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What Do You Do When Your Happy Place Is No Longer Your Happy Place?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that …” – Declaration of Independence

There’s a story I have been telling myself for years.

It has its foundation in a deeply transformative moment on the Inca Trail 22 years ago. The story is that, whenever I can, I should set out into the mountains for a long walk. The Andes, the Himalayas, the Otter Trail, the Kumano Kodo…consistently, my belief has been reinforced by time and again taking time for myself for a long walk to reset my counter, restore my soul and drink from the cup of apex experiences.

In this last chapter of my life, I have mostly shared the experience with others. My wife, friends, clients. And every time, the experience delivers on the above expectations. Well, 2 out of 3. I reset my counter, I restore my soul…but the apex experiences have become more elusive.

I believe life should be lived above the line. The happiness line, that is. Mostly, hopefully, a regular sense north of just being "ok". A lot of it has to do with your chosen attitude in any given situation. Bad stuff will happen, leading to dips. Good stuff will happen, leading to spikes. And sometimes really really bad stuff happens, creating a big drop…but if we’re lucky, we also get to see the really big spikes. And those are the Apex Experiences. The outsize moments and memories that will sustain us in the dark times.

I did my last Camino de Santiago (the northern route) five years ago. My son Matie was only three months old, and AJ had not been conceived yet. That experience was the last one with a true big spike. It was the moment, at the very end, where I just put down the pack of ciggies, and decided never to smoke again.

More than a year later, Caroline and I had another apex experience on the Japanese version of the Camino, on the Kumano Kodo. It involved getting lost, an unnecessary hill, and some good Japanese whiskey and a hot tub. It’s a story.

It’s also the last time I have truly felt that spike. That feeling on the trail of true transcendent presence. There have been multiple amazing moments since, with a variety of awesome people, but the fix…the apex buzz…has eluded me.

I decide to go look for it again this year. And I went back to my happy place, the Camino. This time I did the Coastal Route. It was a sneaky 7-day adventure I squeezed out in between work and family commitments, just for me. Caroline and the kids at home, and I would go recapture the magic of the Way.

And again, it delivered. Great company met on the road, great food, amazing track. And I walked away my soul rejuvenated and my cup full. But without apex moments.

As I sat in front of the majestic cathedral at Compostela, I wrote for the last time on that trail in the journal of thoughts I keep for my son AJ. He is only 4, and Daddy’s thinking at 48 will only be relevant to him much later in life…but hopefully this telegram from the past will serve him at some point. I tried to make sense of my feelings at the end of my walk. Happy but not ecstatic. Relaxed but not content. And I looked to reflect on the most epic moment of my walk…and I couldn’t place it. I dug deeper, went further back…and you know what I realized?

The most epic moment was not on the walk I did by myself.

The most epic moment – the Apex Experience – was the weeks before my walk. It was taking my wife and my young boys to a Springbok rugby match at Loftus. It was teaching them golf in the Drakensberg, or looking for animals in the Kruger National Park. I can cite at least 3 moments that qualify as Apex in the (admittedly challenging) family holiday we took before my solo adventure.

It struck me like a thunderbolt. My happy place had changed.

It was no longer the Camino. Or any other solo walk, for that matter. I still need the walks, I think. I still require time for reflection and nature and reset. But my happy place was no longer to be found in Spain. My happy place had shifted to simply this: My family. Nothing that I can do by myself can compare with the joy of learning and growing with my wife and my boys.

I truly believe it is important to hold to your beliefs and principles. I think it is important to stand for something, to be sure and clear on how you tackle the world. But, and this is the hard part, being open to those beliefs being challenged…knowing that what you know might no longer be quite as true as it was then? That’s hard. But needed. Because we evolve. Our environment changes, our priorities change, and what was important then seems less important now.

What’s the lesson here? Reflection, I reckon. If what you did in the past is no longer working, reflect. In proper reflection is the magic of understanding self, and making the changes needed.

What truths do you hold to be self-evident for you, but just don’t seem to work anymore?

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Aug 17, 2023

I loved reading this so much. I think that our happy place has to evolve and change as we evolve and change else it would simply not be growth. Miss you guys x Sandi

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