Over the past few years, I've been on the receiving end of (many) men venting about their quarter life crises at Escape the City events. Maybe because we weren't in a bar and there was a zero-romance element, they felt safer opening up to me. After getting to know a lot of them through what were essentially free therapy sessions, I began to notice what made some of them especially attractive.
Integrity. Humour. Strength. Kindness. Passion. These aren't traits of a man who feels trapped by his own choices and bitterly hates his career. These are traits of a man who takes charge of his life with an unshakable confidence.
Every man I spoke to wanted more of that confidence. Instead, I watched a lot of them get depressed by their jobs, blame their partner (or all women) for their dissatisfaction, feel like a failure in their relationship (or their sexuality), then fall further into a grey haze that no amount of alcohol, sex, or television could clear.
Sometimes their female partners asked me for solutions. ("How can I help him? He refuses to go therapy!") Like a more Asian, female, non-bald Dr. Phil, I'd suggest what I had seen work in the past - the gift of space and time. Eventually, I saw that these were not enough. There was a secret catalyst to confidence (and in turn, sexiness).
Think MacGyver, Superman, and Liam Neeson's character in Taken, whose entire (fictional, but still) lives are based on unusual, exciting, daring episodes. So many men physically crave challenging themselves and feeling heroic and resourceful but so few of them know where to begin on setting out on adventure.
This is why I was thrilled when I heard about an adventure academy that an Escape the City member in Hong Kong is launching. Matt Prior is an ex-RAF Fast Jet pilot and British Military Overseas Expedition Leader.
"Adventure turned my life upside down completely. It makes you look at everything in a totally different way," he explains. "It makes you realise what life is all about and who you and other people really are."
Prior drove a London Taxi to Everest Base Camp and holds the World Record for the highest altitude a taxi has ever been (17,143ft). He has taken a Rickshaw from the Southern tip of India to the Himalayas; driven a 150 1.0 car from London to Mongolia and back and completed several off road motorbikes trips around Asia and South America.
These days, he's a full-time pilot but is also launching the Matt Prior Adventure Academy, which won an endorsement by Sir Ranulph Fiennes who deemed it, "A must for anyone with an adventurous spark but not sure where to start."
"The idea came to me after a trip to Indonesia with my girlfriend," Prior said. "We're always looking for places that are relatively untouched and that not many people go to and this particular area seemed ideal. With very little information available, the plan was to get a small motorbike and just go and explore."
They climbed volcanoes and explored the area by foot, boat and motorbike. Prior remembers that while the trip was a challenging mental and physical test, his girlfriend had a constant smile on her face from experiencing the same adventurer's high that he had found so many times before.
This is when he realised that he could introduce adventure to those who might not know how to otherwise fit it into their lives. He could provide a service teaching them skills that would allow them to go on their own adventures independently too.
So he put together the website and this video with his friend Matt Callanan at Callapro Films who agreed to produce some footage in exchange for adventure. ("It's been a great lesson on how to start up," says Prior. "And how to create opportunities and get off the ground with no money but a bit of creative thinking.")
When it came to starting a business, he says, "All these excuses and messages came rushing to my head that I've heard in the in the past regarding adventures or trips; 'I wouldn't know where to start', 'it's too dangerous', 'I can't afford it' 'I don't have the time' etc." He concluded that there was never an 'ideal' time and rather than delay with all the standard excuses, he decided to give it a shot.
When I heard about the academy, I immediately thought about a particular Escape the City member, who had once gotten tipsy at an event and confessed that he felt like he was 'sleepwalking' through life.
At the time, part of me had wanted to squeeze his hand and say, "Baby, you think too much." But he wasn't my boyfriend and it was obviously completely inappropriate to even touch him.
Instead, I mentioned that he should read a man-help book like Iron John. Looking back, I should have suggested that he read it on the plane, on his way to an adventure like the one provided by Prior's academy, where the day is harder but life is simpler.
Overcoming the unknown is where confidence blooms, which is the starting point for any man to learn himself. A man who knows himself - who he is, what he stands for, why he will fight for it - that's incredibly sexy to anyone.