Now is the time when New Years’ resolutions start to fade away. January always starts off with such high hopes only to give way to the ebb and flow of willpower, time management, and unexpected factors. We aspire to lose weight, be more successful, and travel the world. Making major life changes, however, is far easier said than done.
I’ve always wondered what separates those that do from those that talk about doing. Everyone wants to change, but most fall short. Everyone has that novel to write, but most seem to never get around to it. And everyone wants to live life to the fullest, but most worry that they’ll have an unfinished bucket list when the buzzer rings.
Enter Larry “Jungle” Shortell, a modern day Robert Ripley with the pluck of the late Steve Irwin. Larry has been to all fifty states and each one of the seven continents. He’s a special education teacher for the Winsted school district who takes each summer to travel to a different part of the world. This upcoming summer he will be mapping the reefs around Spanish Wells, Bahamas for future ecotourism and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. Shortell’s previous escapades are documented in his new book, “Summers Off: The Worldwide Adventures of a Schoolteacher.”
It’s fascinating to read about Shortell’s run in with gators, snakes, and sharks. His zest for life is evident in his writing. But part of what makes Larry’s story inspiring is that he travels the world on a teacher’s salary. It’s a whole lot easier to explore the globe when you have millions in a Swiss bank account. Most of us do not have that luxury. It’s so easy to say, “If I won the lottery, I would…” If we make our bucket list contingent on an unlikely outcome, we are bound to be unfulfilled. As a fan of statistics, I feel comfortable in stating that you’re not going to win the lottery. The good news is that you can still travel the world like Larry.
I talked to Shortell to find out how he makes it all happen. “Travelling is my passion and I make it my priority.” Unlike most people who spend what they have left over after expenses, Larry saves money throughout the year for his budgeted trips. He tries to dramatically lower the costs of his trips by staying at modest accommodations, booking his own travel, and cutting back on food and drinks.
The key word that Shortell points out is priority. I often make goals left unmet, but the dirty truth is that at the end of the day I didn’t make those goals a priority. The brilliance behind Nike’s Just Do It slogan is that it cuts out the ability to make an excuse. It has a Zen-like level of simplicity. It can sound trite and condescending, but it is also honest. Unfortunately, crossing the invisible hurdle to make something a priority often takes a rude awakening to shake us from our complacency. For Larry, it was a near-death experience.
Around 20 years ago Shortell’s friend drowned while the two were in the water. The tragedy became his catalyst for change, instilling the importance of each day. After a vacation in 1990, he was hooked on travel.
Starting in 1998, Shortell began travelling extensively each summer – often incorporating a great deal of scuba diving. What becomes clear by reading Summers Off is that it is far more than a recap of Shortell’s adventures; it touches upon his personal growth and observations on life. “My travels have brought me to places in my mind and heart that I never thought existed.”
Shortell also documents his travels with photography. Every place he visits he tries to capture the “first-hand experience.” Oftentimes the pictures are of wild animals in their natural habitat, stunning vistas, or exotic plants. After amassing a tremendous amount of photos by 2005, Larry started selling his pieces under Natural Wonders Photographs. Currently, Shortell travels and takes photos in the summer, teaches from the fall through end of spring, exhibits his photography in the fall, and writes in the winter.
Now that we’ve entered the winter season, an introspective time for many, I asked Shortell what he’s learned throughout his travels: “The value of discipline, balance, perspective, patience, knowledge, humor, and beauty. Understand why it is necessary to invite new things into one’s life and not push so hard against the flow.”
Lastly, I asked Larry if there was any motto he lives his life by. Instead of one particular quote, he stated that it’s an amalgamation of multiple ideas and philosophies best summed up by the following:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”—Henry David Thoreau
“Live as if to die tomorrow. Learn as if to live forever.”
“No retreat. No surrender.” —Bruce Springsteen
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