Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard of Into The Wild, the non-fiction best-selling book by Jon Krakauer on the journaled final few years of Christopher McCandless’ life. In 1990, McCandless made the decision to forgo his worldly possessions and family, donate his remaining $24k to charity and head out, well, into the wild following his graduation from Emory University.
Following a two year cross-country soujourn, the 24-year-old took 15 pounds of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, a camera, several boxes of bullets, camping gear and a few books (including a guide to the region’s edible plants) into Alaska’s Stampede Trail. On September 6 of 1992, his body was found by moose hunters with the cause of death being starvation or food poisoning depending on what you believe. He was just 67 pounds at the time of his death.
It is what happened in those two years that is nothing short of amazing. McCandless kept a journal, which Krakauer weaved into one of the most moving stories in American history. The book was made into a film by actor/director Sean Penn, complete with a really good soundtrack composed by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. I won’t recount everything as I urge you to either read the book or see the movie. Trust me: if you’ve ever felt like you had a wandering soul, you’ll appreciate it. But my intention isn’t to provide a book report or a movie review. What struck me was that the underpinnings of McCandless’ tale have surfaced again in a much more modernistic form.
Meet 44-year-old Australian Ian Usher. After his five-year marriage dissipated two years ago, Usher has been in a funk. Everything reminds him of a life he wants to move on from: his house, his belongings, his job. But instead of getting a new haircut or a convertible, Usher is upping the ante. Usher is selling his entire life on Ebay and intends “to walk out of my front door with my wallet in one pocket and my passport in the other, nothing else at all…” And when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. He is even selling a chance to take over his current job and a one-time introduction to his friends. Lest you think this is a scam, this is very real and Usher expects to earn between $400-$500k for everything which he’ll use to begin a new path of his own.
So what are the similarities between the two? Honestly, not a lot other than a basic desire for escapism. McCandless wanted to unshackle himself from the constraints he saw around him, brought on by rich parents and a much too structured life. He ended up paying for his desires with his life, but ultimately I feel that he would have wanted his story to end that way. Usher is looking to get a fresh start, again by releasing the constraints of material items and his surroundings. While it’s a bit more attention-grabbing than McCandless’ earthy tale, the reasons are basically the same: live life, get tired, get out.
Admit it: you have wanted to do the same thing. No matter how great your family is, how awesome your friends are and how many possessions you’ve amassed, you’ve thought about just leaving it all behind and living a simpler life. There’s something romantic about the idea of simplicity, made harder everyday because of the natural responsibilities we’re saddled with as we grow older. I often wonder that why in a land of opportunity, there are so many of us that just want less. Too often, happiness is driven by external forces telling us we’re happy rather than us actually being happy. Personally, I love my life but there has always been something that is in the back of my mind about disappearing in the woods of Oregon or Colorado that has been enticing. Will I ever do it? Nah, but I do think about it from time to time.
Christopher “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless made the choice 18 years ago to simplify his life. A few weeks ago, Ian Usher made the choice to simplify his. What will you do to change yours?