In July 2016, I found myself 3,000 miles away from home on a boat in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska – also known as the last frontier - in a small port town called Seward. I was just 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle, staring past two otters holding hands, up towards the towering Mount Marathon, and wondering how I ended up there.
Well, I knew how I got there. I took a road trip from my home base in Anchorage for the weekend. Before that, I took a plane to Anchorage from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I was completing new hire orientation for a summer internship. And before that, I had flown in from my hometown of Houston, Texas.
So I know how I got there. But what I was really curious about is how my life took me there. And it also wasn’t such a hard question for me to answer.
Many of my friends know me will say that my favorite word is adventure. To be honest, I might be at risk of overusing this word. I turn everything into an adventure. Journeying to Alaska was an adventure. But meeting a new person could be one, too. Going to the dentist? Adventure!
But most people might not know exactly why that’s my favorite word. So today, I want to explain how my "adventure mentality" took me 3000 miles outside my comfort zone, all the way to the Last Frontier, and how adopting this perspective can change your life.
Let’s dissect the word adventure. To me, adventure is all about risk. It’s any scenario in which you acknowledge an uncertain outcome for actions you plan to take, but go forward anyway boldly and without reservation.
There was a time when I was going through a rough time in my life. I had classwork to balance with medical frustrations (including an emergency appendectomy) and was recovering from the rough demise of a long term relationship. It was at this time I decided I wanted to grow, quickly and in ways I never had before - the best way I knew to do that was to experience new things.
That change started for me right away when I decided to apply for the sales program on campus, the Program for Excellence in Selling. It's a rigorous two-semester program for sales that is number one in the nation because it not only teaches students how to sell through lectures and textbooks, but by giving students real quotas, training students on real products, and facilitating a real exchange of money through class projects like hosting a golf tournament and a career fair.
The program taught me is that there's a surprising amount of opportunities in sales for failure and facing uncertainty. I have to say, more than I anticipated when I voluntarily joined the program. A lot of the lessons it teaches are surprisingly helpful for developing adventure mentality. Sales is a tough job – it requires high emotional intelligence, strategic thinking, the ability to interface with many types of personalities, good listening skills, and definitely teaches you to handle rejection, which by far the most important component of being willing to take risks.
These are all skills I needed for my sales position in Alaska, so I honed my adventure mentality day in and day out for months. Here are the three most important components of adventure mentality:
1. SHOW UP
Brown, a professor at my university and a viral TED speaker, said it best. Showing up can be an adventure. It is the crucial first step in acknowledging and overcoming an unknown outcome.
If my trip taught me one thing it’s this - Adventure isn’t something you have to travel 3000 miles to get. It’s the risk you take right before you something that scares you, and it’s the reward that comes from taking that chance. Alaska let me exercise adventure mentality, but adventure is not defined by taking big risks. It starts small, in your daily routine. It's there not only when you board a plane, but when you try something you haven't done before - when you make a new friend, try that yoga class out, or run for a leadership position.
A friend of mine, Jacob, once had a job one summer selling textbooks door-to-door. The first part of his internship required knocking on doors, explaining he was away for the summer, and asking a stranger if they had a place he could stay. His first sales job, before even selling a product, was selling himself. And I imagine it was scary to knock on strangers' doors (I doubt it's something that comes naturally to anyone), but I'm sure the alternative of not having a place to sleep was even scarier. Can you imagine what would have happened if he hadn't walked up strangers' steps, knocked on the door, and shown up?
2. FAIL BETTER
I would argue that graduating college is one of the biggest uncertainties students can face, and it can be intimidating at times even for someone who celebrates the unknown. One day I was asking for advice on this subject from the sales program's Director of Corporate Relations, John Pingel, and he told me something that stuck with me and still hasn’t left: he said that you want to be a person who makes decisions much more than you want to be a person who makes the right decision.
In Alaska, I was given a company car, a list of customers, and some power tools, and was told, "good luck." So each day, I stopped by construction job sites to check in on customers and try to make sales. I was in an unfamiliar place with no other interns, selling power tools in the construction industry, doing a job I wasn't sure I could do by myself. Sometimes, I would arrive at a destination and find the building vacant and out of business. Sometimes the person I was trying to reach left the company years earlier. Sometimes I would be asked to leave an office. One day I tried to leave my house and couldn't because I was face to face with two black bears. I was facing obstacles left and right, every minute of every day.
Life is one choice after the next. I’m not afraid of choosing the wrong thing because even if I fail, I learned something. When you fail, you can pause, analyze, recalibrate, and have a better understanding of where you want to be, or where you don’t want to be. This is what one of my professors in the sales program, Joel LeBon, taught. He calls it learning how to fail better and it's the second component of adventure mindset.
3. BE BUOYANT
Last but not least, the third component of adventure mindset is to be buoyant. Buoyancy is a concept developed by Daniel Pink, who wrote the book To Sell is Human. It measures your ability to try again after facing a difficult situation and is positively correlated with a person's success. It's about finding out your tolerance for discomfort and then figuring out how you can increase it.
Pink has done extensive research on the subject, and one way he teaches you to increase buoyancy is by changing the type things you tell yourself before you go into that tricky situation. Most people prepare themselves for a tricky situation by telling themselves positive things. They say "I can do this. I can close this deal." But actually, research shows it is better to ask yourself a question. "Am I prepared?"
When you ask a question of yourself, you automatically answer it, without even trying to. You think to yourself, "I am ready because I prepared the slides for days." Instead of stating a fact, you begin puzzling through the situation, rehearsing it, and leaving you better prepared, and ultimately ready to try again.
In the sales program, they teach buoyancy like this: every no is just one step closer to a yes.
While it's true that travel and sales both contributed to the development of my adventure mindset, it can be achieved by anyone even if you don't travel and you aren't in sales. It starts with who you are and where you want to go. I would argue I would never have ended up in Alaska in the first place if I hadn't sat down in my interview with Hilti and told them that adventure was one of my core values.
When I’m outside my comfort zone, that’s where I grow the most, because I can acknowledge an uncertain outcome and make the decision anyway, whether it's big or small, and whether I fail or not. This is because I know that failure is a positive thing and that my ability to try again after being in a tough situation will, to some degree, determine my success.
This is what I call adventure mentality. It’s about remembering that an adventure can be as easy as showing up. It can be "failing better" simply by acknowledging failure as a positive thing, and it means learning to increase your buoyancy.
So next time something doesn’t go according to plan - I just want you to think to yourself, “well. That was an adventure.” Because who knows where saying yes can take you?
That's the Creme de la Em.