My friend Tyler died from a drug overdose in our sophomore year of high school. But I didn’t go to the funeral. I had other plans: I was going to shoot OxyContin and cocaine for the first time.

I’d grown up in a middle-class household with two loving and supportive parents. I’d done well in school and in sports, and I had a good network of friends. When my parents realized I had a drug problem, they intervened, and I began attending AA meetings and therapy. Driving to one of those meetings, I almost killed myself. 

I was nearly blacked out on Xanax and doing whip-its behind the wheel. I don’t remember the moment of impact, but when I came to my senses I realized that I’d slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler and had crossed over 4 lanes of oncoming traffic.

People were stopping at the crash site to help, but I kept waving them away because I had drugs in the car. A few hours later I was getting high again.

When I was nearly expelled from school for stealing from a classmate, my parents intervened yet again. This time, they sent me to a rehab program that was a 9-week trek through the Utah desert. There were 15 other guys around my age in similar circumstances.

Day in and day out we’d wake up, break camp, hike all day to the next campsite, and set up camp again. We ate simple meals, had deep group discussions, did personal development exercises, and went right to sleep, too exhausted for anything else. 

Among all the experiences I’d had, trekking through the wilderness with other men was the only one that made a real difference—not the death of my friend, not my own brush with death, but an encounter with the natural world, with my strengths and weaknesses, and with the strengths and weaknesses of the men around me.

Being out in nature, focused on simple tasks, living and working with other men, and hearing them talk about themselves with honesty and sincerity—the whole experience filled me with a profound sense of peace and belonging that changed the course of my life. 

Over the next several years, I began noticing a general pattern among many of the men I knew. 

One of my friends was a successful realtor and former college baseball player. He said he often felt overwhelmed by daily life and disconnected from the people around him. I noticed that he was also hyper-competitive around other men, and was constantly trying to gain attention and signal his financial status. He said that he felt like he needed a challenging experience in his life, but couldn’t find it. 

So I tried recreating for him the kind of experience that had helped me. We set off into the wilderness for a week. When we got back, he was a different man! He felt an inner peace that he had never experienced. He was crystal clear about what really mattered to him. His relationships deepened across the board. His desire to impress others was greatly diminished, and he could just be himself. 

I thought: What if I could provide other men with the kind of experience they crave—the kind of experience I’d had trekking through the wilderness?

What many men are missing from their lives isn’t money, a good job, a loving family, or good friends. It’s instead the same thing I’d been missing: a crucible experience to help them find their way into adult life—something like a rite of passage.

Many societies have rites of passage. Young men leave their familiar environments and undergo a physical and emotional trial. That trial helps them discover within themselves sources of strength they didn’t know they had. They come back ready for adult life. 

The problem is our society doesn’t provide opportunities for transformative rites of passage. As a result, many men feel out of place in the adult world. Some symptoms I’ve noticed: 

  • feeling overwhelmed by the ordinary challenges of life
  • feeling afraid they won’t be able to provide for themselves or their families
  • feeling a lack of purpose or meaning in their work and life
  • feeling apathetic about their jobs or their relationships with other people
  • being disconnected from other men—seeing other men not as friends and companions, but as competitors, and constantly feeling as if they need to prove themselves. Men feel like they need to prove themselves to other men because they haven’t proven themselves to themselves. They do this by constantly signaling financial status, social status, etc.

I believe the solution is a rite-of-passage experience like the one I had, and shared with my friend.

These experiences give men the inner strength they need to take command of their lives—the strength to see themselves as powerful, resourceful, and effective; the motivation to devote themselves to meaningful work and their relationships, and the confidence to bond with other men and to see them as needed sources of strength and companionship.

Confronting the physical and mental challenges of the natural world with other men changes your perspective on life. It declutters your mind. It takes your focus away from trivial things, and orients you toward things that really matter. Problems and relationships start looking simpler. Your overall level of anxiety decreases, since your mind has fewer things to track. You start focusing on what’s genuinely in your control, and that newfound focus is empowering.

That’s the goal of Soul Searching Adventures, where we take like-minded men into the wilderness for 1-2 weeks. We teach some survival skills and do deep introspective work. We write and talk about our past, our shortcomings, and what we want in life. We aim for clarity of mind, radically deeper relationships, and having a peak life experience. If you’re ready to step into your next level as a man and leader, we’d love to have you. Apply now!

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