Fulfillment Outside of Outside


What’s so addicting to me about outdoor recreation is the sense of fulfillment. For many individuals, the outdoors is a solace to find feelings of success, completion, and growth. The combination of fresh air, natural sights, and the brain bath of adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin from physical activity make the experience of outdoor recreation so powerful. 

And the great thing is there seems to be limitless growth and continual goals to set — there’s always another peak to bag, another couloir to covet, another skill to master on the mountain bike, and a bigger, better, bolder route to climb. And oftentimes, with dedication and training, these goals can continue to be achieved and expanded as we become stronger, more skilled, and more competent. This personal cycle of hard work, growth, and achievement is extremely fulfilling. 

But what happens when an unforeseen circumstance gets in the way of this growth? When the air quality is too poor to summit peaks or hit the trail for a run? Or when the big cliff you’d been working towards wasn’t what you’d hoped for and you’re left with a torn meniscus? Or when training degrades the body and you develop shin splints, knee pain, or tendonitis?

If one’s sense of personal worth and fulfillment is based exclusively on outdoor pursuits, especially highly physical outdoor pursuits, these uncontrollable setbacks can be devastating. 

It’s such an important, yet oftentimes overlooked, facet of an individual’s happiness to have other methods besides physical recreation that bring one a similar sense of fulfillment. These outlets can take many shapes and forms for different people: reading literature, sketching, learning guitar, journaling, producing poetry, writing songs, upcycling clothing, creating videos, and edits. The list is endless. And the “list” can suit all different types of individuals across different periods in their lives, from all different levels of fitness, air quality, mental health, and bodily health.

All these forms of expression are skills that we can develop. Just in the same way one can develop as a biker, skier, or climber. Similar to outdoor recreation, the growth is limitless: there’s always another song to learn, another powerful book recommendation, another scene to paint. This growth may not feel quite the same as summiting a mountain peak, but successfully learning a new song on the keyboard, or finishing an embroidery project, can release those same happy chemicals and create a sense of achievement. And when outdoor outlets are less accessible, these methods can be tantamount to maintaining a sense of purpose and growth. 

But even in times of bodily health and green-light air quality, I believe we still need these other healthy, fulfilling outlets. And ultimately, what you do doesn’t matter, as long as it provides those personal feelings of growth, accomplishment, and fulfillment. 

So read a book for god’s sake! Or write a poem! Or pull out that ukulele you bought ages ago and almost learned to play “Riptide” and make some music! Diversify! Explore other, broader, outlets for fulfillment.