The Benefits of Having a Quest

The first month of the year might be over, but it's never too late to set some goals! If you’re like me, in January, you make a list of what you want to accomplish over the next 12 months, both personally and professionally. This year I intend to look at that list more frequently! 

Another list is consistently on my mind. As I’ve mentioned in a previous Hashtag 59 post, my husband, Jamie, and I have a goal to eventually explore all 59 US national parks. It’s an aspiration we share with many folks we’ve encountered around the country. 

Initially calling this our “Bolton Bucket List,” I recently rebranded it as our national park quest, because the word “quest” invites a spirit of adventure and exploration. By definition, a quest involves searching for something. But even if you’re not trying to find a tangible thing, a good quest helps you find out more about yourself. 

Whether it’s visiting all of the national parks or achieving another compilation of experiences, it’s important to have at least one quest in life, for many reasons. Here are a few. 

   
  
    
  
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  At the top of Paintbrush Divide (10,700 feet) in Grand Teton National Park. This hike was a quest in its own right! 

At the top of Paintbrush Divide (10,700 feet) in Grand Teton National Park. This hike was a quest in its own right! 

A catalyst to pursue personal passions

I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of achieving items on lists. Whether it’s crossing off groceries while shopping, tackling my weekend “Holly-Do List” or trying the top 10 restaurants in my city, I love the satisfaction of checking the box. But when we’re thinking about what we want to accomplish in life, many of us focus on professional goals, from action plans at the office to the leadership positions we want to attain. How often do we make lists and set goals about what we want to experience?  

Growing up, my family didn’t take vacations, so when I started working, I rarely took time, off until friends taught me what it was like to go on a trip and explore new places. This quest is a reminder for my husband and me to step away from our busy work schedules and pursue something we’re passionate about. And it comes with the satisfaction of checking off a list!

Our checklist! We’re making progress. 

Our checklist! We’re making progress. 

Unexpected experiences and continuous learning

Another benefit of our national park quest has been experiencing new places—parts of the country we might not have visited otherwise. During every trip, we learn so much about geography, geology, the ecosystem and history. We encounter inspiring and interesting people. It’s an eye-opening experience that helps us appreciate the beautiful surroundings our country has to offer. 

Another benefit of working through a list of new places and experiences is how it shapes other areas of life. Jamie and I take this “uncharted territory” approach to shorter trips, as well. When we want to take a quick day hike or weekend camping trip—while we definitely have our favorite destinations—we also look at state parks or trails we haven’t visited in the state or region.  

Having a long quest means tacking national park visits onto other trips. I would’ve never thought about going to  Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks  in the winter, but we were so glad we did! And I learned to snowshoe. 

Having a long quest means tacking national park visits onto other trips. I would’ve never thought about going to Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks in the winter, but we were so glad we did! And I learned to snowshoe. 

Creating memories and rituals

The end of the year is a typical time for traditions, whether it’s purchasing an ornament, watching a certain movie or attending an event. Traditions and rituals aren’t limited to holidays, however, and can emerge from quests. For example, at each park, we take a picture of the park sign, buy a patch, and get our park stamp. When we’re sitting around the campfire, we write poems about what we experienced. And when we get home, we hang up our patch and update our national park poster.  

Your quest doesn’t have to involve another person to be meaningful. But when it does, you can experience rituals together and create shared memories to look back on.

Holding up 20 fingers for the 20th park we visited (note: we did not match our clothes on purpose).

Holding up 20 fingers for the 20th park we visited (note: we did not match our clothes on purpose).

Some of the national park patches we’ve accumulated, in order of the visit. 

Some of the national park patches we’ve accumulated, in order of the visit. 

If you decide to plan a quest, it’s important that it’s something you’re truly passionate about, or it becomes an obligation. And if you make a list and don’t end up achieving it or decide to change course, don’t beat yourself up about it. The most important part of a quest is not completing it, but experiencing it.  

This post originally appeared on Hashtag 59, where I'm a contributing blogger. If you're in to adventure travel, hop on over and check out the site!