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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, April 8, 2011

N.O.W. is the Time...

Much of the time we spend our lives racing in circles, simply trying to make ends meet. It’s the proverbial Rat Race we keep hearing about, though I find my self offended at being included under the sobriquet “rat”. If anything I prefer to think of myself as “enlightened prairie dog” and move on.

So when it really comes down to it, we – the collective We – are much too wrapped up in our daily lives to pop our heads up above the weeds and have a look around. Wrose still, we do this so rarely that we don’t have a solid understanding of whether or not we’re happy in our lives, nor if we’re accomplishing the goals we have set for ourselves. Instead of being “macro” in our view of things, we’ve all become aggressively “micro”.

The Author in Hell
We see this in the drive to and from work; we see this in the constant drone from Management about doing more with fewer resources; and we see this in the all too infrequent times when we get a moment to stop. Simply stop.

We call it “vacation”. And increasingly our work lives are intruding enough on our time “off” that there’s a joke around the office that “you’re not on vacation, you’re simply working remotely”. I see the nodding heads out there – it’s not just me, is it?

So. All of this brings me to a book my wife and I read a few years ago which has had a long-lasting impact on our lives, and more importantly on the enrichment and enjoyment of them.

Communing with Turtles in the Cayman Islands
Some of you are familiar with the CBS television show The Amazing Race. The program, hosted pitch-perfectly by the world traveling New Zealander Phil Keoghan, is a full on race around the globe with the winning team taking home a million dollar prize. (Or, more accurately, half each whatever’s left after tax.) A fundamental part of every episode is a series of challenges in which the team members must complete tasks of local origin. Cooking, eating, playing a local game, participating in a local sporting event, or some other aspect – but the essential part of each task is the understanding of something a bit more about the culture. And since taking in the local culture is – at least for me – one of the major things I’m looking for on a trip, this is one of my favorite parts of the show.

Time Out in Monet's Garden
So it was a pleasant surprise to discover some years ago that in 2004 Phil Keoghan had published a book entitled No Opportunity Wasted, subtitled 8 Ways to Create a List for the Life You Want. Written with Warren Berger, the book, which is loaded with Phil’s experiences and those of some of his friends, is a fast and airy read but with specific steps you can take to set yourself guidelines and steps to accomplish things you will personally find rewarding. This is NOT a self-help book in the typical sense. There’s probably no monetary gain in most circumstances. It probably won’t make you more successful in business, nor will it give you more beautiful skin. It certainly doesn’t help you raise your children better (unless they also take an interest and create their own lists, that is).

But what it does do – and this is why I am a big fan – is get you to understand the basic difference between things you want to do, and things you actually set out to do. He gives you the basics of not only setting down specific things you’d like to accomplish, but also following that with the essential follow up “and what are you doing, right now, to make that a reality?”

The Infamous Landing on St Barth
In the first chapter, Phil discusses his inspiration for creating The List – a concept it appears was stolen outright by the 2007 movie The Bucket List – as arising from a near-death experience he’d had in his late teens. Scuba diving as a cub reporter for a local news outlet, Phil found himself in the dark, under water, trapped in an old sunken wreck of a ship. As he describes it he’d essentially decided, as he began to pass out from lack of oxygen, that although this was his time to die he was deeply unhappy at all the things he would be unable to do in his life. Coming to on the deck of his support boat, he resolved there and then to write down those things he wanted to accomplish in life, and work to ensure that they were not “someday” goals, but true, everyday intentions. With an intention, you work towards the action specifically, rather than daydreaming about how nice it would be to do something, someday.

Kisses from Dolphins
I’m not going to get into each of the eight areas Phil notes and the book encourages you to pursue, but the goals are not simply related to big, expensive spectacles which require planning and money to accomplish. Your goal, he suggests, might be to volunteer at a local charity. It might be to get yourself into better condition in order to run a footrace. (The footrace is the specific endgame, not the more amorphic “get into better shape”. That’s the difference. You have to have something tangible, a measurement or accomplishment which can be codified.)

My wife and I, despite having done some very interesting things, and having traveled quite a bit, were taken up by Phil’s challenge, and immediately created our own lists. As you can see by the accompanying pictures, we’ve already accomplished a number of things which were on that original list. Of the vacations we’ve taken in the five plus years since we first ran across N.O.W (the acronym for No Opportunity Wasted), each of them had to have something on our NOW list as the fulcrum of the trip. Since that time we’ve visited glaciers, an active volcano, swum with dolphins, stayed a night in a haunted hotel, and volunteered at a favorite non-profit. (My wife, Cris, is still involved with them in fact, recently becoming the President of the Board of the Jazz Angels, a non-profit dedicated to teaching kids the history and skills of jazz.)

Glacier Hunting in Alaska
And this is part of what Phil talks about. The book, and the philosophy behind it, is all about doing something different. Doing something that gets you outside of your usual comfort zone, something that challenges you in physical or emotional ways. Setting the goal, but then taking the necessary and productive steps to achieve it. It can be as simple as going to – and participating in -- a nudists’ wedding (which Phil describes in one very amusing chapter); or as complex as learning a new skill and applying it to something special. It can be dining on a volcano; skin-diving the Great Barrier Reef, or off the coast of Hawaii; or grabbing a cup of coffee at CafĂ© Du Monde in New Orleans. It can be finding an old friend and renewing your relationship. It can be finding your favorite teacher and letting them know what they meant in your life.

It can be about a ride across the country to raise money for Multiple Schlerosis as Phil and his friends did last year.

It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. In fact, Keoghan suggests that the best stuff may cost next to nothing. For us it’s all about the experience. The memory – and in my case the photography – of each of these adventures, ensuring that when our time comes we won’t look back and regret not accomplishing something we really wanted to do.

And doing it. N.O.W.

My NOW list, as currently comprised:

1. Take a hot-air balloon ride over Sedona or Napa Valley.
2. Go on an African safari
3. Swim in all four oceans (maybe dip a toe in the Arctic)
4. Eat at a three-Michelin rosette restaurant
5. Stay at every major casino property on the Las Vegas Strip (Still to go: Bellagio; Paris; Excalibur; Flamingo; Riviera; Aria)
6. Drink a glass of wine in every major wine region in the world (So far: Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux, Loire)
7. Spend a couple of nights north of Arctic Circle
8. Walk the 4000 foot glass-bottomed horseshoe at the Yavasupai reservation in Arizona.
9. Take a cruise down the Yangtze River before the Four Gorges are filled.
10. Visit Stonehenge at dusk.
11. Build a model ship (as an adult)
12. Tour the Kremlin
13. Spend the night in an Ice Hotel
14. Swim with manta rays
15. Attend a performance in the Sydney Opera House
16. Snorkle on the Great Barrier Reef

Phil's "No Opportunity Wasted" website can be found at