1. The Experientialist - An Introduction

Hi there and welcome to the first 'Experientialist' newsletter. Thanks for being here.

I've got some interesting content lined up for you over the coming months, but first I thought it best to introduce myself.

My name is Neil Hawkesford and I've been living the life of an experientialist for 40 odd (and they have been odd) years. I'd like to say I planned it that way from the start, but I can't. Maybe I should have called this newsletter 'The Accidental Experientialist'.

Anyway, before we go any farther I thought it sensible to define ‘experientialist’ and what it means for me.

Go to a dictionary and you’ll see something like ‘a philosophical theory that experience is the source of knowledge’. The word has actually been around since the mid-1800’s but it’s not one that crops up often in everyday conversation. Why would it? Apart from anything else, it’s difficult to spell and difficult to say. That's probably why it's used mainly by academics and philosophers.   

But it is the best descriptive word I could find for my purpose, and, for this newsletter, I’m putting my own twist on the definition.   

I’m choosing to define an experientialist as someone who values experiences above status and possessions, someone who wants to do more and own less, someone who wants a simpler, more fulfilling life, someone who wants to be happier.

So back to me. How did I come to be an experientialist?

Well, I was an academic failure who left school at 16 desperate to get out of the classroom. My grammar school ‘education’ left its mark psychologically and physically. Most of my ‘teachers’ believed physical and mental abuse to be the best way to encourage and motivate.

They repeatedly told me I was lazy and thick. They frequently reinforced that opinion by assaulting me with slippers and rulers. I decided they must be right and switched off completely.

It’s no wonder I looked to practical skills as my escape. At some point I realised most of my ‘teachers’ didn’t know a hammer from a spanner. They couldn’t strip down a lawnmower engine and rebuild it over a weekend, but I could. They’d made it clear I wasn’t cut out for their world of books and blackboards, and that was fine by me. I’d found a better world in which I wasn't lazy and thick. When I was working with my hands trying to figure something out no one was shouting at me, no one was hitting me. It was my happy place. 

And looking back I can see this is where my experiential life began. Because already I was learning more from experience than I was in the classroom.

I was learning to do things by doing them and it felt right.

It’s a theme that’s carried on ever since. Here are a few of the things I’ve done in my life. The knowledge and skills needed for each came from experience, not from formal education.

  • Worked as a rally car mechanic for the Fiat team in South Africa

  • Built my own rally car from a bare shell

  • Taught myself to sail and navigate a yacht.

  • Worked as a professional boat delivery mate.

  • Installed indoor tennis courts for the Davis Cup

  • Built a 38ft ocean going catamaran from paper plans

  • Designed and built some bespoke equestrian jumps for the London 2012 Olympics

  • Wrote and self-published two books

I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. Some might say those bullet points merely confirm a lack of direction and focus. They may be right.

But here’s the important thing. Every one of those experiences brought me closer to understanding myself and what I wanted from life.

In 2007 I reached a turning point. That’s when I decided to build that 38ft ocean-going catamaran, quit the 9-5 and go sailing full time. That’s when I realised I was an experientialist and that I wanted to get better at it.

It was a hard slog, but I got there. I made the dream a reality. 

The bottom line is this. At the start of this article I defined an experientialist as someone who values experiences above status and possessions, someone who wants to do more and own less, someone who wants a simpler, more fulfilling life, someone who wants to be happier.

For the past 13 years I’ve lived by that definition every day and yes, I’m happier for it.

That’s why I feel qualified to write about experiences and how important they are.

I’ve already written two books about my experiential life and I know from the emails and messages sent by readers that there are many others out there yearning to live a similar life. (You can see my books on Amazon. Just search ‘A Foolish Voyage’ or ‘A Foolish Odyssey’).

I’m lucky. I’ve never had a career. I’ve never had money, and I’ve never had status. That made it easier for me to jump off the carousel.

For others, it seems impossible.

Henry David Thoreau once said;

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation

Pink Floyd once said;

Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way

(Roger Waters - Time)

Male or female, English or not, quiet desperation is a common malady. That feeling that there must be more to life, that time is running out, that something's not right. 

If that’s you, hang in there.

I’ve been able to change my life for the better. I want to help you do the same.

My aims with The Experientialist are to inspire, inform and entertain. And to build a community of people that sustain and support each other. 

If you'd like to join us then please subscribe. It'll be a great experience I promise.