Shelby Stanger, WILL TO WILD: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life

Shelby Stanger, WILL TO WILD: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life

Shelby and Zibby discuss the therapeutic benefits of nature and the intersection between outdoor activities, like surfing, and mental well-being. Shelby also touches on decision fatigue, imposter syndrome, self-awareness, and self-care. For those interested in the nexus of outdoor experiences and psychological health, this episode is a must-listen!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Shelby. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Will to Wild: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life.

Shelby Stanger: Thanks for having me, Zibby. You have an OG version. I love that. It’s been changed a little bit.

Zibby: Has it?

Shelby: Yes, a lot.

Zibby: This is the galley.

Shelby: I’ll send you the original. It’s much better. The galley had a few errors. You know, when you’re writing a book, I had no idea what a process it was. It’s an adventure itself. The real one’s out in the world. It’s been really fun.

Zibby: I love the galleys because they’re always paperback, and I can bring them places easily. I tend to put aside the hard copies even if they arrive sometimes.

Shelby: I’m a fan of paperback as well.

Zibby: Shelby, your book is so inspiring. It starts with your own journey of how you basically got unstuck and rediscovered adventure and got yourself out of a bad place. It’s much less an adventure guidebook and much more about living your best life, honestly, is the bigger message of the whole book. Tell me about writing this book and just anything you want to say about it.

Shelby: Thanks for having me on, Zibby. I love what you’ve created. I started podcasting around the same time. I ended up wanting to do a podcast about adventure. Then this book is because over the years — I started writing an adventure column when I was nineteen in the San Diego newspapers. I’ve always been fascinated with the power of adventure. As a little girl, I taught surfing at this all-woman surf school called Surf Diva. If you make your way down to San Diego, we’ll get you a lesson. Women would come for a weekend or a week-long clinic. A couple weeks or a month afterward, I’d often get a call from one of them. They’d say, Shelby, I quit my job that I needed to quit. I ended a relationship that was no longer serving me. They were moving across the country to a place with a better beach. Their life would never be the same again. I think that it stuck with me and resonated with me so much that I inadvertently made it my life’s work to study people who chase adventure full time. Then I started this podcast in 2016 years later that I ended up selling to REI called “Wild Ideas Worth Living.” I’ve read a lot of adventure books. Most of them glorify adventure and glorify the finish line, but they don’t tell you how to go out and do an adventure and the power of adventure and what happens when everything goes wrong and what to do if you have self-doubt and fear and imposter syndrome and how to get unstuck. To me, doing an adventure, even a small one — an adventure is an adventure if it’s adventurous to you. I know I look like an adventurer. I’ve got all these surfboards in the background. I’m never going to climb Mount Everest. I’m never going to ride my bike, probably, more than a hundred miles. Even a little hike, making a commitment to watch the sunrise every morning, there’s small adventures you can do that can have a profound effect.

I wanted to create the best of everything I’d read in a book. I’m not a huge reader. I know that’s embarrassing to say on your podcast. I wanted punchy, fun stories. I wanted to share stories of other people I’ve interviewed. I wanted to tell a little bit of my story, the more raw, vulnerable ones. To be honest, I wanted to puke when I was writing them. I’m sure you can relate. Then I wanted to have these pro tips at the end of each chapter. If you’re busy and you’re a mom and you don’t have a lot of time, you can just flip to the page and be like, okay, this is what I need to do. I think a lot of us have decision fatigue in our lives. I just wanted to give pro tips. Here’s a great way to go out and do one. Here’s some numbers to break it down into so that you can scientifically, if you’re very analytical, get your brain around why you should go do something now. I think we can all relate to looking up at the night sky. That feeling, which creates awe, is such a game-changing feeling. I think that’s one of those feelings that adventure brings to you. You can feel small and yet more connected at the same time. You often feel grateful. If you are in a bad mood before you go out in the wild, into nature — maybe you had a bad day at work. Maybe you were stuck in traffic. Usually afterwards, you kind of forget about your bad mood, and you’re in a good mood again. There’s all these great things that nature provides and that doing an adventure provides that almost creates a synergistic effect.

I know I’m a little bit rambling. There’s a lot of books about nature. We know that being outside in nature is good for us. It chills out our nervous systems. Most of us have pretty intense nervous systems. It helps us lower blood pressure. Sometimes it boosts our immunity. We can relax. Then when you do something outside of your comfort zone and do an adventure in nature, I think it creates this double effect. This book is sort of a guidebook on why and how to do it but using a really wide range of adventures. There’s everyone from body-positive runners to a woman who was going through menopause. There’s a pretty funny story about that. She was crossing the South Pole with her husband. They became the first married couple to do so unsupported and unaided, which meant they were carrying all their own gear. The first outdoor drag queen is in this book; Alex Honnold, this guy that free soloed El Capitan. There’s a mention of Cheryl Strayed because she’s a legend. Then there’s people you’ve never heard of, from a guy who started doing art outside — it changed his life, and he became this TikTok star — to a really famous TikTok gardener who started having a relationship with plants. I just wanted people to use this book as a ticket; if they were already an adventurer, to say, hey, husband/wife/friend/boss, I need to keep adventuring; or if they were a little stuck and scared, to maybe consider using adventure as a way to heal and maybe make a change. You can go to a therapist. You can take psychedelics. Lots of people are trying all sorts of things, but nothing builds courage like doing an adventure.

Zibby: Amazing. That was wonderful. In the book, you talk about signs where you really need an adventure, emotional signs. Are you snapping at everybody you know? Are you having a hard time figuring out what to have for breakfast? That wasn’t your example. I can’t really what you said.

Shelby: That was. It was fish tacos, fish on my tacos or not.

Zibby: Yes, that’s right.

Shelby: Sometimes it’s arguing with the customer service agent from AT&T or your electrical company. If you find yourself getting in a fight with the — I get it. Customer service is painful. If you’re fighting with them, you need to question why. Sometimes signs will point you to what you do need to do. Sometimes the signs are telling you to stop, pay attention, and go a different way, just like when you’re actually walking on a trail. Dead end, you’re going to run off of a cliff. Keep going that way. Maybe it’s a little longer and windier, but you’re going to see this epic view and maybe a waterfall. I’m a really big believer in signs. It’s the most woo-woo thing that I do in my life. I think when you’re especially stuck, it’s hard to pay attention because our egos get in the way. That’s where nature is so good because nature doesn’t let you have a big ego. It really chills you out in a way where you can listen better.

Zibby: When is it, do you think, we all forgot to keep adventure in our lives? Where does that end? When you’re a kid, it’s important. You’re always like, let’s go on an adventure. You go to the dentist, and you try to make it fun. When does that end? I don’t know.

Shelby: I don’t know. I’ve really tried to keep it in my life as much as possible because life can be hard and messy. It can take twists and turns. I just wrote my last newsletter on big K energy. I think we’ve heard of what big D energy is. Can I say penis on your — big dick energy. It’s funny, right? I was thinking it’d be really cool for us to lean into big kid energy. When we go outside, it’s pretty easy to tap into it. I think we get, in our lives, a little bit trapped into this, I have to do everything, and I have to do it really well. I’m guessing the listeners of your podcast are — I know I don’t look like it, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist and had this giant overachieving complex growing up. I was really rewarded a lot in my family for getting an article in a newspaper or getting into some good school or getting a great job. I think I chased these things a lot in my life. Adventure teaches you to be a kid. If you go surfing, you’re going to fall. You’re going to fall a lot. You have to be able to laugh at that. You have to be able to embrace failure. I think the cool thing about nature is there’s parts of nature that are just funny. Going to the bathroom in the wild kind of sucks, but it’s always funny. Those stories are always funny. One thing about adventure is something will always go wrong. It’s inevitable, but that’s where the fun stuff happens.

I don’t really know where that ends. It ends for all of us in different places. I really like to keep things joyful and fun. Life is heavy, and so you might as well enjoy it as best as you can. For me, I learned the lesson really young. When I was eleven years old, my dad died of a sudden heart attack. He tucked me in. He said, “Good night. I love you,” and then I never saw him again. My sisters and I were different ages. One was about to go to Stanford. Another one was out of college. They took the need to be financially responsible. I did not. I took the need that life is short and that you just never know. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. That’s not saying you should be irresponsible, but that is saying that you should try to find joy where you can because you don’t take all of your achievements to the grave. That’s where I’m at with that. All of the people in the book have taken a path that is not traditional. For me, that was the biggest question I wanted to help people get to. There are so many decisions I made where if I did what I thought was right on paper through a pro/con list, I never would’ve done it. Sometimes you have to make these decisions that are really hard that make zero sense on paper but end up being the best decision in your life. For me, I found those answers through surfing and hiking and just having a little bit deeper relationship with nature. I live in a city. I’m not some outdoorsy paddler mountaineer. I live in San Diego. We luckily have a beach really near our house. Other than that, my parents were East Coasters from New York and Pittsburgh. They didn’t even like the sand. I had to find adventure on my own.

Zibby: Wow. Tell me a little bit more about post — you have this revelation in your life. You’re in a relationship you’re not happy about. You’re depressed. You have a family history of mental illness. You are sort of coming to terms with that. You don’t love your job, even though it’s really awesome from the outside, working for Vans and having traveled with them.

Shelby: I have a dream job.

Zibby: But it’s maybe someone else’s dream. You never know who’s dreaming it. You had this moment in the beginning of the book where you are on this wave. For the first time, you catch the wave. I’m probably using the wrong terminology. It’s the pivotal moment in your life, that you can actually do this. After you come from this experience, everything changes. You’re ready to make all the changes in your life. Then you go ahead and do them. What are some of the moments for other people that you interviewed for the book or you talked to or you’ve just talked to as you’ve gone through all of your adventure that are pivotal moments like that when people should pay attention and let in the unstuck feeling that might come after?

Shelby: Thanks. You read the book. Awesome. I have a friend, Steph Jagger, who’s also a really good author.

Zibby: I interviewed her.

Shelby: She’s awesome, right?

Zibby: Yeah, I love that book.

Shelby: I think she has one of the most classic moments. She is twenty-nine years old, which is the same age I was when I was massively stuck. There’s a history of mental illness in my family, so I was really scared. I was an athlete. Nobody was really talking about it in the athletic space. Steph had her moment when she was also twenty-nine. She had a job that she loved, on paper. She had just bought a house in Canada. She had loved going to Whistler Mountain as a kid, but she could no longer ski on the weekdays. She had to ski on the weekends with friends. While she was on the chairlift, she was like, “What if we could just ski on the weekends or maybe ski around the world?” Her friends laughed at her. It was a crazy idea that everyone said she was stupid for doing, just like they told me I was stupid for quitting my job. Long story short, just as she was about to get off the chairlift to go down the mountain on her skis, she saw a sign. The sign said, “Lift your restraining device.” It just referred to the metal bar on the chairlift that you have to lift up to ski back down, but she took that sign with her as a sign that she needed to lift the restraining device on her entire life. It was pretty powerful. There’s a story that didn’t make it in the book with Chris McDougall. Chris McDougall is the author of Born to Run. He had this crazy epiphany when he quit his job at the last minute and kept seeing signs for the Tarahumara to write this book about running. The sign just didn’t leave him. There was another guy who just read a book called Running on Empty about a guy who was the fastest run across the United States. When he read that book, it just lit him up. He couldn’t stop reading that book. He read it over and over and over. He started entering marathons, which turned into ultramarathons. Then a couple years later, the guy broke the record for running across the United States.

Signs hit you differently. There was another guy. He was a commercial artist. He wanted to draw outside because it was sunny, but he couldn’t take his drafting table outside. He was from Michigan. It was rarely sunny. When the sun popped up, he wanted to enjoy the sun. He took a box of chalk, and he started drawing in the sidewalks. He noticed that the sidewalk was not a blank canvas. Blank canvases terrified him. He started doing these doodles and shapes. The guy now gets paid a lot of money to go around to cities and draw monsters and characters around manholes, which become cookies, and sprinkler heads that become eyes. He crushes it. He’s found so much joy through doing that. I think people find these moments when they’re either stuck at rock bottom or they’re just paying attention, and something brings them so much joy that they can’t eat. They forget about eating. I love food. If something makes me forget about eating, I pay attention. Everybody knows the feeling of having a crush. I once got up at an ungodly hour to go surfing a wave that was so terrifying to meet up with a guy I had a crush on. I’m sure you listening have had a moment where you get a crush on someone, and you did something that you would never do. When we have these crushes on ideas, that’s when we should also follow them.

Zibby: I love it, an idea crush.

Shelby: Yeah, an idea crush.

Zibby: What would I follow?

Shelby: You started a podcast. I’m pretty sure that’s a wild idea. Then you launched this book and bookstore and a publishing company. I was actually really bummed — I would’ve totally published my book with you had I known. Sorry to my publisher. I think it’s really cool what you do. I think it’s cool that you have everybody come together like camp. Writing books, what I learned, is pretty lonely. I didn’t realize that. Podcasting, at least you talk to someone. Maybe it’s just through a screen. I have a team at REI that’s awesome that I connect with. I have friends that live in San Francisco. They have big groups of writing friends. They’re a writers’ tribe, which is awesome. I wrote this book during the pandemic in San Diego. I was lonely. I could only work at the coffee shop so much during that time and talk to people. It’s cool that you do that.

Zibby: I went to the San Diego Writers Conference last year. Have you been?

Shelby: I saw you there.

Zibby: You saw me there? Oh, my gosh, did we meet there?

Shelby: I think I connected with you there.

Zibby: I’m so sorry.

Shelby: It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I met your husband. He’s friends with a mutual friend.

Zibby: That’s right. Yes, yes, yes. Sorry.

Shelby: I have to go there this year. It’s totally cool. I liked it. Then I actually met those writers after. I was too late in the game to connect with them then. They’re really cool. It’s fun.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I was literally wondering when we got together, I was like, I feel like there was some connection. Was it my son’s school? There was something, but I couldn’t remember, so thank you.

Shelby: Someone went up to me today and was like, “Shelby, I’ve heard your voice.” I had no idea who they were. It’s fine. We meet a lot of people. She was stoked. It’s all good.

Zibby: Tell me more about starting your podcast, how you grew your podcast, how you sold it to REI, and everything about it now.

Shelby: I actually have two podcasts. I have one called “Vitamin Joy” that I started during the pandemic. I’m really interested in the intersection of mental health and adventure and mental health and humor. “Vitamin Joy” is about mental health and humor. I put it on pause because writing a book and having two podcasts is insane. I’m a really big believer in resting and self-care. Even though I really want to do it all, I can’t. I know myself. I have an autoimmune condition. I have to listen to my body. “Wild Ideas Worth Living” — I had been a journalist for many years. In 2009 after I quit my job at Vans, I was writing for ESPN and Outside. It was cool, but articles were getting smaller in magazines. I was working with a lot of dude editors. Honestly, I love the interview process of writing the best. I don’t necessarily love writing, but I love talking. Everybody was like, you should start a podcast. I love Tim Ferris’s show. I wish he interviewed more adventurers and more women, and so I started a show. I’d been a business supporter in the outdoor and action sports world. I knew most of the CEOs and executives in the industry. A friend of mine was like, “You should pitch REI right now. They’re doing this Force of Nature campaign about women in the outdoors.” I’m like, I’m a woman. I’ve been getting women in the outdoors since age sixteen. This is what I did in college. This is what I did my whole life. I worked for the US Women’s National team the first year they won the World Cup. I’ve done a triathlon. I’ve worked with Nike. I was like, shoe in. They’re going to say yes. They’re going to subsidize my show. I found a contact at REI. He was really lovely. He’s like, “Shelby, you’re great. We are not doing podcasts right now. We sell tents.” I was like, “Okay. Well, let’s stay in touch.”

I went ahead and just ran my show on my own. I got other sponsors. I pitched magazines. They didn’t want to get into the podcast space. I was like, you should get in the podcast space. Sure enough, those magazines are either dead or they have a podcast, which is great. We stayed in touch. I think sometimes a no is, not now. Six months later, I hit up REI. They’d been so hard to get ahold of. They called me right back. They’re like, “We’re actually getting into the podcast game. We should talk.” They licensed the show for a couple years. Then they wanted to buy it in 2020. I was like, I don’t really want to sell it. I had taken an accelerator business course. I really wanted to start a business. At the time, I used the podcast as an idea to start a business. That would be my first product. On the original business plan, I said, sell to a company within three years. I thought it would be so easy. That was the first thing I’ve ever done that was kind of easy, but it wasn’t easy. It was really hard. It was an absurd amount of work. I was kind of early in podcast game. My goal was to get people to use adventure as a catalyst to change their lives. No brand did it better than REI.

It was hard for me to make the decision to give up this baby. I’m still sometimes sad about it. I really love REI. They’ve continued way past the contract’s date to keep me on as the host and grow the show. Truthfully, I’ve connected with people I probably wouldn’t have connected with if I had just run the show. I was really interviewing surfers and skateboarders. They’ve brought me in touch with some incredible people doing wild things that I didn’t know about from San Diego. It’s been really great. You can listen to “Wild Ideas Worth Living” anywhere you get podcasts. “Vitamin Joy” is on hold. I’m actually thinking about starting a podcast that you might laugh about. It’s about parenting from people who aren’t parents. I give my sisters much unsolicited advice about raising their kids. Nothing drives them absolutely crazier. A girlfriend of mine is a comedian. We just joke about this podcast we have where we’re giving tips to parents, and we’re not parents. It’s funny, but I don’t know. Your listeners might get a kick out of it, or they might just be like, oh, my god, these guys are such jackasses.

Zibby: It sounds funny to me.

Shelby: Mom-ing is hard. I’ve learned as an aunt and watching — there are so many little kids that are in our lives right now. It’s really hard. Kudos to all of you moms listening. It’s the gnarliest job and the most wild of wild ideas to be a parent in 2023.

Zibby: Very true. One of my kids is going to come barging through door at any moment, so you’ll see just how wild it is.

Shelby: Do you play tennis or pickleball?

Zibby: I play tennis.

Shelby: Awesome. I can tell. It looks very tennis-y, pickleball-y.

Zibby: You know, I was looking for leggings this morning. I opened up my workout drawer, and I realized that I had put this dress in it forever ago. I forgot I had even ordered it. I was like, oh, that’s cute. I’ll just wear that today, even though I’m not doing anything athletic.

Shelby: I like it. It’s adorable.

Zibby: Because of the dress, I went on a walk. I did this and did that.

Shelby: Sometimes you just need to invest in gear to get out the door. I think it’s great. If you’re in the Palisades, there’s amazing hiking near there.

Zibby: That’s true too, yes. Your comment about meeting other authors, though, I’m working on new ways to get all the authors from this podcast together in person. I used to do that a lot in the beginning. Then after the pandemic, I just never started it up again. I might want to do some big meetup or something fun.

Shelby: I think you should do a one-day festival, kind of like the Idaho Writers Festival, but add some adventure into it. I would love to help you. Maybe there’s breathwork and ice baths and yoga and wine and all the things that writers like, like coffee and alcohol and dancing.

Zibby: You do the ice baths. I will do the coffee and wine.

Shelby: Done. That’s easy. I can do ice baths, running, hiking, whatever you want. That’s the cool thing about writing a book. The coolest part has been connecting with people in real life and meeting people who read it and said, this book changed me. I resonated with this part. I’m taking my mom on a trip because I did the numbers thing. If your mom is eighty and maybe the average age is eighty-five and you only see her twice a year, that might only be ten visits left. They book trips right then. I think that’s pretty cool. Also, it’s just fun to connect in real life with people. I’ve seen people from college, soccer teams. People come out of the woodwork to come to your events. I wish events were more of a thing that publishers were really pushing. I think a lot of publishers have leaned back on it. I’ve been doing some events with REI. We’re going to start doing more. I think it’s really fun to connect in real life with readers.

Zibby: I totally agree. What’s an example of a fun REI event that you did?

Shelby: We’re going to try to do one that’s hiking and then hanging out. I have an idea to do this running event where we run, and then we go back and we talk books. It hasn’t happened yet.

Zibby: You need to talk to Alli Frank in Sun Valley, Idaho, because she wants to do the exact same thing. I’m going to put you two in touch after this. She lives in Sun Valley. She said she had the idea. I do all these retreats, but I haven’t paired it with an activity other than retreat-type stuff. She was like, “I want to do a running retreat that also involves books.” I was like, okay. I’m going to put you in touch.

Shelby: Florence Williams, who’s a great author, who’s in my book and was really influential in helping me figure out the science and the nature part and awe, she actually is leading retreats with writing and forest bathing and studying awe out in nature. Her book, Heartbreak, just won a PEN award.

Zibby: She was also on my podcast. I love her.

Shelby: She’s cool. I, for some reason, know a lot of writers. It’s crazy. They’re just a good bunch of people. People who read books tend to be — I think what they all share is they’re curious. I’m a really curious human. I want to know exactly why you do what you do and how you got there and what makes you tick. I’m obsessed with people. Some people are obsessed with animals. I could have pet people. I just love people.

Zibby: I know. Someone said something, when I was starting a podcast, like, you’re going to have to talk about whatever the topic is all the time. I was just like, I never get tired of learning about people. There’s no way that I could ever meet a person and not want to hear their story. I’m always like, okay, give me your story. Where are you from? How did we get here? All that.

Shelby: It is cool. It’s interesting.

Zibby: It’s a good thing we’re podcasters. I guess we found ourselves in the right spot.

Shelby: It’s a good thing. I could do it for a long time.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Shelby: Advice I’d give writers is get outside into nature away from your computer. I think that’s where some of the best ideas will happen, when you’re walking in the trees or staring at the sunset or you’re in the ocean. It’s sometimes inconvenient if you’re actually swimming in the ocean because you don’t have a pen and paper. If you can remember your idea, that’s a really good idea. Get outside. Then the second advice is read books, books you like, book you don’t like. I think that was a mistake I had when I wrote my book. I probably didn’t read enough that year. I was pretty focused on writing. Now I’m reading again. I just have so many ideas.

Zibby: Shelby, thank you so much. Will to Wild. Thanks for the fun chat.

Shelby: I appreciate it.

Zibby: See you on email.

Shelby: Awesome.

Zibby: Bye.

Shelby: Bye.

WILL TO WILD: Adventures Great and Small to Change Your Life by Shelby Stanger

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