A friend of mine, who has always wanted to jump out of an airplane, recently started taking skydiving lessons. She’s done two jumps already. On the go-pro video, you can hear her shout as she leaps out and you can see the look on her face. Her eyes are so alive. She starts to laugh as she catches the wind. She’s having a blast plummeting to the ground far below. Knowing her, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is she just enjoying the physics of skydiving or is she in ecstasy because she’s forgetting all her troubles and leaping into a more exciting future?
Her experience made me think of my own brushes with danger.
A few months ago, I strapped on scuba tanks and dove 30 meters below the surface of the ocean to swim with bull sharks. Bull sharks are beautiful creatures but they are also enormous predators with huge jaws and rows of sharp teeth. Along with Tiger sharks and great whites, they are responsible for most attacks on humans. We did not use a cage for protection.
Why did I do this?
I’ve read a few articles recently about the parallels between extreme adventure and business. Some of them are interesting. A few compare skydiving to leadership. Another to entrepreneurship and success in business in general. A recent one talked about using extreme adventure to overcome fear and trauma that’s getting in your way. I can see elements of truth in them. There’s something about assessing risk, trying something new, facing your fears, planning and performing that is common to extreme adventure, life and work.
But for me, the motivations and satisfactions are more emotional.
1. Experiencing Catharsis
While there’s a physical element to extreme sports and extreme endeavors, the real suffering is mental and emotional. You have to overcome your fear and stress to do it. But you are rewarded, in the end, with a sense of peace and the pleasure of very exciting memories.
2. Developing Muscles
Life is a difficult and challenging journey. You get stronger over time by pushing yourself to your limits. This helps you develop the “muscles” to push even farther next time. Extreme adventure let you experience that journey in an intense burst. It’s like life but faster and more concentrated.
3. Training to Succeed
Extreme sports or adventures aren’t tackled alone. You’re almost always guided by a trainer or coach — in the case of skydiving, your coach may literally be strapped to your back — and in the company of a buddy. This is part of the experience. You learn with someone. You enjoy their camaraderie. You become closer faster.
4. Beating Nature
Nature is big. We are small. There’s no better way to experience this than to put yourself out there in nature. You need to use all of your wits and come alive at every nerve ending to win.
This is deeply satisfying.
5. Staying Young
Every day we grow older, but to me old age feels more like a mindset or point of view than a reality. If you want to stay young, you need to stay curious, open, aware, and positive. One of the best ways to spark that feeling is to try new and exciting experiences and adventures.
6. Enjoying the Euphoria
Back in the caveman days, if we saw a sabre-tooth tiger, a burst of adrenaline helped us to run or fight. Today, most of us get our stress sitting at desks dealing with challenges. This is not very healthy because the body can’t physically expel that energy. Extreme adventures provide a rush of adrenaline that your body gets to react to just like that tiger is staring you down.
7. Rediscovering Your Purpose
Most importantly, extreme experiences give you an opportunity to remember what’s important. When you’re out on the edge, you get woken up from the numbness of everyday life. It’s a kind of spiritual experience and it can make you appreciate what you are doing in life or think differently about what you want to be doing.
I think that’s a pretty comprehensive list of the experiences and benefits I’ve enjoyed by taking a step out on the edge of danger. I find it helps me to better innovate, coach and lead.
But mostly it makes me breathe, think, appreciate and move better. I think it helps me as a human being on a journey through life.
It’s an amazing gift to be alive. Sometimes we need to be reminded!