The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau first got on my radar last last year when he was interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts. Guillebeau talked about the benefits of a creative pursuit and the satisfaction you can get from a quest of some kind. At the time I was well in the middle of planning my trip to Europe, so I filed the book and idea away for a later date.
As I was trying to decide on my One Little Word for the year, the idea of a pursuit or a quest kept coming back to me. I ultimately decided on a different word, but I still felt like starting my year with a book on the benefits and logistics of taking on quest would help get me off on the right foot. Happily, The Happiness of Pursuit was just perfect for that purpose.
First, I think it’s important to share how Guillebeau defines a quest. This definition is pretty broad and a little long, but it does give a sense of what kinds of challenges or projects Guillebeau had in mind as he was doing interviews for the book:
- A quest has a clear goal and a specific end point. You can clearly explain a quest in a sentence or two. Every quest has a beginning, and sooner or later, every quest will come to an end.
- A quest presents a clear challenge. By design, a quest requires that something be overcome. Not every quest needs to be dangerous or next to impossible to achieve, but it shouldn’t be easy either.
- A quest requires sacrifice of some kind. There is no “having it all” when it comes to a quest – to pursue a big dream, you must give something up along the way.
- A quest is often driven by a calling or sense of mission. A calling need not be some form of divine inspiration. It is often expressed simply as a deep sense of internal purpose.
- A quest requires a series of small steps and incremental progress toward the goal. As we’ll see, many quests are composed of a long, slow-and-steady march toward something, with moments of glory and elation few and far between.
I really like that list, and it makes sense even when you think of quests across a variety of scales. Although the main thread of the book is Guillebeau’s on quest to visit every country in the world, he also profiles many, many other people who have undertaken quests of some time, giving the book a breadth of examples to learn from.
As I got into the first few chapters of the book, I was worried that the book was going to be entirely filled with people taking on incredible physical tasks or elaborate travel quests – running multiple marathons, walking across the United States, sailing around the world. While those are cool projects, they are well beyond the kind of quest I feel like I am interested or capable of taking on. If that were the case, the book would have been interesting but not very helpful.
Luckily, Guillebeau devotes some time midway through the book to “everyday adventures” closer to home. One woman decided to cook an elaborate, multi-course meal from every country in the world. Another couple made it a goal to see all of the basilicas in the United States. Another man set out to finish an elaborate computer science course in a single year. These aren’t as epic as visiting every country in the world, but they have the same characteristics of a quest Guillebeau laid out. I appreciated having some examples of quests on a smaller scale.
The book is also excellent when it comes to thinking through the steps of a quest or other big project. Guillebeau explores how to find a quest, how to work with friends and family along the way, logistical issues and the importance of documenting your efforts. It’s comprehensive, helpful and practical and makes the idea of an epic project seem possible.
Even if you’re not considering an epic quest, I think the book offers some great inspiration for taking on any big goals or life changes. Set a challenge that is important and meaningful. Make sure you have a clear goal and can outline a set of specific steps to move towards your goal. And be ready to make sacrifices in service of your goal – as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easily. This was a great book to begin a year where I hope to find a more clear sense of purpose, quest-related or not.
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