15 life-changing experiences you can proactively take part in

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The current state of my arm tattoos. 

This post in response to a question I received via Quora. If you would like to submit one for a future post, email me here or request an answer on Quora.

Here are some of the most significant experiences I have chosen to partake in. Some are bigger than others, some are difficult, some are more challenging. All are possible for 99% of people.

1. Blow the whistle on something wrong you know is happening.

I won’t go into my own experience of doing this (google my name and dig around a bit if you want to know) but it is an incredibly terrifying and rewarding experience. Whistleblowing can be dangerous. It also happens to be pretty much the only way anything ever gets changed. You can make a difference, even a tiny one.

2. Get lost in a foreign country.

Or at the very least, get lost where you live. It’s possible. I got lost in Italy once. I found myself stranded in rural Verona with £3 in my pocket, no water, heavy bags, no knowledge of Italian, no one around and no clue how to get to the place I was staying. Somehow, I survived. It’s useful to be resourceful sometimes and pay attention to your surroundings in an effort to find your way.

3. Do some physically demanding volunteer work.

Maybe your job is physically hard. Many of us, however, do work which is exhausting only in the mental sense. I mean, sitting at a desk typing all day leaves me shattered. The times when I have done work which wore out my body, not just my mind were always rewarding. It gives you some perspective. That’s what most people did every day for the majority of human history. I used to spend every Saturday cutting down gorse bushes as part of a conservation group and it did me so good (including the times when random people yelled at me because they assumed that there was no way it could be legal for a 5-foot tall girl to be running around with a saw at 7 am.) 

4. Reclaim your ability to focus.

This is more of a process than an experience. Still, it changes everything. Focus is a key skill and also one which too few people possess these days. I have written about my own experience doing this here.

5. Overcome a fear through exposure.

I used to be scared of hugging people. I mean, really scared. If someone hugged me I froze up and winced, so people didn’t tend to try twice. One day I decided to start hugging one (consenting) person a day. By choice. It felt uncomfortable and awkward for a while, then it became a habit and I stopped thinking about it.

Exposure therapy is one of (is not the) most effective ways of getting over a fear or phobia. Experiencing something in a safe setting allows us to become desensitised to it and lose the terror reflex. 

6. Learn about a topic you think you have no interest in.

I am currently teaching myself about physics and military strategy. Yawn. Actually, not. Anything can become interesting if we look at it long enough. Assumptions are challenged. Questions arise. Curiosity is piqued. Before long, the once dull topic becomes a fascination.

Chose something you have always found boring, read some books on it, watch documentaries, fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Then you can bore people around you by lecturing them on your new obsession. 

7. Stay up all night with people you love.

Maybe you did this at some point as a teenager. Many of the most wonderful, profound moments of my life have occurred while pulling an all-nighter with friends.

It’s hard to say why this experience is so memorable. At some point, you push through the tiredness and get a weird, spaced out feeling. People are more open. You can’t go anywhere or do much, so this usually involves sitting in one room, talking. Maybe you go outside and look at the stars. It just feels good (although terrible for your health if you do it too often.)

8. Track where your time goes for a few days.

The results are guaranteed to be surprising. To do this, set a 15-minute time and record what you have been doing when it goes off. Set it again and again until you go to bed. After a few days, a clear picture of where the day goes will emerge. How we spend our days it how we spend our lives.

9. Ship it before you are ready.

Seth Godin put it this way: 'Ship before you’re ready because you will never be ready. Ready implies you know it’s going to work, and you can’t know that. You should ship when you’re prepared when it’s time to show your work, but not a minute later.'  Perfectionism is a dirty liar. When we invest ourselves into something, it is never quite finished. There are always little tweaks and updates which can be made. Yet to learn and get better, we have to get our work out there. We have to make mistakes to learn. As Bre Pettis wrote on his blog, 'done is the engine of more.' As a perfectionist myself, I never feel ready to publish an essay or submit work to a client. Doing so before I feel ready always means better results than taking another day to work on it. 

10. Don’t procrastinate for a whole day.

Try it. For one day, don't put anything off. Launch straight into tasks, however aversive they are. It's only one day. After one go at this, it becomes clear how much more we can get done this way and it actually becomes quite addictive. 

11. Fuck up and don’t get upset about it.

Turns out this is possible. Other people are less likely to care if you don't. Be a Stoic and shrug it off. 

12. Sleep under the stars.

Weather permitting. One time I did this and woke up in the night to find a fox stood on top of me. I screamed, I think the fox also screamed and it ran away. Another time I saw 4 shooting stars.

13. Don’t take a shortcut.

Shortcuts always come back to bite you. I have a rule that, whenever I feel like taking a shortcut, I take a long cut. Navy Seals refer to the 40% rule- when you think you are done, you are actually 40% done. My own version is to take a long cut (if that is a term) when I get the urge to take a shortcut.

14. Spend a whole day in an art gallery.

This is my favourite thing to do. When I was at university, I would often get the train to London on my free days and walk around The National Gallery until it closed. Try spending an hour looking at one painting. Don’t move. Really look at it. Try to understand it. Make sketches and notes. People will look over your shoulder and think you are an artist, and if your art skills are anything like mine, they will get this amusing look of disappointment.

15. Learn how to use a really out of date piece of technology.

I have long had a hipster-ish fondness for doing this. I once used a first generation 90s Apple computer (a nightmare.) Also, vinyl records, a typewriter, film cameras. All have been interesting. I’m all for progress, it can still be interesting to see what people had to overcome in the past; overexposed film, jammed ink ribbons, scratched records, waiting an hour to load email. The fun stuff.

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, consider supporting this site via Patreon. As well as helping to keep this site free from advertising, you can receive cool bonuses, such as additional content, access to hundreds of pages of my private notebooks, postcards from my travels and copies of books I think you will enjoy.