In the past three months, I’ve given talks to CEO groups in Albany, Banff, Calgary, Chicago, Montreal, Nashville, New York City, San Diego, Tallahassee, and Toronto. I also spoke at bookstores about my new book Daunted Courage, at schools in Nashville and New York City, at The Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary event, at a worldwide gathering at Intel Corporation, and to the entire staff of U.S. Pharmacopeia, a company that has been around since 1820.
In every CEO workshop and presentation, I’ve witnessed a common desire and heard the same request. Kindergarteners have shared this thought with me. So have high school students, teachers, middle managers and CEOs. Each person had a unique story and set of experiences, but they had this in common: they wanted to be more adventurous.
Some people roll their eyes at the word “adventure,” telling me it’s overused and has lost any real meaning. Perhaps that’s true. But each of us carries inside the possibility to take abstract concepts and turn them into meaningful action. Defined as, “willing to take risks and try out new ideas or experiences,” the word “adventurous” is derived from the Latin root meaning, “about to arrive” or “[a thing] about to happen.” Its etymology includes the Old French term meaning, “to risk the loss of.” We are at our most adventurous when we set out on a journey that may take us to a place where we risk the loss of something precious to us – our old self, perhaps?
Being adventurous is being open to your own possibility for growth. It is about being afraid but continuing anyhow.
When I’ve struggled with the hard stuff of life – the death of a friend, the breakdown of an intimate relationship, my body’s fading strength from aging – I’ve sometimes dreamt I was dying. In one dream, I jumped into a swimming pool to help a dog. As I swam underneath and tried to push the dog up from below, its paws suddenly locked onto my shoulders, and the two of us began descending rapidly. Despite struggling fiercely, I couldn’t escape the downward pressure. I heard the muffled, desperate voices of people along the edge of the pool screaming at me to swim away from the dog, but I couldn’t escape. I bent my knees, waiting to hit the bottom of the pool and propel myself back up, but my feet never reached a foundation. We descended into the dark watery depths of the bottomless pool, where I felt the terrifying sensation of drowning.
I awoke breathless, panicked and sweating. As I pondered the dream, I realized, “Something in me is dying. I must be losing part of my old self.” It was a disconcerting feeling, a grudging acknowledgment that change is inevitable and that grief is non-negotiable. But I suspected that, just ahead, out of view, my new self was waiting around the corner with a knowing smile.
The CEOs and students I spoke with told me their own dreams of adventure, but they also frequently cited the obstacles that were preventing them from taking action – the parent who must care for a child and therefore puts on hold his own ambitions. The child who wants to explore her physical limits but has internalized fears projected onto her by well-meaning adults.
We all want to craft a meaningful life, but our obligations and external expectations frequently prevent us from truly living, from following a risky path, from growing to our potential. I want to tell you: Don't hold back. Listen to the nudge inside. Accept that following your nudge will come with risks and consequences, but it also promises the opportunity for the most wonderful growth. I want to say: Dive fearlessly into your own adventure!
But who knows if that is the best advice? Who can determine the right path for you? Only you, or the dog in the pool, or your new self, waiting for you just around the corner.