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Jill Heinerth: Lessons Learned from the Most Dangerous Places on Earth

Jill Heinerth: Lessons Learned from the Most Dangerous Places on Earth

As the first explorer-in-residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, more people have walked on the moon than visited most of the places Jill Heinerth has been. Jill stopped by our office to give us a behind-the-scenes look at her life as an acclaimed cave diver. She’s explored through claustrophobic blackness deep inside underwater caves, and searched for never-before-seen ecosystems hidden inside giant Antarctic icebergs.

Working in such extreme conditions, Jill draws on her experiences and lessons learned to encourage audiences to go beyond their limitations, embrace the unknown, and overcome their fears, and shares practical advice on risk management, failure, and collaboration. It’s this unique skillset that has kept her alive while working in life or death situations this past three decades.

“I’ve been trapped in a cave behind a scientist, she’s panicking, she’s stuck, the safety line that leads to the exit is broken, and she’s the cork in the bottle containing my life. And if I don’t solve the problems for the both of us in the blindness of the silt-out, then we will both die. That’s a big problem, but I can’t think about getting out of the doorway at that moment, I can only think about the very small, pragmatic steps that I can make towards that success.”

She shared some of her risk management strategies with us that she uses well before the dive and in the moment.

Working in nature has also given Jill a unique perspective on the environment, experiencing first-hand the affects of climate change, calling it “terrifying”.

Surprisingly, cave diving isn’t what taught Jill how to overcome her fears. She learned how to deal with fear as a university student living in her first off-campus apartment. In the very first night, a burglar broke in and she had a choice — hide and give up or do something.

“I carried that terror with me for a decade, waking up in the middle of the night, fighting off the blankets of my own book until my girlfriend said to me ‘what are you going to with this story? You cannot change what’s happened. What are you going to do with this? How can you change what happens moving forward? How does this inform the rest of your life?’ And that’s when I realized I could do big things, I could take on fear, I could turn off the emotions — and serve them later — but turn them off in the heat of the moment and just work pragmatically towards survival… and that terror to do things that I thought were impossible.”

Of course, having an underwater cave diver in the office meant we had to ask Jill what treasures she’s found in the deep. And she did not disappoint.

Interested in learning more about Jill and what she can bring to your next event? Email us at [email protected].