February 2, 2012 by Speakers' Spotlight

The Power of Adventure

Guest blog from Bruce Kirkby

For more than twenty years, Bruce Kirkby has led a life of exploration and high adventure.  His journeys have taken him to the wildest and most remote corners of the planet; from Africa to the high Arctic; from Mt. Everest to Arabia. Kirkby has been shot at in Borneo, taken hostage in Ethiopia, survived crocodile attacks on the Nile, and weathered high altitude storms in Alaska. A weekly columnist with The Globe and Mail, and a contributing editor to Explore, Kirkby is also a bestselling author, award-winning photographer, and the former host of CBC’s No Opportunity Wasted.

As more and more companies seek inventive ways to rekindle the elusive traits of curiosity, creativity and down-right bravery in their work place, it is becoming common to stumble upon references to the “spirit of adventure.”  While I wholeheartedly applaud the goal, the phrase itself — the spirit of adventure — saddens me, for implicit in the words is the conclusion that actual adventure, the real deal, resides somewhere else, in the Himalayas perhaps, or on the Nile; places so far removed from our everyday lives that we can only apply the thin facade of its spirit to our life and work.

This, of course, is rubbish.  Adventure is part of the human experience.  It is with us from birth, and remains available to each of us, every single day of our lives.  Adventure nurtures imagination, enterprise, and self reliance.  It is fundamental to any growth, innovation or success.

Yet adventure is slowly and steadily being robbed from us.

Glossy magazines and high-definition televisions are redefining adventure as the realm of extreme athletes and sponsored expeditions, a rarified terrain delineated by “the biggest,” “the farthest,” “the hardest’ and “the scariest.”  In the process, they are leaching this critical ingredient from modern society.

Ironically, the momentous extremes presented by the media (and even plain old sweaty outdoor activities) are completely superfluous to adventure, and have nothing to do with its true heart.

Rather, the heart of adventure is poetically and perfectly captured by this simple sketch found upon a kitchen recipe card.

When we see this, we instinctively and intuitively know it to be true.  If you cast your mind back to any peak moment in your life — the birth of a child, a first kiss, a resounding career success, travels in a foreign land — you’ll find each was imbued with the distinctive essence of the unknown.

The power of taking just one step beyond our known world — of doing just one small thing differently — is phenomenal.

Take Keri, a 32 year-old mother of two from Stoney Creek (near Hamilton, Ontario) who I encountered while hosting CBC’s reality television show, No Opportunity Wasted.   Keri’s fear was driving.  After an aborted teenage attempt at learning, she gave up.  This had an immense impact on Keri’s daily life.  She relied on co-workers to drive her to work.  She relied on her husband to help her shop for food and clothes.  Finally, when her two young daughter’s reached school age, she decided she’d had enough, and applied to be on our show.

We dropped in unannounced and nabbed Keri from work (ironically, she worked for Toyota!)  For a whirlwind 72-hours, we stripped away every excuse, and pushed her to step beyond her comfort zone.  No more woulda, shoulda, coulda – the time was NOW.

Day One Keri navigated a horrendous off-road obstacle course – complete with steep cliffs and rickety log bridges – in a Range Rover… while blindfolded… listening only to auditory instructions.  Understandably, there were plenty of tears.  And later, broad smiles.

Day Two we taught Keri to drive a manual transmission, and by afternoon, she was racing around a rally car course.

On Day Three — for the Ultimate Challenge — we enrolled Keri in a “Solo II” race; a sanctioned event where drivers from across North America race around a pylon course, not against each other, but against the clock.  This would represent the first time in Keri’s life that she had ever driven an automobile alone.  There would be no one in the passenger seat to ask questions, or lean on for support.  To make things a bit more interesting, we put Keri in a 500 hp Jaguar XJR Coupe.

She performed brilliantly.

Less than 36 hours after we dropped Keri back at home, she had her driver’s license.  After humming and hawing — and putting up with the inconvenience of not driving for 16 years — it took only three days of adventure to conquer her fear.  A very poetic ending to the television episode.

But it wasn’t the end of Keri’s story!

A few weeks later Keri called to say she’d always been scared of yoga.  (Go ahead, you can laugh; Keri does too.)  Now she was regularly attending classes.

Shortly after that she enrolled in a women’s weeklong extreme snowboarding camp.  (Keri had always wanted to ski, but never had the nerve.)  She applied for a new job – at head office – and got it.  She was only able to accept this job because she could now drive herself.  Keri and her husband soon bought a new house, closer to Lake Ontario, with a park behind where the girls could play.

I visited the family months later, and was sitting on the back patio, watching Keri’s two girls race across the nearby grassy field, when it struck me: Keri did not apply to be on No Opportunity Wasted so her daughters could have a better life.  She did not apply so she could get a new job, or move into a new house, or start snowboarding.  She simply wanted to learn to drive.

Stepping beyond the limits of comfort, routine and predictability — for only three short days — had a profound and enduring effect on Keri’s life.  One that continues to resonate today.

The same magic entered the lives of every single participant on No Opportunity Wasted.  None viewed themselves as adventurers.  But we all are.

Magic is available to all of us, every single day of our entire lives.  We are never too old, and it is never too late.   Reclaiming adventure is not difficult.  It simply takes leaving the comfort zone.  The results, quite literally, can change the world.