Forget Following Your Passion

The Ideal Career? Forget Following Your Passion

Kathleen Byars | December 11, 2016

The idea that finding your passion will lead to a more fulfilling career – and better life – is misleading.

We’ve all heard the phrase “follow your passion and success will come…” I beg to differ.

Our hope is that by following our passion, we can solve our present day problems and wake up each day doing something we love.

I hate to disappoint you, but passion is not the answer to having the career – and life – you want.

It’s also common to open up the latest personal development book to find the author recommending that you simply start taking action. Rather than suffer paralysis-by-analysis, simply jump in and do something toward meeting your dreams.

While I very much agree that action is a crucial ingredient, you first have to know where you’re headed and in fact, have a clear vision you are working toward, for your action to have any lasting effect.

Action, without purpose, is simply grinding your gears.

So where do you begin? If your present-day career trajectory isn’t delivering the life you want, how the heck do you figure out what will?

Step back for a moment and look at your life from 30,000-feet. What do you see?

Our society demands that we spend our entire young lives preparing for a career. Once we have a career, we are then tasked with spending 70, 80, even 90% of our waking hours each day working. We’re told to work hard, keep our head down, and we will succeed. And this formula works just fine while we are climbing the corporate ladder. As our careers build momentum, we gain confidence that we’re capable of earning a comfortable salary and revel in the unique value we offer our employers.

Yet, once our career is built and we’ve experienced success, we start looking around at other areas of our life that have gone ignored for far too long. Areas such as health, family, personal relationships and personal interests are now much more alluring. And now that we have some accomplishment under our belts, we may also long for greater meaning and purpose in our work – a desire to make the world a better place and test our own mettle and forging our own path.

Does any of this resonate with you?

This is why chasing passion is so attractive. We hope passion will fill the gap of our present day discontent.

Yet, if we run off chasing our passion without measuring how it will affect all the areas of our life – or what we’ll be giving up to follow that passion – we find ourselves in the same exact place still wondering what the next step in life is supposed to be all about.

The answer to your ideal job – and an amazing life – isn’t simply about chasing your passion. It lies in making sure your next career move will better meet your needs in ALL areas of your life. I emphasize all because this is something we are not taught to do. We are taught that success in life is synonymous with success in our career. The other areas of our life are given less priority.

Yet, in order to have the life you want – you must redefine what success means to you. Success in life is achieved by meeting your needs in all the areas of your life that are important to you. And as you fulfill your needs in various areas of life over time, what you value changes. To navigate these changes there will be trade-offs, but there doesn’t have to be sacrifices. As long as you are staying true to what you value – and not allowing old habits or cultural ideals override your thinking – you will not be sacrificing.

If you spend any amount of time feeling like you are sacrificing one area of your life for another you will burn out, grow resentful, and feel trapped…even if you are following your passion. Life should be an evolution – a dynamic existence that is fluid and fruitful as you fill up and add to, the various areas in your life.

Now that you’ve built a successful career, it’s time to level up and start honoring the other areas in your life.

To do this you must address the areas of your life that are falling short and causing you discontent…choose new strategies to meet your needs in those areas where you are falling short. Maybe you love writing and you were a talented writer back in college, but today you just can’t find the time. Tom Clancy wrote the The Hunt for Red October after working all day as an insurance agent. Limiting your work day by an hour each day so you can write at the local coffee shop before going home or getting up an hour earlier each morning may sound “impossible”, yet because you will actually be fulfilling an unmet area of your life, you will be surprised how easy creating this new habit will actually be.

Or maybe you want more time with your family and you miss your children. Knowing they’ll only be young once, you can quickly see that dialing down the intensity of your career for now in order to improve quality time at home is a smart strategy that will help you fulfill more of your needs. You’ll still be getting financial security and efficacy from a job well done, but you will also be filling up your parenting “cup” and deriving great joy from the closer connection you’ll have with your kids.

In both of these examples, you’re taking action toward fulfilling your needs in more areas of your life – which is exactly what having the career you want is all about. There isn’t ONE THING that provides us the ideal career – nor life. It’s meeting needs in all areas of life in the strongest and most efficacious way possible, that lifts you up from an ordinary life – to a long-term and sustainable, extraordinary life.

As you become more comfortable with making these unconventional choices, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to make even more game-changing decisions in your life. Are you ready?


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

If you think someone in your network could benefit from this article, please share!

How to Overcome Fear & Negative Emotion with Gratitude

How to Overcome Fear and Negative Emotion with Gratitude

Kate Byars | November 27, 2016

It’s Thanksgiving which means my Inbox and social media accounts are full of articles on gratitude. Entirely well-meant, the articles in my newsfeed suggest that I should be grateful for so many things in life.

Like my family. And my health.

I am tremendously grateful for my family and my health and certainly realize how very lucky I am in both of regards. However, I also feel a sense of guilt when I see these articles. Like maybe I’m not appreciative enough. Or maybe I’m doing something wrong if I’m not satisfied with my life, even though I have an amazing family and excellent health.

Do you know what I mean?

So I’d like to put a different spin on gratitude and give you a perspective that helped me get comfortable overcoming fear so I could take the risks necessary to create the life I wanted. The road to the Good Life – a life you create on your own terms – isn’t easy. It’s hard work to create the life you want. The journey is rife with setbacks and challenges – which is why it’s so easy to abandon our best intentions and return to the safety of the status quo.

GRATITUDE is a secret tool that can be hugely advantageous as you strive to jump from one point in life to the next. I have an achiever personality – which means I like to get things done and see progress in life. In fact, if I am not progressing I feel LAZY. And, Heavens to Betsy, if I FAIL I become absolutely morose and panic-stricken. Which means that for most of my life I shied away from anything that even resembled a possible failure.

Yet, avoiding failure meant I was also avoiding creating the life I truly wanted.

So please bare with me if I jump onto the “gratitude bandwagon” and take up space in your Inbox with ONE MORE gratitude post.

Hopefully this article will not only help you reflect on what you have, but also give you some actionable advice that helps you on your quest to build the life you want.

Overcoming fear, self-doubt, and negative emotions requires the ability to call on positive emotions during those darker times. Sitting around thinking “I should be grateful for what I have” usually won’t cut the mustard. When you’re not feeling lucky, it doesn’t really help to be told that you should be feeling lucky…no?

Instead, when you feel overcome by negative emotion, it’s always more EFFECTIVE to look at rationale examples of what you are capable of rather than an overarching, generic sense of how lucky you should feel.

Here is how gratitude comes into play…

You are an AMAZING and UNIQUE individual. You have rare talents and characteristics that are UNLIKE anyone else in the world! Did you know that? Each of us has our own proprietary blend of traits and yet, we rarely step back to celebrate ourselves.

Sound arrogant? It’s not.

Those who easily overcome fear and failure tend to be those who appreciate their own amazing gifts and make this a daily practice. In order to do so, create a GRATITUDE JOURNAL and each day list at minimum three of your personality traits along with specific examples that make you, YOU.


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For example, if you are a good listener you might write down:

“I listened intently to the cashier at the grocery store yesterday, even though I was tired after work. My ability to listen helps others feel valued and I am able to bring a moment of joy to other’s lives.”

Being a good listener is not a trait that everyone possesses. It helps you build a loyal team as an empathetic boss. It helps you be a responsive vendor. It helps you have open and honest communication with your spouse.

Do you see how powerful it is to be grateful for YOU?

Now think about a negative experience you may have had lately. Maybe you lost a business contract. Or missed out on a high-profile project at work. Maybe you dropped the ball and let someone down.

It happens to all of us. The point is not to AVOID negative experiences – living an amazing life doesn’t come RISK FREE – it means coming up with EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES to overcome those negative moments and move on empowered by the experience.

Self-gratitude is one of the tools that helps you do just that.

When you’re having a low moment, take out your Gratitude Journal and read it. Let the words sink in. You’re not a failure and making a mistake doesn’t define you. You’re YOU and that means you’re amazing. And capable. And tremendously valuable to the world and those around you.

Applying the strategy of self-gratitude you’ll quickly see how negative emotions become less intense as you start to recognize what you’re feeling as a temporary situation – and one that you can overcome. Also, the simple act of taking action by reading or writing in your journal can help propel you to take additional positive action to overcome the setback. Rather than lamenting on a friend’s shoulder, you’ll find yourself sharing your experience with greater introspection as you try to dissect the failure rather than wear it on your sleeve.

I didn’t understand how powerful self-gratitude was until I started practicing gratitude in my own life. And you know what? Taking risks became easier once I started focusing on what makes me unique. I discovered that I was more than an accomplished executive or a loving mom and spouse. I discovered that I’m capable beyond my own expectations and pretty darn cool.

And you know what? You are capable beyond your own expectations and pretty darn cool, too.


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

I Should Be the President of IBM

I Should Be the President of IBM

Kathleen Byars | November 20, 2016

I should be the President of IBM. No offense, Ginni Rometty, but that’s what my mom said.

It all started innocently enough. At the tender age of three, I was riding in the front seat (!!) of mom’s bright-turquoise Oldsmobile Plymouth bored out of my mind. I was too little to see out of the window, too little to read a book, and the iPad had yet to be invented. As I slipped and slid all over the turquoise, vinyl bench seat, I discovered a row of turquoise colored buttons along the door. They didn’t have a purpose other than to add a touch of decor – and to stimulate the mind of a bored little girl. As I sized up those tiny little buttons, I discovered something that would change the course of my life.

Three plus four equals seven.

Stunning…I know!

I told mom about my discovery and she nearly drove off the road. Apparently it’s a pretty rare thing for a three year old to understand math. The next thing I know my parents are announcing my genius to the world. By age six I’ve had my IQ tested and that unleashes years of debate as my parents anguish over whether to skip me a grade ahead in school or keep me with my age-level peers.

All I really cared about was soccer and Barbie dolls.

I was growing up in the 1970s and back then women didn’t hold many high level positions. My mom had a short-lived career as a bookkeeper, which was pretty outrageous for her day. Upon marrying my dad she quit her job, of course, to keep house.

Mom never went to college, and despite the fact she was incredibly intelligent, she always regretted her lack of education. In mom’s mind she was less important than those who were college educated.

It was a sign of the times and mom wore her insecurity on her sleeve.

Thus it is no wonder that mom always told me:

“Honey, you can do anything you want when you grow up…someday, you’ll be the President of IBM.”

If I had a dime for every time I heard mom say those words to me…well, you know what I mean. I heard those words A LOT.

And growing up in an era where women were transitioning from 1950s stepford wives to 1970s bra-burning feminists made it pretty clear to me I was supposed to be SOMEBODY SUCCESSFUL.

I can’t say I grew up inspired by feminists, but I do remember my mother impressing upon my sister and I that we were NOT to grow up to become housewives. Instead, we were to set our aspirations higher and become independent women capable of taking care of ourselves and standing on our own two feet.

I grew up thinking I would someday become a business executive. In fact, I don’t remember ever thinking I could do anything else.

Have you ever felt the same way?

In college, all of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do. Doctors, lawyers, software engineers. I just wanted to be a business person. In my mind, the only way to have a good life was to succeed in business. Make my bosses proud. Make sacrifices for my company. Demonstrate my loyalty and do the right thing.

And I did exactly that. I got a great job, worked extremely hard, and climbed the corporate ladder. Until one day, I looked around and realized something poignant.

I had climbed the corporate ladder, but instead of arriving at a place of freedom and success, I had climbed inside a gilt-edged box; trapped by the comforts of my life and exhausted by the pace – and lack of control — that went along with it.

Yet, dammit, I was supposed to be a corporate executive. It was the only destiny I had ever known. How do you quit the only world that is familiar to you? Deep in the recesses of my mind, I was scared to leave my glamorous, gilded cage. Leaving it, ultimately meant I had failed. I was walking away from a good life and that meant I was ungrateful. I couldn’t cut it. I wasn’t strong enough.

And I would never become the President of IBM.

That reality took a long time for me to come to terms with. I mean, you gotta admit Ginni Rometty, is pretty dang important. And her job is powerful. And prestigious.

As I wrestled with my ego, it occurred to me that maybe I was valuing myself all wrong. Maybe I was valuable – and worthy of love – not because of WHAT I do, but because of WHO I am.

Sounds pretty basic, right?

Yet how many times in life are we rewarded for WHO we are? We get praised for bringing home an A+ in school. We are deemed to be extra-special if we get into an Ivy League university. We earn promotions and salary increases based on the results we produce at work.

Is it any wonder that it’s difficult to change course in life and step down from a successful life that most would envy for a more unconventional path that potentially goes against the grain?

But what if this alternate life give us unique opportunities to strengthen family bonds or even seek out new relationships? What if it gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves inside a creative, fulfilling, passionate career wrought at our own hands? What if we can throw away the alarm clocks and meeting schedules and replace those with a fluid schedule whereby we work, eat, play, love, and have fun each and every day at our own chosen pace? And what if we can do all that and still be financially comfortable?

I don’t know about you, but when I think about life in this less conventional way, my ego lessens its grip just enough that the thought of becoming the President of IBM is a tad less appealing. And as I searched for the answers to build that unconventional life – a life on my own terms – one thing because amazingly clear.

Corporations don’t create gilded cages. They simply serve as a willing machine for those of us willing to be the cogs. Although I ultimately left the corporate world, I took my corporate mindset and frenetic habits with me. I may have been living on the beach, but I was still driving myself crazy jumping through impossible hoops in a never-ending attempt to fill a hole inside me.

And it wasn’t until I learned to fill that hole with a whole new way of thinking – and behaving – that I finally found the freedom that had alluded me for so long.

Ego is a crazy thing. And feeling important – and successful – feels good. Yet, I have to say that feeling free – well, it feels even better.


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

If you think someone in your network could benefit from this article, please share!

Is Lack of Authenticity Killing Your Success?

Is Your Lack of Authenticity Killing Your Chances for Success?

Kathleen Byars | November 5, 2016

Are you struggling with growth in your business? Or perhaps you’ve come to a crossroads in your own life?

One minute things are on the upswing and you’re riding the wave. The next minute, you’re back in the trenches wondering how the heck you slipped backwards at all?

Your company enjoyed steady growth during those start-up years, yet now five years in, sales has become a daily struggle. Rather than reveling in your company’s progress, you’re dragging your business uphill inch-by-painful inch.

Or maybe your career took off right out of college and today you’ve reached a high-level of success. Yet, as you look around, life isn’t as meaningful as you thought it would be and you long for the freedom to control your own destiny.

I totally get it. I’ve experienced both. It’s arduous and painful. And for successful, driven, talented people – it’s totally baffling.

How can you be successful and suffering? What is the missing piece to the puzzle that you cannot seem to figure out?

Authenticity

In my experience, I’ve seen a lot of folks get blown off course because they don’t really understand their core purpose.

It certainly happened to me. Let me show you what I mean…

When you started your career you had a vision for what you would build. Yet, most likely that vision was wrapped around the type of work you wanted to do and financial success. That’s fine. It’s hard to focus on your core purpose if you’re starving.

As you go about building a career or a business, you talk to people and they get to know you and like you. You work hard, take care of problems, take risks and the result is growth.

Nice!

Yet, now decisions start to become more complex. You are no longer running door to door with your briefcase full of wares…you’ve got to attract customers en masse. And you’re no longer jostling for a simple promotion. Now you’re running a department full of employees and having to coordinate your success across functional area lines. You run from meeting to meeting with rarely a moment’s rest.

And in the process our decisions become clouded by the demands of life. If we’re not in touch with our true destiny, then it’s hard to abide by any guidelines except the constant pressure for success.

So how does authenticity come into play? Simple. Stop trying to be what you THINK you need to be and start being who you ARE.

Huh?

You stand for something. There is a cause, a purpose, an absolute truth inside each and every one of us. It’s your gift that you should be sharing with the world.

And when you start sharing your vision – that rich, human belief that’s deep inside of you… people who believe what you believe will automatically show up to listen. And share. And connect.

I promise.

When businesses call on me to help them with marketing, they’re stuck. They’ve tried all the traditional avenues and nothing has worked, or at least not for very long. These companies have hired ad agencies, freelancers, SEO specialists, and marketing coordinators and they can’t seem to move the needle. What gives?

They’ve forgotten who they are. Or maybe they never realized who they were in the first place.

In any case, the very first thing I do is help them get in touch with their core purpose. Their mission and values that are truly authentic – not a copywriter’s best imitation of what they think they should be. And then we choose the best channels and processes to announce that authentic purpose to the world.

Once that occurs a magnet effect springs to action. Internal staff members become aligned and ignited around a common mission. Customers wake up and take notice and begin following you and referring you to others. Tough business decisions become easier when measured against your purpose. And growth magically reappears. Happens every time.

It’s the same for individuals who are no longer finding joy in their lives. They’re stuck, too. They’ve tried rearranging their schedule, hired extra help, changed jobs, and taken a leave of absence. Yet, the heavy, gray haze of disillusionment remains. What gives?

They’ve forgotten who they are. Or maybe they never realized who they were in the first place.

Sound familiar?

So I help these folks get in touch with their core purpose. Once we begin to live authentically by our core beliefs… we start to THRIVE. We make effective decisions that lead us to greater joy. We learn to put up barriers when confronted with situations that don’t align with who we are. We become empowered by a renewed sense of self. And we take charge of our destiny and finally feel free.

It’s life-altering.

So who are you? Who is your authentic self? What is the legacy you will leave the world?

If you don’t know, find out. If you’re stuck take a look at my What’s Your Story article or give me a call. When you discover who you are you will no longer be stuck.

You’ll be thriving!


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

If you think someone in your network could benefit from this article, please share!

 

 

What if Fear is the Only Thing Holding You Back?

What if Fear is the Only Thing Holding You Back?

Kathleen Byars | October 29, 2016

Do you remember the public service announcement This is Your Brain on Drugs? It shows a guy cracking an egg into a frying pan. The egg represents the brain. As the guy cracks the egg into the pan he quips, “This is Your Brain. This is Drugs. This is Your Brain on Drugs. Any Questions?”

I remember that commercial from my youth. The effect became really clear to me as I learned how to build the trailblazing life I always wanted. Except instead of “drugs,” I substitute the word “fear.” This is Your Brain. This is Fear. This is Your Brain on Fear. Any Questions?

If you’ve ever tried to make monumental changes in your life, you know it’s INCREDIBLY hard.

As business professionals, we instantly gravitate toward finding a strategy.

We try everything. We start a small business on the side. We blog, we network, we fancy writing a book. Yet, nothing seems to work. We desperately want someone to tap us on the shoulder and say “Here. Do THIS…” and viola, we find the perfect strategy that works.

Other times, we HAVE a strategy. We have clarity and know exactly what we want…but then FEAR reaches up and holds us back. Even the simplest things become difficult. So we retreat to our safe zone and rationalize why we can’t change our lives just yet.

It’s odd, but I have found that you can have the best, simplest, most amazing strategy in the world…

…but if you don’t overcome fear, doubt, and self-sabotage…you cannot build enough momentum to reach success.

And earning success on your own terms is AUDACIOUS. It’s scary as hell.

If you think this article might resonate with someone in your network, please share!

I’ve seen this ring true over and over again working with clients who are following a traditional path.They have tried all sorts of me-too methods for building success in their lives and businesses, yet they’re still struggling. And they are BONE TIRED.

I totally get it. I ran full speed on that hamster wheel for a LONG TIME, too.

So when my clients sit down with me for our very first consult and I ask them to do things DIFFERENTLY – and invite them to really re-consider their chosen strategies they are scared as hell.

The mind is a curious thing. In it’s effort to protect us, the mind can actually become our own enemy and prevent us from living the lives we want. Instead of enjoying meaningful, blossoming work we choose to keep our nose to the grindstone. Rather than building a flexible life that gives us the freedom to enjoy what is most precious to us, we compress our dearest moments into a few hours each night or weekend. Why the heck do we do this?

FEAR. Fear propels us into a FALSE sense of safety that is hiding under a lifetime of habits and deeply ingrained scripts. We don’t pause long enough to deal with those scripts so we just keep chugging – and hoping – that the perfect strategy will fall into our laps before we fall into the grave.

Think about it. How many of your current challenges are because you don’t KNOW something? How many are because you’re stuck in fear?

As successful corporate executives, business people, and members of the human race we have PROVEN over and over again that we know how to survive, overcome challenges, and build success. If you don’t believe me just look in the mirror. Think of all you have achieved to get where you are today!

Yet, that next step is a doozy – it’s the one that takes you off the beaten path into unknown territory. It’s the path of uncertainty, doubt, and FEAR.

Fear happens; it’s not your fault. We are all human. Yet once you know what is holding you back, then it’s up to you to do something about it.

The question is not, “What if I fail?” but, “What will I miss out on if I don’t do this?”

So what are you going to do about it? If you’re open to sharing, please tell us in the comments below!


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.

The Joy of Risk: What Cave Diving Taught Me

The Joy of Risk: What Cave Diving Taught Me

Kathleen Byars | October 23, 2016

Cave diving involves risk.

The magnitude of risk is quite high for those who lack preparation. Those who enter a cave without the necessary training are more likely to get lost, panic, and fail. If they’re lucky, they still get out alive.

However, those who plan properly, develop the requisite mindset, and consistently follow their training, mitigate the risk. These divers enjoy a lifetime of breathtaking dives.

I must say it is truly magnificent to float among million year old fossils forever cemented inside majestic cave walls.

Risk weighed heavily on my mind as I began my introductory cave diving course in 2003. Working in a high-stress, corporate environment I had gravitated to scuba diving for recreation. I found that the focus and concentration required underwater released me from the pressures I faced above the surface.

My instructor was recommended by a dive shop in Ponce de Leon, Florida. For those of you who have never been to North Florida it is nothing like what you see on Miami Vice re-runs. North Florida is wooded, becomes relatively cold in the winter, and sits atop a plateau of porous limestone karst.

Telford Springs Florida

North Florida is also riddled with world-class caves. Visitors travel here from all over the world to dive them.

Most cave diving begins from the back of a truck, instead of a boat. You drive to a wooded dive site, unpack your gear on the truck tailgate, suit up and carry a minimum of 88lbs (40kg) of gear on your back to a fresh water hole. Unlike ocean dives, cave diving isn’t pretty until you get inside.

As I embarked on my first cave dive, I realized there were no guarantees. Many an experienced technical diver balk at being inside a cave. And while I had an instructor to guide me, the responsibility for my fate was still my own.

There was no way for me to know if I would be successful until I gave it a try.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

-T.S. Elliot

Prior to entering the water, my instructor tried everything he could to confuse me. He was testing my mindset to make sure I stayed focused and followed my training.

He suggested we switch cave systems at the last minute. I didn’t go for it. He changed up our dive plan and demanded we take another underwater route. I told him no way. He then looked me in the eye and told me this might be the last breath of fresh air I ever take. Was I prepared for the risk I was about to take?

His last question rattled me good. Somehow, I managed to return his gaze and spat back, “While that may be true, there is only one way to find out.”

In truth, I didn’t feel so self-assured.

When a diver returns from a dive it’s customary to ask how the dive was. In cave diving, we say that every dive you return from is a good dive.

As I geared up for what I hoped would be the first of many “good” cave dives, we received word that a diver was missing. He had entered a cave system the night before and never returned. His wife had called the sheriff and by 8AM an experienced team of divers were gearing up to retrieve his body.

It was a tragic and horribly sad reminder of exactly the risk I was about to take.

Hands shaking, I began to gear up. Focus, Kate, focus. I put my light on upside down. Damn. Stop. Take a deep breath. Re-attach light. My mask kept fogging. I tried and tried to spit on the lens to clear it, but my mouth was too dry. I lost my dive fins. With 88lbs of gear on my back I began rummaging around the truck.

My instructor stood nearby, resting his gear on a picnic table. He calmly watched as I tried to pull it together.

Cave diving gear

Today, the entry to Wes Skiles Peacock State Park cave system boasts a handsome wooden boardwalk. Back when I was a cave diving trainee, the walk from the parking lot to the cave system consisted of a muddy trail. I lumbered down the path, careful to step over tree roots. I did not want to trip and fall. One misstep and I would be lying on my back like a helpless turtle, unable to extricate myself from my gear.

We reached the water’s edge and waited somewhat impatiently for exiting divers. Sweat trickled down my face. Mosquitos nipped at my exposed skin. I was burning up inside my 7mil wetsuit. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having major second thoughts.

Finally, I took a giant stride into the cool spring water. I pulled open the neck of my wetsuit to allow water inside. I was anything but comfortable.

My first task was to confirm the dive plan. Next, we performed gear checks at the surface and a safety drill. I then sank below the water’s surface and tied off my primary reel to a rock. I made a secondary tie-off just inside the cave and then searched for the main line. Anytime you enter a cave system, you do so with a guide reel and tie the line from your guide reel to a permanent line that runs throughout the system. The permanent line serves as a visual guide to help divers navigate safely in and out of the cave.

Once I tied off my reel, I began the dive. The dark cave enveloped me as my 10W Halogen canister light struggled to light the surrounding blackness. Our dive plan was to enter Peanut tunnel, a shallow, narrow tunnel with depths from 20 to 60 feet. At approximately 500 feet penetration we would end the dive and head back to the surface. My job was to lead the way and remember to turn the dive at our agreed-upon penetration.

As we swam deeper into the cave system, I waited for my instructor to haze me. Typically, the skills required for a first cave dive are dive planning, safety drills, hand signals and reel tie-offs. The more advanced drills such as lights out, lost diver, and lost line aren’t presented until later.

Yet, my instructor loved hazing his students. I had watched as he tormented students in previous classes where I was just an observer.

Would my instructor swim up behind me and remove a fin? Would he shut one of my tank valves and prevent me from getting air to imitate a failure? Would he rip my mask and render me blind as I fumbled for my spare mask?

My heart was racing as I worried about what lie ahead. Kick, glide, worry. Kick, glide, worry. I was unable to enjoy the dive. I waited and waited and waited to fail.

Finally, we reached the 500 feet mark. Yes! As I signaled to my instructor to turn the dive, he swam up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. He shined his dive light onto his hands and then formed his fingers into the shape of a triangle. Puzzled, I looked blankly back at him. I could not recall this hand signal from my training. My instructor chuckled and repeated the gesture, this time shining his light along the cave wall. Clueless and frustrated, I gave him the thumbs up signal and called the dive.

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When a diver gives the thumbs up signal you don’t discuss it. You end the dive. My instructor turned around and began leading us out. I suffered the entire journey back to the surface. What had the hand signal meant? Why didn’t I remember this from my training? Rattled and unsure of myself, I was certain I must have failed.

At the cave entrance I picked up my primary reel and slowly surfaced. Unable to control the mental strain any longer, I blurted out, “What in the heck was that strange hand signal for?” Surprised at my agitation, my instructor smiled. “It was nothing. I was just trying to point out a beautiful fossil encrusted in the cave wall. I wanted your first dive to be truly memorable.”

Damn.

Here I was pushing past the boundaries of anything I ever imagined I would do. I was learning the mindset required to embrace risk, yet rather than congratulate myself on my progress, I was beating myself up for the one small mistake I assumed I had made.

And in the process, I had missed out on experiencing what was surely a beautiful dive.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear. – Jack Canfield

Fortunately, life isn’t a one-chance ride. We get lots of opportunities for do-overs. And that’s exactly what I did. I survived, literally and figuratively, the hazing of my first cave instructor and earned my introductory cave diving certification. I then moved to the BVIs.

And in the process, I began to understand what it takes to create a life worth living.

Risk is terrifying. It’s uncomfortable. And when faced with risk the easiest path is to hide and run away. It would have been much easier for me to stay home and continue with my life as it was. Yet facing fear, and overcoming discomfort, is exactly what leads to an extraordinary life.

It would take me some years to dial in this process, but once I understood there is a process, it was only a matter of time before I honed it to achieve the life I wanted.

And although a life with less risk is certainly a life with less pain, it is also a life with less joy. Less passion. Less meaning.

I believe passionately in the words of Jack Canfield. Building an extraordinary life isn’t about playing it safe. Instead, we must face our fears.

PS: Cave diving is perceived as one of the most deadly sports in the world. Yet, the vast majority of divers who have lost their lives in caves have either not undergone specialized training or failed to follow the strict training guidelines. It is believed that the diver who lost his life the morning of my dive had changed medications and suffered an epileptic seizure underwater. A placard was placed in his memory inside the park. I always look for it and think of him whenever I return to the site of my very first cave dive.


I believe we all have a bit of trailblazer inside us, don’t you? It’s my passion to help others create change. I’ve always found that disrupting the status quo leads to an amazing life where nothing is impossible.