Matt Niswonger

The Power Within

Photo: Nils Niswonger

Running a small business as a married couple is not for the faint of heart. You have to constantly switch back and forth between family issues and business issues as seamlessly as possible, without getting caught up in any drama. Cathy and I started Adventure Sports Journal, got married, and started a family all at the same time. Seventeen years later we have two teenagers, a pre-teen, a dog, four chickens, multiple bank accounts, multiple social media accounts, three cars, and the list goes on. I also work as a high voltage lineman, one of the most dangerous professions in America.

Needless to say, our life sometimes feels a bit complicated. We deal with a steady stream of problems and minor crises pretty much from the moment we wake up until we go to bed at night. Our kids play sports and have to be shuttled around, the house needs constant cleaning, and every two months we publish a magazine about climbing, surfing, mountain biking and snow sports. Our commitment is that each issue is a little bit better than the last.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that in order to function well, I need to stay 100% committed to my own happiness. Simply put, in order to be effective and helpful to the people around me, I need to be selfish sometimes.

I learned this powerfully when I completed a 21-day Outward Bound course in May of 1989. During the course, we traversed the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Sequoia National Park to Yosemite. I was twenty years old and it felt like the hardest thing I had ever done.

About ten days into the backcountry, my group had a meltdown and the situation became scary. Everyone was exhausted after hiking for many hours in thigh deep snow. All the participants including myself were borderline hypothermic. We were also dehydrated and hungry. We couldn’t build a proper snowcave and people were starting to feel miserable and panicky. Some people started arguing and others simply threw down their sleeping bags directly onto the snow and attempted to go to sleep. Simply put, we stopped functioning in our own best interest.

Our instructors helped us get safely to bed that night (in tents instead of a snowcave), but without their help we would have surely perished.

During our debrief the next day, the instructors told us that our small group broke the golden rule of survival: we stopped administering self-care. Our group process broke down when everyone as individuals failed to drink water, eat food, and put on warm clothes. Because we failed ourselves, we couldn’t help the group.

Twenty-eight years later the same lesson applies to my life. If I don’t take care of myself, I’m ineffective as a father, a husband, an employee, and a business partner. Without good sleep, nutrition and exercise the machine grinds to a halt and I become a burden to others, just like my Outward Bound patrol group. That’s why self-care is priority number one for anyone who loves the people around him or her.

Adventure Sports Journal is a manual for self-care and that’s why we exist: to inspire readers to play outside more. I personally mountain bike, climb, surf, hike, and snowboard to recharge my batteries and get present to the sheer joy of being alive. In 2018 my goal is to add yoga and disc golf to the list.

As I have touched on in previous articles, one way to describe happiness is the process of connecting with the people in our lives while we simultaneously discover our own potential. Here at Adventure Sports Journal we promote a lifestyle that rejects the quest for money in favor of the quest for happiness because we honestly believe that’s what the world needs right now: dedicated human beings who joyfully uncover their own capacity to help others.

In other words, think of your bike, your surfboard, and your climbing shoes as tools for happiness in a world that wants to distract you from what really matters. Until you truly commit yourself to your own happiness, you will be less than helpful to the people around you. Specifically this means a commitment to self-care so you are more available to your family and friends.

Do you agree that adventure sports like surfing, climbing, mountain biking, yoga, and disc golf can be a path to happiness or is this all a bunch of new age malarkey? Send me an email, I’d love to hear from you:

—Matt Niswonger