Discover more from Cole's Climb
"Choosing Experiences over Things," Absolutely Must be Stopped
This attempt to reject materialism has put us on a path where it is increasingly difficult to be thankful for what we have. Here's why we need to put out collective foot down:
Looking Ahead to Thanksgiving
I haven’t actually taken a single week off of writing Cole’s Climb since my first post published, back in July of 2021. I thought the Thanksgiving holiday would be a great week to take some time off. So I’m releasing this Thanksgiving themed essay now, and plan to take next Thursday off to spend time with loved ones. I hope you enjoy!
A few weeks back, I wanted to get revenge on a mountain. Mount Elbert, to be specific. I was in the middle of a long summer climbing streak, summiting — or at least attempting — something every weekend. I thought this meant I was having a good summer.
One weekend, the dreaded bonkstruck me down. I had to turn around about a mile from the summit (and wrote about the experience here.)
Thing is: having to bail really didn’t sit right with me. I hate the idea of leaving a challenge incomplete. There’s also a mental aspect to this, thought. I strongly believe that the longer you wait to return and face your failure, the more you risk developing a psychological block that prevents you from trying again.
I didn’t want to let my failure on Elbert stew for too long, so I made plans to head back the very next weekend. The day before the hike: I packed all my gear, and decided to unwind by the nearby creek before turning in early.
The sun hung low over the mountains, casting a calm turquoise color over the sky. I sipped my tea, leaned back in my cheap camp chair, and wiggled my toes in the babbling water. Leaves rustled in the breeze. Birds chirped.
An alarm blared from my phone.
I dug the device out of my pocket and checked the time. I’d have to go to bed soon to get a full night’s sleep before the trip. And yet… I really didn’t feel like getting up.
I wrestled with my thoughts for a moment, letting my state of relaxation do battle with a sense of obligation.
Thanks for reading Cole's Climb! Subscribe for free to support my work; and receive stories, interviews, and resources to plan your next trip!
“You Live in Colorado! All of this Cool Stuff is Right Outside Your Window. People Travel Across the World to See the Kinds of things You get to Experience on a Daily Basis.”
I get this line a lot from friends and family when I’m feeling down or worried. When life gets in the way of a fun trip, they tell me how lucky I am to be surrounded by incredible things to do.
“Every day could be an adventure if you wanted it to. Do you know how many people would kill for that?”
Yeah, that’s the problem.
This feeds into a strange feeling of meaninglessness I’ll call the duty to explore. It’s almost like — because I’m here, I need to be constantly going out and seeing new things, making memories. Creating cool stories.
In this regard, a day of rest is a wasted opportunity.
Where Does this Feeling Come From?
I’m convinced every news outlet on the planet has run some version of this headline.
“Millennials are prioritizing ‘experiences’ over stuff” — CNBC
“No Ownership, No Problem: An Updated Look At Why Millennials Value Experiences Over Owning Things” — Forbes
“Millennials look for experiences over possessions” — Marketing Week
“Why Millennials are Choosing Experiences Over Things” — Under 30 Experiences
I’m sure if you close your eyes, you can imagine your local morning show TV news anchor saying all of these in a chipper voice. I could go on, but you get the point.
They’re not wrong. Your average Millennial is much less likely to have shelves of knick-knacks than their parents. And lately, it seems most people are gravitating more toward concerts, trips, tours, and other experiences.
I Have a Question Though: are We Doing it by Choice?
There have been days I’ve hauled my butt to the top of some mountain I really didn’t feel like climbing. I just felt obligated to go do something.
Behind this weird guilt some of us feel when we relax, is a bigger specter of an idea —one that’s plastered everywhere: “choosing experiences over things.”
The sentiment sounds lovely: let go of materialism. Explore the world! But the practical effect on our mental state is profoundly sad.
“Ownership is frivolous. Go spend your money on abstract things. Then go brag about how enlightened you are online, so that your friends will feel pressured to do the same.”
It’s a brilliantly insidious form of consumerism where you wind up empty handed, owning nothing. Product can be conjured from thin air. After it’s “experienced,” it ceases to exist, except in the form of memories and pictures.
That’s where the problem feeds into our already disastrous digital addictions. We don’t display our knick-knacks on shelves, we put them on our feeds in the form of pictures in a desperate attempt to convert some of the lost fiscal value into status.
We brag, share, and chase our next fix like a manic junkie, never taking a moment to pause and appreciate what we’ve done and what we have.
We Have Traded Materialism for Dopamine Addiction, and Mistaken Contentment for Sloth.
This Thanksgiving, I’m trying to establish a healthier understanding of relaxation. I like to call it Schrödinger’s Adventure: every morning when I look out my window, I think of all the exciting ways I could spend my day.
I could climb a mountain, bike through the forest, snowboard, or pay a visit to my favorite tree to sneak in some drawing. If I can’t decide, just taking in the wildlife from my window isn’t half bad either.
I’m thankful I have these options.
I’m thankful I have incredible people in my life to share these experiences with.
And today, I’m thankful to be experiencing peace.
Today, I encourage you to sit down to really contemplate the positives in your life — not from a place of guilt, greed, or obligation, but of appreciation.
I’m Thankful for Each of You
I appreciate you taking the time to keep up with my newsletter. Sharing my adventures with you is one of my great joys. I hope that if you enjoyed this piece and haven’t signed up already — I can earn your subscription.
Cole’s Climb is an independent publication for adventurers, telling the stories that matter to you.
With that free subscription, you get access to interviews with some of the most fascinating people working to improve the outdoor community, exclusive reporting on issues impacting recreation, as well as stories, videos and photos from the field.
While You’re Here:
I mentioned last week, I’m collecting data to take a closer look at how ski resorts are trying to limit crowding, and how these methods are impacting riders. If you ski or snowboard, I’d really appreciate you taking a minute to fill out this survey. I promise — it’s super quick, just a few questions. Thanks again!
“Bonk,” AKA “hitting the wall,” is when you get hit with a sudden feeling of extreme fatigue. Some hikers compare it to a car running out of gas on a long road trip.