for my own quest – I have two projects I am working on right now. The first one is to document my life and my children’s life by using 1 second everyday app, basically taking a video of them and preserve one second of each day. My motivation for this project is that when they grow up and ask me “what was I like when I was little?” I can show them their individual timeline. You can watch your whole year in just 6 minutes! I’ll continue this as long as my kids allow me to chase them with my iPhone video camera. Another project is to produce my podcast show where I interview people and collect their stories. So far I have produced over 80 episodes, featured stories on the life in the U.S.A., Canada, Japan, France, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates….eventually I want to showcase stories from every country in the world(do you know anyone who has gone everywhere?), though I can’t say at this point how long it will take to complete. Reading this book will inspire you to think about your own life (my friend Oliver said it’ll make you feel like you are lazy) You could start thinking about what your quest could be – but remember, it is not something you do to get other people’s approval. I wouldn’t even do it to be happy. Do it because it sounds fun, interesting or make sense to you. My two little projects fit that criteria so I’ll continue them as long as they stay that way.

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