19 Lessons from 2019

Emily Woodhouse Adventure Careers, Comment and Opinion, Living Adventurously, Practical Advice, Writing

Twenty nineteen has been a huge year for me. It has been extreme in every sense and I feel like I’ve been levelling up in a computer game. But, finally, the year is drawing to a close. It’s starting to feel like a slow down and glide to the end, rather than a sprint finish!

With that in mind, I’m feeling rather reflective. Not in the glow-in-the-dark sense, but in a looking back and considering this mammoth year… and what I’ve learnt from it. So, if you’re curious, settle down with a blanket, a mug of mulled apple juice and we’ll begin.


1. If you can’t change it, make it a feature

This is a way of thinking that I’ve used for a while in other areas (silly drawings, I’m looking at you!). But I think it has some interesting applications to adventure. For example, many people give reasons why they can’t do something: not enough time, not enough money, too old, too young, female, born on the third Wednesday of a month… You could very easily let these obstacles get in the way of you ever starting. Or, you could embrace the obstacle. Sing and dance about that obstacle. Then all of a sudden it becomes a feature, not a problem. Ask any microadventurer or 5-9er or weekend warrior. Look for people who have turned your obstacle into the key part of their expedition, for example:

2. Adventure is an art

I don’t mean that in the sense of “Adventure is not a science”. What I mean is that an adventurer sits in a room with artists. Musicians, authors and photographers all create around a theme. So do adventurers. You are coming up with an interesting premise and then going out an living that journey. Some might even say it’s the virtual reality version of reading (or writing) a book or film!

3. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should

I have shiny object syndrome with adventures. This year I have been away on something adventurous once a month. Once a month! It has been both epic and absolutely bonkers. Although completely wonderful in some respects, by saying yes to loads of little things I’ve sacrificed bigger projects.

This could go under any category really. Try apply it to other things in your life, not just adventure.

4. It is very possible to get a career in adventure

From the outside, a career in the adventure industry looked like a distant star. Only a small number of people do it and specifically, in my head, those people were all outdoor instructors. But if you don’t want to spend all day every day outside, if you don’t have the qualifications then you’re out of luck. Spoiler alert: this is completely wrong.

It is very possible to get a job in adventure. Because adventure isn’t all about being the guide for a group. Companies that sell things to do with adventure – be that trips, gear, books, apps, insurance – all have to get their staff somewhere. They do not only hire outdoor instructors! They want marketers and writers and accountants and developers and anything else the company next door would have. But they want people who do that and love adventure. Your skills may be way more transferable than you think.

5. In the outdoors we don’t live and learn

We learn and try not to die in the process. Although I haven’t had any near death experiences this year (thankfully!) I’ve had some food for thought about safety, danger, risk and development. Have a read of Winter Week in Scotland and A Slovenian Epic: Solo in the Julian Alps.

I was talking to some young guys (verging on 18) about going off on solo walks for first time. In the end I realised that what I could say boiled down to two things: accept the risks and try not to die. Sure I told them all the practical stuff about leaving someone a route card, checking in, trying to cover yourself in emergencies. But basically they have all the skills and knowledge, they just need to accept the risk: the buck stops with them.

Many accidents happen when people don’t realise the risks they’re taking, so walk blindly into things they aren’t prepared for. A lot of the time nothing bad happens. But the more you can know about the weather, the conditions and what you’re going to face out there, the better. I feel very differently about someone who has gone out knowing the dangers and had an accident – oddly it’s a sort of solidarity. You knew the risks, you took a chance and it went wrong. For some reason I respect that more than people going blindly into unknown danger.

That’s a bit rambly – as you can probably tell I’m still trying to work out exactly what I think about this topic!


1. The structure of your story is more important than a single word you write

This is an idea that has been coming at me from several different angles at once, this year. You can write the most beautiful words in the wittiest sentences, but if the structure is poor it will not be considered “a good read”. For example, which chapters you decide to write is far more important than the exact pattern of words within the chapters. If you pick up a book about World Travel and it only covers the UK, you’d be pretty disappointed. Or if you pick up two Maths textbooks on the same topic and one makes perfect sense, but the other goes straight over your head. The topics are the same, but the way its been put forward is different.

This importance of structure can be applied to writing small and huge, from short articles to novels and (I guess!) encyclopedia. Get the structure right first.

2. If you can’t write, just write anything

It has been a very long time since I’ve had to write anything creative on a deadline. There is a feeling of pressure and overwhelming doom as you try to force yourself to write on a certain topic. Then the more I panic the less I feel able to write and the closer the deadline gets. It’s a terrible spiral.

This year I seem to have fixed this issue by just forcing myself to write anything. It’s like talking to the paper. If I can’t bring myself to write what I urgently need to write I just have a chat with the paper. It might be about the impending deadline, like, “Well, I really need to get this article done, but I just don’t feel up to it today. I’m really tired…”. Or I might write the thing in my head, or the topic I want to write about. Once the pen’s got going, it suddenly becomes easier to write what I need to.

3. If you want to be a writer: write

I was told a story when I was at school about a lady who wanted to be a writer. She had quit her job and was moving to Paris. At her leaving party, a colleague asked, “So, why are you moving to Paris?”

Her answer was, “I need to move to Paris to become a writer.”

The colleague couldn’t understand. “Why are you moving to Paris? All you need is a pen and paper.”

Now, I’ve probably butchered that story, but you get the idea. There was nothing to stop that lady from putting pen to paper and writing. She wanted to move to Paris, but she didn’t really¬†need¬†to in order to be a writer. What are your preconceptions about what a writer is or does? Because really all you need to do to be a writer is to write. I am incredibly glad that I kept writing alongside everything else in my life because, when the moment came, I was ready to “become” a writer.

4. If you’re a writer, say it

There is something about writing – and perhaps all arts – that stops us from claiming that we are a writer. Maybe it’s imposter syndrome. We feel like we can’t claim to be a writer unless we are acclaimed, or our work has won awards and prestige. Basically: you’re not a writer unless someone else has said you’re good at it. This is so silly. You know if you’re a writer, deep down, regardless of what else you do in your life. So say it. That’s how you get writing work or opportunities. If no one else knows you’re a writer, how are you going to get your work out there?

For a story of how this worked for me this year: Stop Waiting for a Lucky Break

And a note that, even after being full-time employed as a writer, I still wasn’t calling myself a writer when people asked what my job was. Once I realised that, I stopped hiding.


1. Create Buffer

As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to fall into just putting out fires all the time. You deal with life day by day, swatting away urgent tasks and catching disasters. This is no way to live life. It takes a huge strength of will to put aside all the urgent, let some small bad things happen and get a grip of the bigger picture. By giving yourself time between doing projects and having to do projects, you have time to breath.

2. If you don’t set priorities, someone else will

Along the same line, unless you decide what’s important for you right now, someone else will. And someone else is really everyone else. All those emails flying in demanding why you haven’t done this thing yesterday. If you have a plan, you can head down that path and push your way through the crowd to where you want to be. If you don’t, person after person will take you off somewhere else, making it harder to get back to your path.

3. Set expectations, rather than trying to please everyone

Something like 99% of support queries through Intrepid Magazine this year (all of which come to my inbox) were eliminated by setting expectations. I took all the information about most common queries and answered them up front. The first email any subscriber gets sets expectations and helps them understand how this all works.

Along the same vein, clients and customers usually get upset when something isn’t how they thought it would be. If you can get in first and explain how it is, then those people will either understand, or not get involved. Fewer complaints, more happy people.

4. Juxtaposition helps

I have started playing soothing Classical music whilst I deal with hectic inboxes. For some reason this helps!

5. Find projects where you win even if you lose

I like this idea as a way to kill fear of failure dead. Because failure is pretty subjective really and a lot of the fear around failure (at least for me) is to do with being perceived as a failure by other people. By finding a project where you win even if you lose, you’ve still gained something – even if the project itself would be seen from the outside as a failure. For example, a project that helps you gain a new skill. You’ve got that skill forever, even if the project doesn’t go to plan.


1. Financial automation feels like financial freedom

About halfway through this year I had a realisation: I have no idea how to spend money. Everyone spends a lot of time teaching us how to save and that we should remember to put money aside for later – the more the better. At 26, I was still behaving largely like I had all my life: save as much money as possible; feel guilty about spending any at all. Particularly if it was something for me, not a gift or a bill.

Fortunately, I came across the ostentatiously named book I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. It’s actually not a get rich quick book at all. It’s about how get a handle on you finances by being pro-active rather than reactive. For example, if you say you want to buy a house in the next 5 years, okay how much does that house cost and how much will you need to put towards it each month to make it happen at the end of 5 years. It was an astounding wake up call for making dreams into tangible goals financially.

But, the most liberating part for me was going through the steps of automating my finances. My salary gets split off into savings, bills and guilt-free spending money automatically without me lifting a finger. It’s all just done by online rules. And better still because I know all the targets I’ve set are being met automatically, the little pot of money left each month is free to do whatever with. It’s like giving myself an allowance and it gets split automatically into vaults on Revlout: Adventure Fund, Library Fund, Gear Shopping and Curiosity Fund. No more feeling guilty about buying kit without knowing whether I can afford it. Now I know exactly when I’ve got enough. That mindset change was amazing.

2. Try going first

Along the same theme of active vs passive/reactive, but in a different context, try going first. For example, have you ever wished you were invited on a trip or to a party. Sure it strokes our ego to get invites from other people, but if everyone sits around waiting for an invite, nothing happens. So try going first: be the one to organise the trip or the party – or anything. You get what you want without feeling miserably left out.

At a biscuit stop on the Rhine Source to Sea, Alex and I were sitting on a bench by the river. There was a passenger boat cruising past and we were sad that no one was waving at us. Other boats had. Then I started waving at the boat. Soon half the side of the boat was waving back. Go first and make yourself happy.

3. Busy is a lack of control. Action expresses priorities.

I have really taken this to heart this year. Another version: “Busy-ness is a form of laziness. Lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.” We can all do better than busy. Stop wearing busy-ness as a badge of honour and work out what you’re hiding behind the cloud of busy. It might hurt, but it’ll be worth it.

4. Find little things that make you ridiculously happy

After watching Neil Gaiman talk to Tim Ferris for about half an hour about fountain pens, I finally accepted that it’s okay to have random little things that get you ridiculously enthusiastic. You don’t have to be embarrassed by these things! I am endlessly pleased by fun socks and hardback books. Small things can make a huge difference. They don’t have to be physical things either. Getting caught in a rain/hail/thunderstorm or being on Dartmoor tick that box for me too.

5. Hell yes or no

I was talking to Al Humphreys – ha! That sounds too much like name dropping. I was interviewing him and we went off on one about saying yes to things vs choosing to say no. Because I am extremely guilty of saying yes to pretty much anything under the guise of trying things out. Or in other areas of life where, because I know I can help, I offer to.

Although I still believe that this is a wonderful attitude to life, I have found it’s become a dangerous one in a world of enormous opportunities and requests. There are just so many things I can do now. By compulsively offering to do all of them, I actually have no capacity left to do the things I really care about. Never mind do them well.

I’d come across the phrase “Hell yes or no” from Derek Sivers but I still feel like I should credit Al on the off chance he’s reading! He has this phrase stuck on the wall above his desk as a constant reminder. Although I don’t think I’ll be going quite that far, I have started a Not-To-Do List. It’s a set of rules to stop me from taking things on that are shiny, but not aligned with where I want to go in life right now.

The End

Well you made it! That was quite a ramble of a post, but hopefully there was something in it that you found interesting. Or maybe something to think about later.