I have spent the better part of a decade traveling the world to understand one thing: What causes us to live exciting and fun lives? In the process, I discovered The EPIC Model of Adventure, a four-stage process every adventurer goes through. In my new book, The 2 AM Principle: Discover The Science of Adventure, I combine scientific research on human behavior with outrageous stories (getting crushed by a Bull at Pamplona’s Running of the Bull to battling Kiefer Sutherland in Drunken Jenga) to demonstrate how to live a more fulfilling life. As I see it, an experience only qualifies as an adventure if we grow by getting outside of our comfort zone. Here’s just one example from my personal life.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2007, 8:07 AM GMT –5,
Palm Beach, Florida, USA [26°42’03.1”N, 80°02’11.6” W]
My brain shorted out, I didn’t know how to process the fact that we were in genuine danger. The guy yelling over the phone at my friend Jordan was saying that he carries a gun and was not so subtly suggesting we leave town.
This all started two weeks earlier, when Jordan suggested we fly down to Florida for New Years to meet his new girlfriend Olivia, who he had been dating long-distance.
I was told everything was taken care of: Olivia’s best friend Lisa would arrange accommodations for me and Jordan’s brother. What people neglected to mention was that “arrange accommodations” really meant that the mobster who was cheating on his wife with Lisa would put us up in one of his lackeys apartments.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 30, 2007, 5:33 PM GMT –5,
Palm Beach, Florida, USA [26° 42’ 03.1” N, 80° 02’ 11.6”]
Apparently, Jordan and Olivia didn’t see eye to eye on something—namely, that they should continue dating. Jordan was distraught from the sudden breakup and so his brother and I decided the best way to cheer him up would be a night on the town. Walking into a bar, an attractive crowd of singles in their mid-twenties mingled and danced to a mix of Top 40. This was exactly what Jordan needed: some fun conversation and a little ﬂirting to remind him he was a catch. His brother and I were quite proud of ourselves until we saw Olivia standing at the bar, sharing a cocktail with a well-known male model-socialite.
When Jordan and Olivia saw each other, any progress we had made in cheering him up disappeared. We moved to another room and tried to recover, but Olivia kept walking by, ﬂaunting her new plaything. Clearly she wanted to hurt Jordan, so she called Lisa and complained about him being around. Lisa decided that the best way for her to get rid of Jordan would be to text him conversational but slightly suggestive messages. This was an ingenious move because her overprotective, jealous, macho mobster boyfriend would periodically go through her phone. On seeing the texts, her boyfriend was infuriated by what he thought was Jordan’s disrespectful ﬂirting with Lisa.
That evening the mobster called Jordan and “politely” suggested that he and Lisa should end their communication. Unfortunately, Lisa didn’t stop texting Jordan. The mobster was so angered that while leaving dinner that night, he pulled his gun out in the restaurant parking lot on the driver of an SUV that was in his way.
A little after 8am the next day (New Year’s Day), Jordan received a second phone call telling him and his friends to get out of town.
We were in the middle of Florida, alienated from the only people we knew and evicted from the place we were staying. We got in our rental car and sped south down I-95, hoping that we would ﬁnd a solution along the way and trying to get as far as possible from Lisa and the mobster.
I anxiously searched through my phone book for any person who might be able to put us up for the night, but everyone was away for the holiday. Remember, this was the era before apps and Smartphones so to find a cheap motel in Fort Lauderdale or Miami, we would have to pass one or somehow find a number. As all hope had nearly disappeared, we saw signs for Boca Raton (a town famous for its rich, old, retired Jews). A family friend, Abe, happened to be one of these old rich Jews. If we were lucky, he would be able to host us in his McMansion. After a ﬁve-minute call with Abe, we were driving ten miles an hour through the streets of Boca, avoiding old women with walkers and antique Ferraris.
Sitting safely at Abe’s I realized Jordan was a mess, and it was up to me to turn things around and come up with a New Year’s plan. The few local bars and restaurants listed online seemed designed for early-bird specials and senior-citizen discounts, and since none of us wanted to be the designated driver, and taxis would cost a fortune, we had to invite people over. Unfortunately, we didn’t know anyone to invite who didn’t smell like denture glue. I had this genius plan (words I use very loosely):
I would go on a dating site, create the most amazing account ever, and then send out messages to every non-crazy-looking girl within thirty miles, telling them we were throwing a barbecue party at this mansion and they could bring their friends.
Here is a sample of my profile:
“Some things you should know about me: I was part of the original team that reached the top of Everest. By the age of 12, I had won a Nobel Peace Prize for having created an agreement between the Capulets and the Montagues. I personally trained Chuck Norris. I have a body temperature of 96 degrees making me about 2 percent cooler than anyone else on earth… At the age of nine I named a soda that I invented after a physician who saved my life, Dr. David Pepper…I have always found Waldo. I have achieved all this, but I have not yet found the love of my life.”
After ﬁve hours of continuous messaging, two girls conﬁrmed each saying she would bring a friend.
At about 8:15 pm one of the girls showed up with her sister. The one I had been communicating with was about twenty pounds heavier than her photos suggested, and her fake tan looked like a shade of orange that nature usually reserves for poisonous bugs. I couldn’t complain about being misled since even though I looked like my photo, my “epic barbecue party” wasn’t exactly as advertised.
Less than ten minutes later, the other duo arrived. Unlike the sisters, these new visitors would not glow if I turned off the lights.
Jessica, the person I had spoken to, was a pretty, 5-foot-8 brunette with a doctorate in psychology and a giggly personality. Her friend Brynn was a cute but small redhead.
After a quick round of introductions, one of the sisters asked the question I dreaded most, “So how do you two know each other?”
Jessica answered, “Well, this is really random, but I met Jon today on a dating website, and he invited us over for a barbecue party, so we said why not.” The older of the two sisters glared at me and pulled me aside to inform me in her most curt tone that they would be leaving. I cringed at the idea of explaining this to Jessica and Brynn.
Entering the kitchen, I saw the rest of the group preparing the barbecue. I paired myself off with Jessica to set the patio table. Before I could bring up the topic, she asked me ﬂat-out, “What’s really going on here?
It was clear I could be honest with her since she was looking for a reason to stay. After I told her our mobster story and my plan, Jessica laughed loudly and responded, “I don’t know if that’s absolutely brilliant, or the most pathetic thing I have ever heard.”
She called everyone over to make me repeat myself. Everyone laughed, and as we did the tension from the day melted away.
Over the next four hours, we barbecued, shared stories, played board games, and, to bring in the New Year, toasted in the hot tub. When Jordan and Brynn kissed at midnight, I knew he was in good shape.
It’s funny: When there is something at stake that you care about, it’s amazing how far outside your comfort zone you will go. Jordan was and still is one of my best friends, and he made me realize that sometimes the pursuit of a greater purpose can be the perfect excuse to grow as a person and experience adventure.