A Practical Reading Guide
For Classes and Book Clubs
One Year Lived
by Adam Shepard
Single copies of One Year Lived are available at Amazon.com for $15.95.
A box of 56 is available at www.OneYearLived.com for $198 ($3.53 per copy).
About this Guide
It is an American affliction: we don’t travel as much as we should. And when we do go abroad, it’s because we have purchased an all-inclusive package to the Caribbean or Mexico or Italy or France.
Those who do get missing for a little while, who wander off the beaten path, are rewarded with an enlightened perspective and an insight that serves them well once they have retreated back to the more normal conditions of their previous life. They are more compassionate and empathetic, they are more energized and driven, and they are composed to think more critically and make more creative decisions.
But it’s not just about travel. In One Year Lived, Adam Shepard has challenged us all to take a risk and to peek through the door of the unknown whether that risk is in the classroom, business, post-graduate research, the corporate world, our social lives, or any of a thousand different arenas of our existence.
Shepard saved his money for two years and then set out in the world to spend it all. He went to seventeen countries on four continents, journeying a total of 42,134.6 miles over 365 days. He led a vacation activities program for children in Honduras, dug a well for a clean water pump for the Miskito people in Nicaragua, mustered cattle for two months in Australia, cut his hair into a mullet, went scuba diving and hang gliding, bungee jumped in Slovakia, rode an elephant in Thailand, soaked in the eeriness of Auschwitz in Poland, hugged a koala, wakeboarded in the Philippines, fought bulls in Central America, took an exfoliating mud bath at Aguas Calientes, analyzed the difference between the historical treatment of the Maori and the Aborigines, drank Cabernet out of the bottle at the summit of Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, and made love to Ivana on the second most beautiful beach in the world, the whole time pausing to learn as much as he could about each place he visited.
The resulting memoir—a compelling and transparent narrative detailing the good, the bad, and the ugly of his journey—is Shepard’s One Year Lived, and this Practical Reading Guide provides an opportunity for classes and reading groups to create a dialogue about how challenging the norm can have a grand, positive impact on one’s life and the lives of those around him or her. The questions that follow are intended to strengthen one’s understanding of his or her place in an unforgiving world that specifically rewards those who take initiative.
1. Many have embarked on trips similar to Shepard’s, though their motivation always seems to be an escape from reality or a search for the meaning of their lives. Shepard, however, seems content and grounded in his present life and uninterested in seeking out enlightenment and a greater sense of self-awareness. While he does cite some vague reasons for taking this trip, the reader is left wondering if there was more on his mind. Maybe, in fact, his motivation doesn’t become more apparent until later in the book, even near the end. What do you think was Shepard’s motivation to take this trip? Do you really think that it was as simple as his desire to check a few things off of his List O’ Good Times?
2. Does this motivation coincide with any of the same ideas that you are presently experiencing in your own life whether those ideas relate to travel or business or work or study?
3. At the end of Shepard’s introduction and before chapter one begins, he cites a quote from one of the characters in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Discuss this quote and what it means to you and the people that you choose to surround yourself with.
4. Shepard strikes the reader as a “regular” guy. He doesn’t have any supreme talents. He doesn’t come from a wealthy family. He has an average level of education. He bumbles when trying to make a romantic connection. He worked as a bartender to save the money for this trip. In your view, does Shepard’s position as a regular guy add to or take away from the story? Does the way he tells a story make his experience more realistic or are you simply left saying, “Right. Cool story. I think I’ll go have some dinner now?”
5. Shepard pens an essay early on about finding the fortitude to take a journey like this while so many other people around him spend their time talking about how fantastic such a journey would be. Do you think this fortitude is innate or is it something that was fostered by his environment—his parents, his peers, his teachers—throughout his life? Cite one or two specific examples from your own life.
6. Shepard’s most enthralling experiences were not on his List O’ Good Times, and he writes about a number of opportunities (bullfighting, for example) that he had ever even considered an option. Is it true that the best things happen when you least expect it and when your life is less choreographed or do you feel that most people thrive on a more structured existence?
7. There are two essays—Winning Number, Losing Result and High Stakes—where Shepard seems to beat himself up about poor decisions he has made. In Honduras, he is frustrated that things didn’t kick off better with Ivana. While working at the cattle station in Australia, he questions his significance. Also in Australia, he says that he should have said something to the racists he met in Melbourne. Do you think that Shepard could have made these same realizations—gotten in touch with these very same issues—if he had stayed home in the States? Why or why not?
8. Perhaps most fascinating are the people that Shepard meets along the course of his trip. Was there one person who he wrote about who seemed to remind you of someone in your own life?
9. Which was the one experience in One Year Lived that you enjoyed reading about the most? Why?
10. Some people have discounted the sacrifices that Shepard made to take this trip, saying that he was lucky or that he must have come from money. Shepard, though, asserts that discarding a year of his professional life was not an easy decision to make and that he worked hard to save for this trip and that. He ate out sparingly, hustled up any kind of side work he could get, and drove a seventeen year-old Plymouth Sundance. So, now, after reading One Year Lived, do you think it is realistic for anyone to take this trip? Do you think it is realistic for you to take this trip? Even if it is for two months rather than a year, what kind of fears do you have about your next trip being off of the tourist track?
11. Digging deeper, Shepard makes a case for American travel in his essay Those Less Traveled. He begins by quoting statistics about how unengaged young Americans are in the happenings of the world. He believes that it is important for anyone and everyone to take a trip like the one he took. Shepard volunteered and worked and read and did touristy things, the whole time pausing to learn as much as he could about the country in which he presently resided. And as a result, he later implies in the epilogue that he now feels like a more responsible global citizen. Do you believe his argument? Do you believe that everyone has an obligation to take a similar trip, to learn about the world, and to make a difference in it? Or can the same result be accomplished without going abroad?
12. Which one experience from One Year Lived was most relatable to an experience that you have had in your life? Share your own experience.
13. Shepard often prefers to work alone, though he acknowledges that teamwork, when efficient, can force people to put their own selfishness aside, because other people are counting on them. Trusting other people and sacrificing for others is a beautiful, courageous, endeavor that can be reward both the individual and the organization. Which do you prefer? Working alone or as part of a team? Or both? Why?
14. Though Shepard doesn’t necessarily mention it directly, he is making a case for stepping out of the virtual world and into the real world. Indeed there are benefits to online connectivity, but there is also great benefit to getting out to actually meet people, to have actual, wholesome experiences. Discuss two or three ways in which you can put down the computer or handheld device and make a more real connection with the world.
15. In the Philippines, Shepard has the opportunity to meet Rafael, a young man with whom Shepard has had a professional relationship for the previous three years. To meet someone so many thousands of miles away with whom you’ve had a professional relationship is not usually very realistic. Indeed, so many people outsource work overseas and never get the opportunity to actually meet their employee in person.Did this essay resonate with you at all? Is there anyone you have only known via phone, mail, or cyberspace who you would one day like to meet in real life?
16. On that same vein, Shepard has said, “There is no question illegal immigration is not good for America’s future. These undocumented workers are taking jobs from Americans, and this weighs down our economy. But something happened to me when I was working in Central America. Here I am in Honduras, and these kids are running around barefoot or with a pair of sandals…never a pair of shoes. There I was in Nicaragua digging ditches with these Nicaraguan guys, and they are making in a day a percentage of the hourly minimum wage in the States. And they are working much, much harder to get that wage. And I thought, ‘My goodness. If I lived here. I would skip the border to the north as well. And then I would get caught. And I would do a little time. And then I would be deported. And then I would try again. A hundred times if I had to.’ So, I still, today, say that illegal immigration is not good for America’s future, no question, but now I can understand a little better where these workers are coming from, the plight that they are escaping.”It is really only possible to attain this level of empathy if you take a moment—a week, a month, or longer—to walk alongside those who are actually living in a particular situation. Cite an event in your life that parallels Shepard’s experience in Central America. Even if your experience did nothing to change your conviction about a particular issue, perhaps you could explain how your experience strengthened your conviction.
17. In A Native Tale, Shepard analyzes the difference between the modern treatment of the Maori of New Zealand and the Aborigines of Australia. This appeared to be a spur-of-the-moment bout of intrigue, as Shepard certainly never expected to mind the difference between how natives are treated. Yet, there he was, completely fascinated by this social issue, an issue that continues to baffle pundits and politicians in both countries.Name a social issue that has surprisingly struck you as fascinating, perhaps an issue that is in an arena that had previously never piqued your curiosity. How did you happen upon this issue? Does it still maintain your curiosity today?
18. Shepard meets Ivana in Honduras and, after a spell in Nicaragua, ends up traveling the rest of the year with her. Certainly his experience would have been different if he never would have met Ivana and if he would have continued on his journey solo, but it’s debatable exactly how and why and in what ways it would have been different. What do you think?