Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Being Adventurous

I gave a 90-minute presentation yesterday at the IFC World Bank on the topic of “Being Adventurous.”

It was a great experience – the audience was engaged, respectful and asked a lot of questions.  I described my decision to leave the corporate world to become a writer and family adventurer, but made it clear that my talk was not intended to encourage people to quit their jobs!  Instead, we discussed ways to become more effective at work by adopting an adventurous mindset.

Being adventurous means opening yourself up to change, to challenge and growth, taking a fresh look at how you do things.  It’s an exploration of what is possible and requires letting go of excuses.  Being adventurous requires us to challenge our perceived limitations.  We all have limitations, of course, but I think many only exist in our minds. 

I shared lessons learned from the cycling trips I’ve taken with my kids across Japan, Iceland, Europe and the U.S.  While showing a celebratory photo from Lolo Summit, one of the mountain passes my kids and I cycled over on this summer’s Lewis & Clark ride, I said, “Can young kids pedal over the Rocky Mountains?  Yes, they can, because they just did!”  Another perceived limitation bites the dust. 

I told the audience about Dan Berlin, who went blind in his 30’s from macular degeneration.  Rather than being shackled by his disability, he decided to become a marathoner and triathlete.  I also mentioned Charlie Plaskon, who has been blind since childhood.  I guided him in the New York City Ironman last year, and we’ve given talks together at schools describing the experience.  Charlie tells the students, “Nobody is interested in your best excuse.  Just find a way.”  Dan and Charlie’s endurance feats are really metaphors for a mindset of positive energy and adventurous exploration of what is possible.

The audience was full of people from the Portfolio and Operational Risk Department whose jobs are to analyze uncertainties in the IFC’s equity and debt portfolio.  They are paid to be risk averse, and a few asked me about how I mitigate hazards on my adventures.  My answer: I turn down the risk dial as much as I can.  For example, my kids and I pull over our bikes and stop if traffic feels too dangerous.  Or we ask locals about bear activity before free camping in the forest.  The key is to minimize risk without letting anxiety over what might happen hold you back.

I was impressed by how open this group was to being more adventurous.  In a large organization, it’s easy to feel shackled by the narrow scope of many roles, to be frustrated by bureaucracy.  The answer lies in the perspective you bring to your work.  Think creatively about what you can contribute.  Inject passion into your job.  Propose new ideas to improve how things get done.  Find like-minded people and collaborate, regardless of your relative positions in the organization.  Be. Adventurous.

Here are some pics:
 With Irina Likhachova, Senior Communications Officer at the IFC World Bank
(It was her idea to bring me in as a speaker) 

 Sunset on the train from Washington, DC back to NYC

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