Say ‘Yes’

I stared above, deep into the sky. I watched waves of green and violet dance above me amongst a black sky littered with billions of stars. I laid there, on the frozen ocean. I felt it breath with the shift of waves. The ice was thick but you could hear it whine and crack with every shift of water. I was deep in the Canadian Arctic, watching the Northern Lights dance above me and I was cold.

Months earlier, home in subtropical Australia, a player in my own team had elbowed me in the head while at football training. I lay prone on the turf and my feet tingled. I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t sit up. My body simply would not move. While I lay on that field, I stared into the same sky I would stare at months later, but it was different. The flood lights shone brightly into my eyes that night. The moths flew above me like they were dancing. I wondered at the last time I looked upwards. It was like the sky was ignoring me. Of course it was. The sky, the moths, the stars, they would all continue to exist whether I was there or not. Though, It was like I was seeing it with new eyes. My injury had brought a kind of mindfulness to me. I took in the stars, the moths, the light, and I recognised it as beautiful. For it truly was beautiful in its complexity, simplicity and its ignorance of me.

Later that night, my view upwards would change. It morphed into a hospital ceiling and for 14 horrible hours, I stared at it. A few days after, I was diagnosed with an osteophyte on my C7 vertebrae – A bone spur which was impeding the nerve pathway down my spine and my right arm. The injury had aggravated the pathway and caused my symptoms. Luckily, they subsided, and perhaps luckier, it alerted me to the bomb inside my spine, which could one day blow if I am not careful.

Throughout my life I have always been injury prone. Though I have never broken a bone, I have torn ligaments, undergone surgery and endured reconstructions. I was teased relentlessly at high school for my injuries and absences from class. After a while, I realised I could learn something about myself from every injury.

My first true lesson was my knee reconstruction. It taught me the value of being able bodied in general and woke me up to the fact I was taking it for granted.

The next injury, my C7 vertebrae, taught me to appreciate it all over again. It was a wake up call in case I had forgotten the first lesson.

After my diagnoses I was told I should never play a contact sport again, and avoid any head injuries for fear the bone spur could wreak havoc with any nerves. At best, it may stay as it is and never impede me, at worst, I could lose use of my arm, or worse, my entire body. I sunk into a depression which I have often sunk into throughout my life. Football is my passion, even today, so to lose it was to lose something which gave me profound personal value.

After I lost it, I decided to make some decisions to try and separate me from the sadness. Rather than shying away from the possibilities of further injury, I wanted to get the most out of my body, myself and my life.

Each injury is a failure. It is a failure of body, but from this failure, your mind learns.

So I decided I would say yes – yes to every opportunity which presented itself.

This decision became a personal game, an experiment.

Saying yes took me on all sorts of adventures. It took me to drinks at bars with people I had only met in a university class a week earlier – some of which are now true friends. Yes got me into rock-climbing. Yes taught me to surf. Yes led me to help a friend create an outdoor adventure club on campus. Which in turn helped countless others say yes to getting outside. Yes, in all its simplicity, made me have fun.

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Yes – The word itself represents a risk and an opportunity – it’s a challenge to yourself.

Too often we shy away from something because of the perceived discomfort – we make excuses. We do this because we can in our modern society, because we have insulated ourselves from what we don’t like, or what makes us uncomfortable. To me, people who say no, are because they are scared of the discomfort, they are not innately weak, or lazy, they just haven’t learned to challenged themselves sufficiently. While I do think that is an incredible pity, I think there are little things people can do everyday to confront discomfort. I started to say yes because I was scared of doing so many things. I was frightened of being by myself, I was afraid of hurting myself. I had a giant fear of failing which had plagued me my entire life.

Saying yes forced me to do all of those things in one way or another. Once I had done them, once I been by myself, hurt myself, and failed. I realised that these were nothing to be afraid of.

Saying yes, is a little thing, which creates giant opportunities. It allows you to realise you have potential.

I sat on that frozen ocean because I had said yes in a chance encounter with a single man.

While studying, I was researching a story on a man who walked across Arctic Alaska and found a Canadian professor in residence at my university who specialised in Arctic research. I emailed him for a chat and nine months later I was shivering on the frozen ice, staring at the Aurora Borealis above me.
The same sky I had seen months earlier on the football field, replaced with an entirely different viewpoint.

Saying yes, allowed me to do that.

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Discomfort

For a while now I have been formulating a theory – that when you are tested through adversity, you become better.

I call this the theory of discomfort.

What I mean by this, is when you experience some kind of discomfort, you learn about yourself, you surprise yourself with your ability to cope and more often than not, overcome fear and weakness.

Now I hate preachy stuff, but this is something I have begun to truly believe and I have done so through experiencing it myself. From my experience in research in the arctic, to public speaking in front of over 200 people. Each of this uncomfortable experiences make you better and I believe we should all seek discomfort and its benefits.

As part of this, a good friend of mine, Bree Stewart, has chosen to join me in a charity bike ride from Adelaide to Uluru in September. Our goal is to raise awareness and funds for mental health and the charity, Beyondblue. It is also to help me regain fitness after three torn ankle ligaments as well as giving us some much needed discomfort. You can view (and perhaps donate) our charity donation page here. 

Neither of us have much road riding experience beyond riding to work. We have a lot of work to do to get the endurance into our legs but we are very positive.

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Along with this theory of discomfort and my passion for adventure and journalism, I will be launching a blog and online magazine later this year. Discomfort magazine will be all about promoting mental health, personal development, conservation and appreciation for nature through adventure, physical experience outdoors and a little risk taking. A little wordy, but it is basically aimed at getting people outdoors and back to nature, as I believe it is good for the mind and soul. Stay tuned for it.

National Geographic explorer and photographer Cory Richards, a personal hero of mine, explains this theory and his personal story.