This Is What One Fellow Traveler Taught Me About Living Intensely


I met her on a party boat in Thailand, which is not exactly the place where normal people have personal development epiphanies, but that’s just who I am. I meet people and I watch what they can teach me, even if we’re tossing back a few beers along the way.

The first time I realized she was crazy (in a good way) was when we stopped in a turquoise lagoon to go snorkeling and she immediately swam over to another boat, three stories higher than ours, and talked her way onto the luxury ship. Literally one minute she was smiling and charming the Thai captains, the next she was capitulating herself off the top of the boat with zero hesitation. Meanwhile, a queue of five grown men stood behind her at the edge with knees quaking before finally leaping off with girlish squeals. Not this chick.

If she was going to do something, it would be all the way, and then some.

And it occurred to me that if I went to do the same thing — not that I would think to talk my way onto a yacht in the first place, no less dive off the top of it — I would probably stand at the edge and hem and haw and maybe finally hop off, my whole body tensed with fear. I would do it, but barely. This girl, on the other hand, goes above and beyond. She runs an extra lap around everyone else, smiling ear to ear.

Let’s call her Emma. When Emma first talks to you, she literally bounces over and dives in. Within minutes of our introduction, we were heatedly discussing her summer job with sex workers in Bangkok. She’s a biology major who wants to become a midwife, but she’s also managing a project at a hedge fund back home. She’s all over the place in one way, but completely centered in who she is in another.

When she tells a story, she reels you in with enthusiasm and candor. She’s buddies with the most famous drag queen in the world, went hitchhiking through Namibia, and had a bad acid trip in Switzerland. She’s absent-minded to a fault, losing all her credit cards the day before we met, she recalled with a shrug.

With Emma, things are to be replaced and life goes on, another adventure just around the corner. These are all small matters. She’s thinking about right now.

When I spoke candidly to the guy she’s been traveling with for four months (who’s clearly head over heels for her but at the same time utterly drowning in her intensity), he marveled in her direction, shaking his head with wide eyes and saying, “I’ve never met anyone else like her.” Shortly followed by, “Uh, where’d she go? Wait, is that her? Is she twirling fire?!” As you would if you were Emma and found yourself on a beach in Thailand where fire performers hang out. Go find, and play with, the fire. Don’t stay in the audience, get on stage.

I’m not saying this is the way to live 100% of the time and I’m not saying that recklessness is an admirable trait, but there’s undeniably an element of this girl’s appetite for adventure that I immediately wanted to incorporate into my own life.

She made me want to get closer to the edge, to live deeper in the moment, to fear less, to open up more, to care less, to surpass expectations, to go all the way every time.

Balanced with a reasonable amount of common sense, this kind of life force can be nurtured within each of us and spread to others, just like she’s spread it to me. A spark from her firecracker-like existence would turn life up a notch for most of the rest of us.

Basically, what Emma taught me in two days in Thailand is: don’t just do something, do it like you mean it. Don’t just go for stuff, go for it with extra pizzazz. Don’t just stand in front of something new and poke it with a ten foot stick, dive right in. You’ll never know until you try for yourself, so live life unapologetically in the driver’s seat.

Here’s to Emma.

This post originally appeared at Life Before 30.