Ryan Grace, the 404th person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, was rowing across the Atlantic Ocean with three friends, when disaster struck.

It was after midnight, they were caught in a storm, their boat was being buffeted by huge waves – and then they capsized. Three of the crew found themselves out of the boat (with the fourth inside a cabin), but connected by harnesses. Rather than wallowing in fear, they became hyper-focused on the problem: for several minutes, they fought to right the vessel, which they were eventually able to do.

That was day 29 of what turned out to be a 34-day voyage, from an island off the coast of Morocco to Antigua in the West Indies.

The Atlantic voyage was born two years earlier when Ryan and one of his friends were in the pub. Ryan said he wanted to go skydiving; the friend said he wanted to row across the Atlantic. So they made a deal: if the friend went skydiving with Ryan, Ryan would row the Atlantic with his friend. Each of them recruited another friend and, in January 2020, they completed their adventure, setting an Australian record in the process.

Ryan says that if they knew how hard the voyage would be, they would never have done it. They were wet the entire time; they were in constant pain; and their bodies withered away (Ryan lost 15kg). But there was also great beauty – masses of whales, dolphins and shooting stars. Ryan says they also experienced incredible clarity – when your life consists solely of rowing, eating and sleeping; when you break free of the stresses and distractions of modern life; and when you no longer feel the need to feed your ego, your frame of mind changes. When the voyage ended, Ryan had a sense of calm he’d never experienced. But after a few weeks of being back in the modern world, that Zen-like state had disappeared.

Ryan is a big believer in embracing new experiences, partly to add colour to his life and partly to become a better person. The confidence you gain and skills you learn inevitably seep through into other areas of your life, he says. The key is to say yes when someone proposes an idea, even if you’re unsure how to make it work, because you’ll figure it out as you go. Also, you won’t suffer the regret of looking back on your life and wishing you’d tried more things.

That’s why, when a friend suggested participating in the Marathon des Sables, a seven-day, 250km run across the Sahara Desert, Ryan agreed. They completed the run two months ago. When Ryan returned to Sydney, one of his friends pointed out that nothing had changed while he’d been gone – a valuable reminder that life just slips away if you don’t proactively infuse it with meaning and adventure.

I really enjoyed meeting Ryan and hearing about his outlook on life. Ryan works hard and is career-focused, but also looks for opportunities to push himself and experience adventure. It sounds like a winning formula to me.