Last night, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Admittedly, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. But something about the movie hit me deep inside. (Right?! A Ben Stiller movie. Who knew?)
The movie follows a nebbish photo collector’s journey to find the Quintessence of Life, a famous photographer’s missing photo that is supposed to grace the last cover of LIFE Magazine. Through a breadcrumb trail left by the photographer, Mitty travels the world in search of that photo—and maybe a lot more.
Sure, it’s cute. Sure, it’s feel-good. You might even say a little cheesy. But one line in the movie just stopped me in my tracks. The photographer’s only advice about finding the Quintessence of Life is to “look inside”—which proves to be both more literal and abstract than you’d expect.
Years ago, I boarded a plane to Italy. What I was hoping to find, I wasn’t sure. But I spent my summer there. Then I left Italy and promptly moved to San Francisco. I was even less sure what I’d find there. Finally, I spent that next summer in Italy again. And then I came home to Boston.
It was my adventure. My travels. I experienced everything. I learned Italian and made friends. I fell in love with healthcare reform. I fell in love with a girl. I built my career in public relations. I struggled with loneliness. I drank a lot. I filmed a documentary in Rome. I put myself in situations I never expected.
When I came home, I was determined to do more, to see more. I wanted to travel the world and live elsewhere. I wanted to live a live that was epic. The kind you read about in magazines and think, “I wish I had that.”
So I lived as epically as possible. I traveled for my birthday every year—to Austin, to New Orleans, to Dublin, to Las Vegas. I spent every New Year’s Eve in Aruba. I was at party after party. I never passed up an opportunity to do something wild and crazy.
Until that night—that night that changed my life. When I looked in the mirror with tears in my eyes, and I knew that I wasn’t happy. I was miserable, in fact. Because I didn’t like who was staring back at me. So I looked my reflection right in the eyes and I made the most important promise of my life, “I will fight for you. Every day, I will fight to make you happy. Because I love you and you deserve it.”
Since that moment, I have been thrust into a heart-pumping adventure. I’ve written excruciatingly honest e-mails to family members, I feel in love with my best friend, I recovered from a life-changing sickness, I wrote a book, I switched careers, I found herbalism, I found nutrition, I let go of toxic behaviors. Really, the list could go on and on.
Now, no offense to Europe. It’s great, it really is. But I’ve been to many, many countries, and I never quite found what I was looking for until I looked inside.
The greatest adventure of my life started when I decided to be myself completely—and go along with whatever that means. I’ve had to push myself into unfamiliar (and scary) territory. I’ve tried every therapy under the sun. I’ve let the world see me at my most vulnerable. I’ve had tear-jerkingly honest conversations with family and friends. I’ve jumped out of plan. Hell, I’ve started kickball.
I am the great adventure that I’ve been seeking.
Look, you don’t need travel to live an epic life (though it could be fun). You don’t need Instragram-worthy parties or picture-perfect memories. All you need is yourself. All you need is to fight for yourself every single day. And that makes up a more epic life than you could ever imagine.
So, I had to smile at The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s message that the Quintessence of Life was inside all along (maybe with a tear in my eye—okay, I’m becoming a big softie!) But it made me realize that we all have access to the most epic journey we could ever imagine.
It doesn’t get much harder than finally standing up to your boss, or telling your parents how they hurt you, or really working on your self-esteem issues, or allowing love into your life. Those are the real Mt. Everests. Those are the hallmarks of an incredibly epic life.
So let’s make a pact—here and now. Let’s decide to live an epic life. Let’s push ourselves through the greatest adventure we could ever know. Let’s fight for ourselves every single day.
All you have to do is look inside. Just like a tiny seed has all the intelligence to become a 300-foot tree, so too do you have all you need to become who you want to be. Just because you haven’t acted on something yet doesn’t mean it’s not already inside of you.
It’s in there. It’s always been there. It’s just time to look inside and start living it.
It’s time to be epic.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
– LIFE Magazine’s motto, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty