The Air Force sent Ed to the AFAFRICA component of Africom after decades of flying C-130 cargo planes all over the world. He retired while operating out of Angola after 24 years in military service.

He earned a reputation in the military for being ready, willing, and able to fly over the most dangerous territories, sometimes landing in hostile zones without adequate ground troops to protect him.

His antics off the field were equally legendary. He once took leave in a high-end Central African hotel where he drank like a fish, took his pants off, and began wandering around the lobby naked.

Fat on his pension, and free to relax, Ed immediately signed on with a paramilitary organization that contracted with the United Nations to move humanitarian cargo all over Africa.

He continued to fly, unarmed, over some of the most war torn parts of the world, on antiquated and poorly maintained prop planes when he could go anywhere and do anything.

This is the life he chose.

Uncertainty, or variety, is a fundamental human need. It’s directly at odds with certainty, another fundamental need. We want to be stable, but a completely predictable life quickly becomes unbearably monotonous.

Variety boils down to a change in emotional state. You want to have different, varied, and surprising experiences because if you don’t you’ll get bored, and boredom bleeds into depression.

We want to be surprised by our loved ones, we want to “let loose” after a hard week of slinging paper in a cubical. We dream about scuba diving in Fiji. We swoon at meeting the love of our life, and we keep falling just as hard for each love that follows.

We lose ourselves in the fantasies of books and movies, deliberately absorbing ourselves in fictions that make us feel happy, sad, hopeful—that change our state of mind.

We all crave it. We all need it. Some people are content with daytime reality shows. Others create drama in perfectly beautiful relationships, just to feel that ebb and flow, that tidal pool of emotion.

The people who value variety above all else will risk life and limb to get it.

Ed met his first wife Eun Jung when he was stationed in Korea. He knew her for five months before they wed, then he brought her to Utah. He spent a month in Utah with Eun Jung, then left again, only seeing her once every three months.

After a losing battle with gambling addiction, Eun Jung sealed her small house shut, opened the door from kitchen into the garage, and left the car running. The mailman found her body a week later when the unbearable smell aroused his suspicion.

Ed made it back after eight days to cremate the body and sign the paperwork. He was back out in the field within the week.

When uncertainty becomes a person’s primary value, health, relationships, finances, all go out the window. That’s true whether your state changes come from snorting cocaine cut with battery acid or doing low altitude supply drops over war zones.

And Ed’s thrill seeking didn’t stop at bomb runs and boozing. He also slept with perhaps thousands of women over the years, the majority of them prostitutes. AIDS epidemic be damned, he sowed his wild oats far and wide from Angola to Kenya, where he met his second wife, Muthoni, a financial analyst in Mombasa.

Ed was shocked as hell when Muthoni turned up pregnant. “I honestly thought I was shooting blanks after all the women I’ve fucked without any kids,” he told me. I didn’t clarify how he would’ve gotten all those African prostitutes pregnant if he was using a condom. You do the math. Thrill seeking. Uncertainty.

Muthoni left Ed years ago, but their son still gets post cards every couple years from one African dictatorship or another.

Filling the Need for Variety

The need for uncertainty varies according to how easy it is for a person to get aroused. I don’t mean just sexually, although sex is one major way people meet the need for variety (orgasms are one hell of a state change). What I mean is how easily our emotions arise.

If you’re the type of guy who rages when you’re cut off in traffic, and sobs like a school girl when your girlfriend dumps you after three months, then you don’t need to sky dive to feel uncertain. You’re fine with Monday night football. You’re fine with the same beer, over the same nachos, with the same buddies, and only slight variations on the same subjects. That’s enough variety for you to exercise your emotional range. Someday it may not be, but for now, it’s plenty.

On the other hand, if you’re cool-bordering-on-sociopathic then you need more extreme experiences to give you those big feelings you crave. You free climb 500 foot seacliffs. You have unprotected sex with thousands of prostitutes and drink enough to drown a marlin.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to meeting your need for variety. But here are a few ideas:

  • Travel. See new places and meet new people, even if it’s locally. Fly to Fiji and SCUBA dive with giant sea turtles. Witness Machu Pichu in Peru. Visit the Hague. Alternatively, go to the earwax museum 20 miles away. Go to the giant tree or strange rock formation or notable cathedral, or anywhere. Make a day trip of it. All these new experiences will stimulate your mind and shift your emotional states, which is what variety is all about.
  • Meet interesting new people. Search Meetup.com and go check out the local Raw Food group. Get involved in the local music or art scene. Just go to a bar and strike up a conversation with the ugliest guy you find. It doesn’t matter; people are interesting. Interacting with them will give you new perspectives, new experiences, new changes to your emotional state.
  • Try new hobbies. I’m bad when it comes to hobbies because I feel like I try so many things that I rarely get good at any of them. I am not naturally talented at anything, but I’ve learned how to program, write, paint, maintain exceptional physical fitness, cook, build houses (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, drywall, tilework, hardwood flooring). Show me a hard thing to do and give me a month or two. Each new hobby is a new perspective, new connections in my brain, giving me access to new experiences and emotional states.
  • Self experiment. I do experiments on myself all the time. I once went two days without speaking, seeing any language at all, or thinking in any language. I recently ended a 40 day No Orgasms trial (to explosive effect). I’m working now to gain 30 pounds in 30 days (so far so good!). I’ve done radical honesty trials, social experiments, and messed with my sleeping schedule ad nauseum. Each new experience gives me brand new perspective and often radically alters the chemicals in my body and brain.

Which, as you know, is exactly what variety is. A change in your physiological and psychological state. We all do it. The question is whether we do it in a way that lands us in a Congolese prison with Grade A jungle rot, or we do it in a way that enriches and expands our lives and relationships.