When people find out I work for Outward Bound, I’m often met with “Oh, wilderness programs for teenagers, right?” I then explain that, though we have many programs for teenagers, we also have a wide range of programs for adults. What usually follows is, “I would love to have done that, but that opportunity passed me by.” As a recent alumna of an Outward Bound program for adults, this response always perplexes me. What does it mean?
To me, the response signifies the reluctance many of us adults have to take time off from work, invest in ourselves, and to pursue wonderment in our lives. Ironically, these are the very same principles we try to instill in our children. As mentors, parents and guardians, we encourage playing outside, seeking out life’s simple pleasures, and pursuing hidden talents. Why don’t we role model the values we supposedly hold so dear?
In his Ted Talk, Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert observed,
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.” We are never finished. Think of how different you were five, ten, or twenty years ago. Saying that an opportunity has passed us by is rooted in the belief that we are done changing – that we accept our current form as final. And that belief denies the opportunity for rediscovery and growth that could make us better leaders, teachers, parents, and citizens.”
Though everyone takes away something different from an Outward Bound expedition, most people use the word “transformational” to describe our programs. A week-long adult course may not seem like enough time for transformation to take place but that is part of the magic of Outward Bound. When you are relieved of many modern conveniences and placed in a wilderness environment, you have an opportunity to look at your life with a fresh set of eyes. This is especially crucial during life transitions such as a career change, transitioning out of college or grad school, a change in relationship status, or dealing with empty nest syndrome. Many adults choose Outward Bound adult programs not just because of the “fun” or “challenge” they seek, but because they know they will walk away from their expedition with a deeper sense of fulfillment, clarity, and ability to overcome the big and small obstacles in everyday life.
Recent Hurricane Island Outward Bound School alumnus Bennett Jones sums up the transformation that took place during his sailing course, “There were parts of my sailing journey like anchor watch where you sit in the cold in the middle of the night and you are by yourself under the stars and you don’t have your phone and you don’t have anyone but yourself and…wow! Is that a crazy experience! That’s when you really find yourself. Then you end up learning things about yourself that you didn’t even know were possible. It’s just incredible. There’s no way to describe it.”
So if you think the opportunity for the adventure, renewal, and transformation that Outward Bound offers has passed you by, you owe it to yourself and those you love to reconsider. Life is busy, and it is so easy to say, “I can’t take the time for something like that” year after year. But now ask yourself if you can afford not to do so.