You will often hear that you should “buy experiences, not things.

This anti-materialistic piece of life advice has solid foundations in psychological research; even less-than-stellar experiences can (and probably will) eventually turn up as interesting memories and good stories to tell, while even the greatest of purchases will likely turn out less than satisfying in the long term.

Unfortunately, though, the misunderstanding taking “buy experiences, not things” rather too literally is all around.

When that gets started in its consumerist, touristy attitude, it focuses on the buying, we get to the shopping lists of “100 things to do” and “1000 places to see“, often “before you die” and sometimes, even worse in its tourist-consumerist nature, “before they disappear.

Experiences are meant to make a person and a life more interesting, but these lists – even while purporting to be for that – often do just the opposite.

Ted Trautman, in The Atlantic, discussed the rise of the “bucket-list books” very nicely, but I think that Henry Wismayer on Medium put it best:

“Look, I’m not saying that certain types of travel are without value. Get away, get some sun, write a journal, prostrate yourself before the altar of benumbing technology and record every step of your journey on social media if it makes you feel better about yourself. Just realize: if your travelling is a box-ticking exercise; if you predicate even one iota of self-worth on how many countries you’ve visited; if you think in bucket-lists inspired by clickbait ‘10 best’ listicles appealing to the lowest common denominator, from one deluded c*nt to another, travelling isn’t making you interesting. It’s just confirming your position as one of the crowd.”

Trying desperately to live life in a more special way and looking for other places and other people to make it so, you just distract yourself from actually, truly, living your life where you are.

There is truly only one thing that you must do before you die: you must live.

Run under Orion

One possibility for experiencing the well-known in new ways that I keep coming back to: Running at night.

Sure, you will have been alive before you die, anyways. That doesn’t mean anything much by itself; and ultimately, a life doesn’t mean much, anyways.

Your life will be somehow like those of all others, for you are a human being, and the (ancient) Roman playwright Terence’s words “homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” – I am a human being; I consider nothing that is human alien to me – still ring true. Childhood and adolescence, partnerships and heartbreak, pleasures and sorrow, they are all somewhat alike.

No, even if all lives are going to be somewhat alike, and even if it looks like only a truly extraordinary life, of a person who will be remembered through the ages, really makes for anything much, it is still just ordinary living that you will probably experience – and that you can make extra-ordinary for yourself, good for yourself and others, without much of what we keep considering oh-so-extraordinary.


Your life will also be uniquely and distinctly yours, after all. The more so, the more you actually live it on your own terms rather than guided by the same lists of things that must be done and places that must be seen as everyone else.

You can create a positive influence on your patch of soil, in your community, and probably with much more of a positive effect than any highfalutin rich person wanting to change the world (and have you ever noticed how that is typically change for all the others, not much of a change in how they themselves live?).

All the distraction of the lists of special places and things comes to a head when you consider this:
What you really need to learn in order to grow is what you don’t even know that you don’t know.

Sure, there is probably, hopefully, a lot you want to learn and a lot you (think you) know but don’t quite know as deeply as you think you do.
Lots to do even there, with things you know and want to know.
There are, probably, places you want to go, are fascinated by, and could learn about by experiencing them, at least.
So, go.

Just don’t forget that you’re probably overlooking a lot that can be learned – and created – right where you are, in places you would overlook because not everyone is talking about them, but that might talk to you and teach you something that will deeply matter to you.

Neither forget that the deepest growth is not in the comfort of adding a few details here and there, having been to a place and now thinking you know it because you have seen it, expanding a little on something you are already somewhat good at. Learning and growth happen a lot when you are shown where your limits lie, and when you move beyond them.

Following a list of places one must have seen is nothing if not superficial; it just takes a glance, maybe moves on after a few snapshots, leaves a checkmark next to another “must-do,” but it isn’t a life deeply lived.

There is no surprise, no learning, no growth.
Just the “been there, seen that, done that” that gives a quick shot of excitement but isn’t much more.

To really learn, to really live, you must live more deeply, go where you wouldn’t normally go and where no guidebook tells you to, stay in a place and make the grass greener where you are.

Make yourself at home.