Mike Posner never thought he would traverse a continent on foot, summit mountain peaks, or complete an arduous Wim Hof retreat. “I’m just a singer who already blew his shot,” Posner lamented in his 2016 hit, “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.” Singing about the possibility of disappearing into obscurity, ironically, helped him climb the ladder of musical fame. It would later be nominated for the 2017 Grammy award for “Song of the Year,” a milestone achievement after writing hits for other artists like Justin Bieber and Maroon 5. He was raking in touring dollars and industry attention across genres.
But then life changed completely. Just as his biggest song blew up, he got a call that his father had brain cancer. He broke up with his girlfriend. His father passed in January of 2017. His good friend Avicii, who he sang about in the second line of “Ibiza,” died suddenly in 2018. Facing his own mortality and rocked by change and loss, he began a journey of personal growth and pursued his transformation through books, meditation, seminars, and more.
Then Posner embarked on his biggest adventure — walking 2,851 miles across America. He spoke with Matador Network over the phone about the experience and how his life is forever changed because of it.
Turning an idea into action
Posner first had the idea to walk across America after he overheard someone speaking about it in a store some years ago. He was fascinated, but he held onto the idea for years and never seemed to get around to it. “A lot of us put things off, myself included,” Posner says. “We have a list of things we’re gonna get to when we’re done doing what we think we have to do. And I just realized, my dad died, my buddy Avicii died, and… I could very well die and never get to that list. And if I wanna walk across America, I gotta do it now, or it’s never gonna happen.”
Posner first announced the plan on social media as the journey “that will take me most of my 31st year” and was bolstered by incredibly supportive fans and friends. He started at the Atlantic Ocean in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on April 15, 2019, and arrived in Los Angeles on October 18, the salt from the Pacific Ocean mixing with his salty tears of joy at Venice Beach. Over the course of six months, he had turned himself into a modern-day Forrest Gump, growing a long beard and attracting media attention.
At times, he thought he wouldn’t make it. The trip was exhausting, his feet were blistered and sore, and his muscles regularly quivered with fatigue. He walked 20 to 30 miles each day. And then in August, he was bitten by a rattlesnake and nearly died; it took almost a month to recover in the hospital. The photos he shared on Instagram — bedridden with a swollen leg, hobbling forward using a walker, and looking like a beleaguered mountain man — were worrisome for the thousands of followers watching him go through the experience. But he triumphed. Three weeks later, he returned to the exact spot where he was bitten and pressed onward.
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Since the walk, Posner has accomplished further outdoor feats and continued his meditation practice. The person he was at the beginning of his career in 2009, when his top-10 hit “Cooler Than Me” came out, is now a memory as distant as Venice Beach is from Asbury Park. He’s not trying to be cool anymore — he says he’s just trying to be proud of himself. Posner shared some key lessons learned on his epic journey, which took him both across the highways of his homeland and inward toward greater self-awareness.
The importance of honoring your word
The cross-country walk wasn’t the first step in Posner’s quest for meaning and insight. Prior to the journey, he attended various retreats, practiced meditation, and read about mindfulness. Amanda Palmer’s Art of Asking changed the way he thought about being an artist, and he says he read Eckhart Tolle’s acclaimed Power of Now about seven times. One of the most important things he learned at one of these transformative seminars, called the Landmark Forum in Los Angeles, was the importance of having integrity, toward yourself and others.
“It felt like my whole life was five minutes late. And I didn’t always live up to my word,” Posner says. “So if I made plans, like to go to dinner at 6:00 PM, I might show up at 6:05, 6:07. And somebody reading this might say, ‘What’s the big deal with that?’ Well, the big deal with that [is], later, if you have a big goal for yourself, like ‘I’m gonna walk across America,’ you don’t even really believe yourself, because you can’t show up to dinner on time. You can’t even do that.”
Committing to and following through on his promise to walk cross-country has only increased the importance for integrity for Posner in other aspects of his life. “If I say I’m gonna be someplace at 12:30, I’ll be there at 12:30 or 12:25,” Posner says. He adds that having “500 percent more accountability and integrity” has had “unlimited reverberations in my relationships with my family, my friends, my loved ones — and with myself most importantly.”
Fear means you should forge ahead
Walking across the entire country is something only a handful of people have ever done. I asked the obvious question: Was he nervous?
“Yeah, of course I was nervous — I didn’t know if I could do it. I thought I might fail, I thought I might not make it.”
Plenty of people who start big feats like this quit in the middle (only about 25 percent of thru-hikers who start the Appalachian Trail actually finish it, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy), and his mother had told him he could always come home. “But I think that anxiety or fear is a sign that I’m on the right path,” he says. “If I’m living my life and I’m never nervous, I’m always in my comfort zone, I’m probably living a pretty small life. If I get nervous about stuff, I know it’s big to me, and it matters to me, and I’m walking out from my comfort zone, which is where growth and life reside.”
Posner also had to confront the possibility of letting others down, like telling his band that they wouldn’t be touring that year, that money would move differently (if at all) to some members of his team, or disappointing his fans following the journey on social media. But he believes that fear can be a teacher. In other words, if you’re scared to take that trip or take on that big goal, it’s a clue that you might be looking in the right direction.
You don’t need to have experience to get started.
I asked Posner if he had ever walked or hiked any far distances before. “I don’t think anything can really prepare you for doing it besides doing it,” he says. Though he had an athletic past in school under his belt and “had done some backpacking and stuff when [he] was a kid,” Posner was not an advanced trekker or power walker.
He referenced other popular trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, but walking across America is very different. “This is not ‘nature porn,”’ he says bluntly. “This is not connecting deeply and only seeing the trees for days and days. This is you high-fiving the sides of semi-trucks that careen down on you at 80 miles per hour. And there are beautiful times in the wilderness, too, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that.”
He had support. Fans along the way brought him food and kept him company, and an assistant often stayed ahead in an RV where he could sleep and eat each night, before getting up at 4:00 AM each morning to begin again. At one point, he admits he was shaken when he met another man running about 40 miles per day with no headphones and no team — just his physical ability and his own thoughts.
Your reasons for not doing something are usually “bullshit”
When Posner began his walk, people would come up to him and express great admiration while lamenting that there was no way they could do something like that.
“People would come up to me a lot and say, ‘This is so inspiring. I wanna do something like that one day’… And just like I was, I could see they were trapped behind their reasons. They always had a reason why they can’t do it now.”
He gives specific, sobering examples: “I would meet like an older person, and they’d say, ‘Man, I’m just too old to do something like that now’… And then I would meet young people, like 19 or 20, and they would say, ‘Man, I’m just too young to do it now, I really gotta get my career started, this and that.’” Others cited lack of time, money, or access to the resources afforded Posner by his fame as obstacles.
Yet Posner wasn’t the only one trekking across the country. He learned that “there are 10 to 15 people walking across America every year, almost none of them are well-known, almost none of them spend very much money, and they range across ages, some of them are 19, 20, and some of them are like 70. Doris Haddock walked across America when she was 90.”
For Posner, pushing through excuses is a critical, constant practice. “It’s really not about walking across America; it’s just about whatever that thing is that you know you’re supposed to be doing that’s important to you, that on the other side of having completed you’ll actually be proud of yourself, and for some reason you let your mind create reasons why [you] can’t do it now.”
In short, “Our reasons are 99 percent complete bullshit. They’re not really reasons; they’re excuses.”
Set goals you don’t think you can achieve, and push through
As he documented the journey on social media, fans could see the walk start to take its toll. After passing through Kansas, Posner released a video sharing how much pain he was in each day, apologizing to his fans for not authentically including such details amidst his uplifting shares.
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Through his social channels, Posner told people in more ways than one that he wasn’t walking to prove anything or show anything — he was walking to discover something new about himself and see who he might become. But even with this mantra, he wasn’t sure how he would get through the challenges of the experience when he initially declared the goal. “Some days I don’t wanna keep going. I decide to keep going. Keep going,” he told Instagram.
Even though hardship may be inevitable, Posner says he wants to see more people take on bigger goals and go for things that push them into similarly unknown territory. “Set a goal for yourself that the current version of yourself is unable to achieve,” he says. “And then go become the person that’s able to achieve it.”
“I think people underestimate the value of doing something very difficult,” he says, “and the feeling of peace and confidence that’s on the other side of that suffering.”
I ask him a final time what else he learned on his walk. “That I’m unstoppable,” he says without hesitation. He had thoroughly surprised himself after discovering an untapped well of power and strength on the journey.
“I had this inkling before I left that there’s a little bit more in me. But when I was on the walk, I found out I’m wrong, there’s not a little bit more — there’s a lot more in me. I wanted to become somebody I was proud of. And really, after I got bit by a snake and then after I came back, and then I went up and over the Rocky Mountains and got to the other side, [I thought] ‘Man, like, you’ve been playing so small for the last 30 years.’ I can do anything.”
He even worked on music the entire time, keeping his promise that he would release a song every time he crossed a new state, and releasing his “Keep Going” album at the end of the journey. He immortalized the story of his journey in the “Live Before I Die” music video.
In our short interview, he added a hopeful expression for anyone thinking of leaping into a goal, a trip, or any other feat they’re a little bit afraid of. He hopes that others can similarly understand that no matter how impossible or absurd your aspirations might seem to the person you are right now, there’s more in you than you think — and you don’t know yet who you’ll be if you take it on, whatever “it” is for you.
“I hope that my walk can be a symbol for myself and for other people that the time is now,” Posner says. “Whatever reasons you think you have you can’t do it, it’s probably just your fear wearing a mask.”