Thunderstorms: Taking the Right Kind of Risks.


Culture Fuel From the Trail series

This series of posts is inspired by our recent 6-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail, which you can read more about here. Each of these posts offers an insight from our experience on the trail that applies to life and leadership. Enjoy!

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”
— Jim Rohn

"Have you heard about the big storm coming?" the grizzled old man asked as he paused to shift his pack. Yes, we had heard. In fact, weather was the favorite topic of conversation along the AT. Throughout the day, the hikers we passed in ones and twos spoke of little else. "We're going to get off the trail at the next pass and lay over in town. Don't want to get caught in a big one!" he continued.

That sentiment dominated the general mood that day, but Kellie and I chafed at the thought of leaving the very trail we had worked so long and hard to reach. We're prepared, I thought. As long as we don't pitch camp along the ridgeline, I figure we can ride out a storm. At the same time, I didn't want to test fate recklessly. Periodically through the day, I checked the forecast on my phone...and it didn't look severe.

By the time we approached the next paved crossroad, we were convinced to stay. We pitched our tent in a sheltered hollow, and all we got that night was wind. Hardly a drop of wet! Strangely empowered, we pressed on the next morning. A couple days later, we encountered an almost identical scenario. "Big storm coming," we heard over and over. This time the message seemed confirmed by Mr. iPhone as we looked for a place to make camp that night.

About that time we crossed a gorgeous rushing stream that churned noisily down a rocky channel...flanked by the most beautiful campsite I'd seen yet. My heart leaped as I pointed it out to Kellie. "What about the stream?" she asked. "Could that be dangerous if it pours?" She was right, of course; flash floods can be dangerous business in the mountains. I was crestfallen to walk on by and choose a duller site half a mile down--but the creekside wasn't worth the risk. 

So how do you make those tough choices in life? When do you roll the dice, and when do you play it safe? Here are a few ideas to guide your own navigation:

  1. Gather relevant info. Whatever the risk you're considering, take time to do your due diligence. Don't confuse ignorance with bravery. Talk to experts. Get your "weather report."
  2. Consult stakeholders. Gather the personal input of all those affected by the decision (or representatives if it's a large number). Although we went back and forth a few times, Kellie and I eventually came to unified agreement.
  3. Be bold, not foolish. Boldness is the willingness to be different, to test a new course, and a willingness to fail...when failure is not fatal, or when doing nothing is not an option. Foolishness, on the other hand, is betting the farm to win a chicken. It's incongruent.
  4. Trust your gut. Once you've done your homework, it's time for decision-makers to dig deep and trust their instincts. We might call it well-informed intuition.

Assess. Consult. Discern. Act.

As it turned out, we got pounded by rain that night, but the thunder and lightning stayed in the distance, and there was no flash flood. All in all, it felt like we took the right level of risk!

Posted on June 10, 2014 .