Mongolia: Disconnect to Reconnect.

Life lessons from 21st century nomads in Mongolia  

I recently embarked on a trip to Mongolia with Ben Southall of Best Life Adventures, in conjunction with The Office of the Chief Entrepreneur and 15 other adventurers across South East Queensland. The trip was designed to take you outside your comfort zone, disconnect you from the digital world and develop your physical and mental resilience, particularly for those in the start-up and entrepreneurial community. My work supports entrepreneurial and start-up communities of Queensland, and as such, a sponsored position was available for employees to apply for – weeks later I found out my application was successful!

Facing my fears.
When I received the email from Ben confirming my position on the trip, I was immersed in an emotional cocktail of disbelief, excitement and nervousness. Disbelief because the applicant cut-off date had long expired, without word of who was successful; excitement because it was an opportunity to explore another country and learn of its cultures; and nervousness because it meant really pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Prior to departing, there was no itinerary provided to us – or physical address of where we would be staying; this was a purposeful move to ensure we embraced the unknown, something which proved quite challenging for me. In the lead up to the trip, I was overcome with anxiety of not being in control and of facing the unknown – very indicative of my ISTJ personality type. I’m the kind of person who has spreadsheets to categorise my spreadsheets, especially when it comes to travel itineraries. It was challenging in itself to accept that I needed to let go and trust that everything would work out, but I knew that was my biggest hurdle with the trip and something that I needed to overcome.

The trip.
The trip was relatively short (10 days in total) but intensive and rich in cultural experience. On the first day we explored the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar; it was quite interesting to see remnants of Russian influences prevalent in its architecture, through to the adopted use of Cyrillic, which is still used today. That afternoon we ventured into the wilderness, two hours north of Ulaanbaatar to the northern steppes of the Terelj region. It was here that we would call home for the next coming week – and here where we would discover clarity and gain insights of ourselves and of our lives.

Over the week we had opportunities to meet and stay with local nomadic families and learn about their way of living and what happiness means to them. We were offered valuable insights into effective leadership and what matters most in a life devoid of social media, internet, toilets, showers, lounge rooms and every other luxury the modern, ‘on-the-grid’ world offers. It turns out that instead of consulting BOM for weather, the nomads simply just ‘look at the sky’. Who would have thought. It was also quite a unanimous opinion amongst the nomads that what brought them the greatest happiness was their animals, children, freedom and connection with others in nearby villages.

We also had the opportunity to follow the migration of a nomadic family on horseback as we relocated their ger for Spring, we drank fermented yak’s milk alcohol, summited Tsetsee Gun in -15C conditions, slid on frozen lakes with makeshift rafts, laughed until our sides hurt and had conversations that would stay with us a lifetime.

Life Lessons.
Spending ten days immersed in the richness of Mongolian culture has made me realise a few things:

  1. Digital disconnection lead to profound mental reconnection. I did not miss being online whilst I was living off-the-grid. Okay sure, I missed Instagram a little, but purely because I couldn’t share the amazing sights I was capturing.
  2. The more you have, the less you are. This was a recurring theme throughout the trip whilst living alongside the nomadic families. Some of the happiest people I’ve met have had the fewest material possessions – instead they source happiness from real life connections with other people, animals, nature and the weather. They don’t spend their days seeking validation through digital interactions or the number of Mercedes they have in their garage. Heck, they don’t even have a garage.
  3. Australian culture is comparatively less rich. We spent one night in a ger with the locals (at one point there were 36 of us crammed inside!) sharing food, stories and laughs. The Mongols individually stood up, taking turns to proudly sing songs to us about their land, their people and their grandmothers – and all we could counter with were subpar renditions of Daryl Braithewaite’s Horses and Waltzing Matilda.
  4. Self-growth only occurs if one dares to venture outside the confines of comfort. Going into this trip, I was incredibly anxious about the unknowns and relinquishing all control over the outcomes and day-to-day itinerary. I had to learn to put trust in Ben and know that everything was going to work out okay – and accept that things could go wrong. I’ve realised that facing my anxiety head on and accepting that I am bigger than the thoughts in my head was the only way for me to work towards overcoming these mental barriers. I don’t want a life living within the confines of my comfort zone and the ten days I spent in Mongolia were some of the most important and memorable of my life.

“Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”

Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild.

I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to expand my mind and to look deep within; thank you Ben, Best Life Adventures, Advance Queensland and Data#3.