Woodside, California

Three people in the last three days had asked me if I’d seen the film Into The Wild, so I thought I better had.

Directed by Sean Penn, it tells the story of Chris McCandless who, inspired by Henry David Thoreau (whose Walden was an influence on me as well – it partly inspired my decision to start rowing oceans) set out into the wilds of Alaska in search of solitude, self-sufficiency, and himself. The story didn’t turn out too well for the hero, but the ideal underlying his ill-fated adventure is still valid.

As Sean Penn said in an interview about the film, people should be encouraged to “take risks – not reckless endangerment, but at least make the heart beat faster … to make the effort to step outside of their comfort zone.”

He added: “The main issue is that … each individual in their own way must be ready to do whatever’s necessary – to make a real job out of finding out who they are, and to do it on their own terms.”

I agree. I spent many years in a job that was not ‘me’ – it didn’t match my values, but I continued with it for so long because it was what was expected of someone with my educational background, and all my peers seemed to be happy enough in similar jobs. At the time I didn’t know myself sufficiently well to figure out why I found it unsatisfying and unfulfilling. It was only when I started to put in the hard work and got to know myself better that I began to understand why it wasn’t working for me.

Once I had started down that path of getting to know myself and pushing my boundaries, it got exciting and rather addictive… and that is partly why I decided to row across oceans. The Atlantic was my Alaska, but unlike Chris McCandless, fortunately I lived to reap the benefits of the experience. Spending 103 days alone on the ocean is an extreme but very effective crash course in personal development.

What did I enjoy most about the film? The look of intense alive-ness that Chris McCandless has in his eyes when he looks around at the natural wonder of Alaska, and knows that he is in the right place.

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