By the time she was 25, Steph Jagger had created the kind of life that vision boards are made of: She had a covetable marketing job in Vancouver, a mortgage on her very own condo, and a closet full of marathon medals, diplomas, and cute shoes. Yet, even though she was grateful for all of it, she still found herself plagued by FOMO.
“I could see where my job was going to go; I could see that I was going to upgrade my apartment; I could kind of see the guy I would end up marrying; and it felt like there wasn’t a challenge in that,” she says. “I use a Joseph Campbell quote to describe it: ‘If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path.’”
A year later, Jagger was on a jet to Chile, embarking on what would be a 10-month, round-the-world ski trip. Her goal: to ski 4 million vertical feet across 5 continents—a feat that would take the average skier 25 years to complete.
What started out as a physical challenge ended up completely upending every aspect of Jagger’s identity. She writes candidly (and hilariously) about that transformation in her captivating new memoir, Unbound.
From its premise, it's clear why people are comparing Jagger's story to Wild, Cheryl Strayed's 2012 best-seller about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which inspired women the world over to get lost on their own solo adventures. Though not everyone has the luxury of quitting her job and mountain-hopping for a year, Jagger insists that the lessons she learned on her journey can apply to anyone who has lost her way—no passport or plane ticket required.
“What I did was choose my own bliss,” she says. “But the pursuit of adventure can be defined in any way you like.” If you feel like you haven’t quite found your place in the world—and even if you have, but your spirit needs a little kick-start—her advice is definitely worth heeding.
Keep reading for Jagger’s tips on choosing your bliss—no matter where that takes you.
Why did you take such an extreme measure toward curing your boredom?
I chose an extreme route because that was in my nature—it wasn't terribly outside of my comfort zone. Skiing and traveling, for me, were freedom and bliss, and I thought, if I immersed myself in those two things for as long as I could, something would pop up.
But bliss and freedom are different things depending on the individual—it could be joining a running club for a year or taking up a photography course and spending a week in Italy. What do you love? A great reference book is Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful The Happiness of Pursuit.
"A good way of describing it would be moving from fear-based motivation to what I call love-based motivation."
When you went into the trip, you had a very specific plan in mind. It did not turn out the way you imagined. What did you learn about dealing with the unexpected?
One of the biggest things I learned was that my ego liked to plan things out. I liked to think I was in control; I liked knowing all the different variables and feeling like I could manipulate them to my advantage.
The biggest thing that shifted for me is I now try my best to get my ego out of the way and co-create the future. I listen to where I’m called to go and decide if I have the courage to go do it—even if there’s not a plan. It can be a terrifying thing.
A good way of describing it would be moving from fear-based motivation—'I must control all of these things or else people won’t see me in [a good] way'—to what I call love-based motivation—'Even if I don’t know the path forward, do I believe this will help me grow and expand and transform in a positive way?'
Your intuition played a big role in finding your identity on this trip.
There isn't a woman on the planet who hasn’t had an experience with her intuition. We’re very, very in tune with [it] when it comes to fear, and it’s just flexing the muscle in a different way to get it in touch with joy and calling.
I hadn't been conscious of any other experiences with my own intuition, but certainly on the trip it came in full force. I think that’s because there were no other voices around. You don’t hear your father’s voice in your head when you haven’t heard him speaking for a couple weeks; you don’t hear your best friend [responding to you] with a hint of judgment. I was gone from everyone I knew for so long that I think it allowed me to hear that internal voice.
"I was gone from everyone I knew for so long that I think it allowed me to hear that internal voice."
What if someone's having trouble hearing that voice?
Find as many places you can be [as] quiet as possible. Can you go to a meditation class, or say no to happy hour and just have an evening where you’re quiet with yourself for a few hours? Where can you go to hear yourself in this busy, crazy world?
But that’s not to say we should be hermits—you wouldn't be who you are today without the people you met along the way, right?
We need personal Yodas, beacons of hope...and also people to show up and represent negative things, who show us what we don’t want. I think it’s imperative to have these human guideposts.
You mentioned in the book that the days after you returned home were the darkest. Why?
The biggest challenge was straight-up adrenal burnout—I was just kind of fried.
Plus, when the trip ended, I moved to a new country and had new friends and didn’t know what I was going to do for a job. Everything was new. And although I was used to having that happen in travel, I was kind of over it at that point. I just wanted everything to be familiar after a year of being away.
I think that’s typical—you go on adventures, and you come back and it takes a while to assimilate what it all meant and who you are now. I cried a lot, and I ended up doing a degree in executive and life coaching. And eventually, I started writing. As soon as I did that, things started to really shift back.
"Is this good enough for you to stay the same—and if it’s not, are you willing to make a change from here? Or will you wait until something breaks?"
What advice would you give someone who might be feeling like she needs to shake things up like you did?
There’s a quote that I’ve been using by Laura McKowen. Essentially, it reads: The normal question is: ‘Is this bad enough for me to have to change?’ The question we should be asking is: ‘Is this good enough for me to stay the same?’ The question underneath it all is: ‘Am I free?’
That’s something I would ask any woman: Is this good enough for you to stay the same—and if it’s not, are you willing to make a change from here? Or will you wait until something breaks?
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