I ended up surviving

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“Back in college they called me Mailbox Head. Because my head was pretty big. Mailbox Head was a little bit reckless. I didn’t really have a plan in life back then. I drank too much. I threw illegal parties on campus. I climbed abandoned bridges. One time I broke my tailbone because I thought it’d be fun to make a toboggan out of a beer banner. The wild behavior carried over into the first few years of my marriage. But when I was 27, my daughter was born. Three months later I went hiking with my buddies, and I started to climb a cliff without ropes. And I got about eighty feet up, and I couldn’t get any higher. But I also couldn’t get down. I was so desperate that I was about to jump. I kept thinking about my daughter. Somehow my friend talked me down, and I ended up surviving. But that was the end of Mailbox Head.”

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Part of me definitely died when our daughter was born

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“My wife urged me to take this little trip to New York so that I can clear my head. It’s just for two days. But my leash has been so short lately that it feels like an eternity. Part of me definitely died when our daughter was born. I was always a free spirited person. I traveled a lot. I never had a boss. I had all the choices in the world. But a lot of that disappeared in order to make things possible for my daughter. I watch her during the day. And I’m not mad about it. This is the happiest time of my life. It would be great if my daughter was here right now. It’d be so fun to watch her run around the park. But I’d also be worried about her safety. And the diaper bag. And the car seat. And the stroller. And our next meal. And our next place to stay. There’s always a flickering flame of worry that doesn’t go away. Back home we live by the beach. And if my wife ever senses that I’m getting overwhelmed, she tells me to go jump in the ocean. And that resets me for a few days. It’s all I need. I just need a little space to be me. Because it can be so easy to get lost in helping a new person become someone.”

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So after graduating college, I set out build a world-class adventure company

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“When I was eighteen, a large group of students visited Ghana from the UK for a youth development program. It was an expensive program. It cost thousands of pounds. But I got to join for free because they needed some Ghanaians for a smattering of cultural diversity. The program was a mixture of community service and adventure. We actually came canoeing on this very lake. The whole time I was thinking about how much money was being made from our natural resources. And how much of that money was leaving Ghana. I became determined to make Ghana money out of the Ghana environment. So after graduating college, I set out to build a world-class adventure company. It’s been over five years now. We have twelve full time employees and twenty-five adventure locations. Best of all, I think we’re creating an adventure culture in the country. Our clients were 70 percent foreign when we started. Now they’re 80 percent Ghanaian. Behind me is Survival Island. It’s my latest project and biggest risk yet. I constructed a full ropes course, and one day I hope to build the world’s longest zip line. That would really put Ghana on the adventure map.” (Accra, Ghana)

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I really have a wonderful mother

I’d always dream of getting a college degree, but I got married right after high school

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“I’d always dreamed of getting a college degree, but I got married right after high school. We started having children right away, so it wasn’t easy to convince my husband to let me study. The one time I tried to mention it, he immediately said ‘no.’ But a few years later we were in the passport office and I saw an advertisement for a university. I pulled on his sleeve, pointed at the sign, and said: ‘Lets take a look. It’s only a look.’ That very same day I enrolled in classes. Each night I’d wait until 2 AM, after everyone’s demands had been answered, and the whole house was asleep. Then I’d begin my studying. I’d work until morning, wake the children up, and prepare them for school. Only then could I rest. It was exhausting but I was so happy. It felt like I’d gone back in time and my kids were my siblings. During my third year I was pregnant again, and I was terrified that I’d go into labor during my final exams. But I got my diploma. It was the happiest day of my life. My husband was thrilled for me. Everything is different now. I understand the world. I used to be afraid to leave the house. But now I feel powerful. And it shows.” (Cairo, Egypt)

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I just miss waking up and not knowing what’s going to happen

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“I thought I could resist the rat race. I thought: ‘I’m a unique guy. I like to mix things up.’ So I fought it for a long time. I stayed up past my bedtime. I listened to music really loud in the morning. I rode my bike to work. I always tried to find new places for lunch. I joined a softball team. I went to concerts on weeknights. But I just got tired. I ended up staying later at the office. And I fell into a rhythm: come home, watch TV, and go to sleep. I’m not sure I can do this for the next forty years. I just miss waking up and not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s never explicitly said to you that you need to live on your own, and have a good life, and meet someone, and have kids, and have those kids be more successful than you are. But you feel the pressure all the time. You feel it every time someone asks how your job is going. Right now everyone in this park is taking a break from the thing they have to get back to. It’s comforting in a way. There’s a sense of solidarity in it. We’re all feeling the same obligation.”

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She viewed me as a problem

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“The vibe was in the air. You know it. Kids know. I wasn’t welcome or wanted. My mom felt trapped. She didn’t want her husband and she didn’t want kids. She viewed me as a problem. Everything that went wrong was my fault. There was never a ‘How was your day?’ or ‘I love you.’ I wouldn’t even call it a childhood. I never had a chance to be a kid. So I started having sex very young. I was only twelve but I was looking for it. I met him in the men’s room of a movie theater. He was a drifter. I never felt hurt, or forced, or manipulated. He never lured me with candy. I didn’t even know the word ‘pedophile’ existed. I was just thankful for the closeness. I visited him on the weekends. There wasn’t much conversation. He never asked me about my week. He never asked me about school. What can I say? It was what it was. It wasn’t right or wrong to me. It was a comfort.”

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I just had the best day of my life

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“I love walking around the city. I catch the Metro North train at 11:40 every morning. I go to the same gym that I’ve been going to for forty years. Then I just start walking. If you take big strides it really stretches you out. And there are millions of other people walking around. You never feel alone. People smile at you. On weekends I’ll bring my granddaughters with me and we’ll tour different neighborhoods. We’ve seen ten or twelve so far. Sometimes I get to borrow them for the whole afternoon. But they’re at sleep away camp right now so I’m missing them a lot. And that’s about it. I do a little shopping at the thrift store. I stop and read the paper. I eat at outdoor restaurants. It’s simple but I found what makes me happy and I’m doing it. And when I’m heading home at night, sometimes I think: ‘I just had the best day of my life.’”

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