If flourishing as an adult or inspiring as a leader requires us to face and make peace with some of the darkest thoughts that take over our minds, we may learn a great deal from artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, or adventurers. There is a book on my coffee table that speaks of this. Our guests inevitably reach for it. Maybe it is because its title says it all: Dare to Reach, co-authors Emmanuel Daigle and Theodore Fairhurst, two Canadian high-altitude mountaineers from Quebec. Since Ted has been one of my best and closest friends over the last ten years, what follows is no usual book review. Yes, I will. With you, I will share some of the stuff Ted did not dare to share or do. Read on.
Adults evolve, grow up, and wake up in various and mysterious ways. Some learn through the pains and challenges that life throws at them; others work with a therapist or a coach or walk spiritual paths to precipitate personal transformations. Others like Ted and Emmanuel seek and meet their better selves on the world's highest mountains' summits. In Ted's own words:
"Everest is about pain and struggle, physically, but most importantly, mentally. It touches the rawest emotions in your psyche. It is a beautiful beast, huge, glorious, but implicitly unpredictable. It demands your psychological tenacity. You must be stubborn, you must hold fast, you must know why you are there. You must see what you don't want to see but be able to remove it from the mind's eye. You must focus on one thing, or you will die. Your capacity for resilience determines your outcome. You are both at one with Nature, but also her archenemy, struggling to survive her powerful grip. There are demons, and there are angels, which one you see determines whether you live or die."
Emmanuel is an ultramarathon runner, a high-altitude mountain guide, a globetrotter, an educator, and a public speaker. Ted started in life as an artist and bootstrapped himself into becoming a successful real estate entrepreneur. At 71, he became the world's oldest person and only the 9th in history to accomplish both mountaineering feats: the 7 Summits and the Volcanic 7 Summits. The inspiring stories they share in their book Dare To Reach are about wonder and wander, pain and resilience, strength and perseverance, success in life, and the art of daring. Their direct, friendly, spicy, and unpretentious style inevitably gets you to turn to the next page. The bilingual book imagined and designed by Montreal visual artist and creative director Goran Hamsic is also a unique and beautiful object, with breathtaking photos and videos of and by the co-authors accessible with QR codes. This video of the Khumbu Glacier filmed by Ted, for example, is the most viewed video of Everest's Ice Fall, with over 4 million views so far. With Dare to Reach on my coffee table, I feel the inspiring presence of "Cousin Emmanuel" and "Uncle Ted" with me all the time. Like friendly companions, they brighten up my days. Like wise guides, they remind me to step into the unknown with confidence. I highly recommend the book.
To bring a different perspective to the act of daring and to make the book even more relatable and enjoyable, I am sharing with you – and with his permission – a few unpublished yet important stories about Ted. Stories of Ted when he did not dare to reach. Stories of Ted when he chickened out. Then, in ways of thanking him and because – as he likes to put it – people change people, I shall also share a few words about how he changed my life and the life of others.
Headache for a public speaking coach: the problem with superheroes and record breakers.
Ted is rather reserved and socially shy in his admission and not one to throw himself in the spotlight spontaneously. Rather than a forum to shine, his first public talks were for him new opportunities to dare outside of his comfort zone. The rushes of adrenaline and the joy of connecting meaningfully with the audience became more and more addictive, one speaking engagement after the next. Ted then did what he knows to do best: push himself further to take his storytelling and presentation skills to the next level. When a global Canadian bank invited him to speak before a C-Level executives’ audience, he reached out for help and hired me (aren't I lucky?) as a coach. On several occasions, he had been the one either kicking my rear bottom or supporting me with compassion and empathy through professional or life challenges. This time fate had turned the tables. This time was payback time.
We got to work with excitement. I gave Ted carte blanche to run his talk the way he liked before me and a camera. After the first couple of runs, I realized that I was facing a coaching challenge. I saw ways to take his storylines and stage performance to some higher levels, but it became apparent that he would meet most of my suggestions for edits and tweaks with much resistance. There was a simple explanation for this. Ted has a charismatic personality and unlimited amounts of vital energy; his shining blue eyes brighten up the room; the stories he tells all get you to hold your breath. Rounds of applauds and encores always punctuate his talks. Then, why change? Then, why tweak? Then, why attempt to polish his true and rugged speaking style when it had triggered so many smiles in the audience? I was in for a hard sale.
"The challenge," I started to explain, "the challenge is that your talks are sure to 'wow!' the crowds, but I am ready to bet that they do not trigger many 'a-ha's." Ted was intrigued and prompted me to expand. I was eager to play jester and poke him out of balance. "'wow! 's," I continued, "'wow! 's are when your eyes widen up in wonder before the spectacle of some extraordinary thing or some extraordinary act. In Montreal, you can hear the 'wow! 's in the crowd along the banks of the Saint Laurent River during the International Firework Competition in July, or under Cirque du Soleil's big tops when acrobats fly over your head and seem to avoid fatal aerial collisions by a hair's breadth. Ted, because the pictures in your slideshows are breathtaking, and because each one of your stories leaves the listener in awe, your talks get many 'wow! 's, I am sure. The problem with 'wow!' is that after a few days, as the sense of wonder dissipates with the return to normal, most people resume their regular lives unchanged."
"'A-ha's are very different," I continued. "'A-ha's are quieter to the passerby, but louder within. 'A-ha's make our eyes twinkle. 'A-ha's are shifts in our hearts. 'A-ha's are shifts in our minds. 'A-ha's are us seeing and understanding parts of ourselves that had so far resisted the light of our consciousness. 'A-ha's transform us in either small or big ways but leave no space for returns to the old ways, ever. 'A-ha's bring us peace and a renewed sense of faith. 'A-ha's happen when we meditate. 'A-ha's happen when we write, read, or listen to poetry. 'A-ha's happen when a friend gently holds a mirror in front of us to reflect our blind spots. 'A-ha's may happen when we listen to a talk, if and only if we can relate, if and only if we can say to ourselves: "'a-ha,' me too, I see…"."
"But with you, Ted, can people say "'a-ha,' me too, I see…?" Your successes in life, for regular folks like us, are intimidating. In your early twenties, you succeeded as a brilliant escapist and made ends meet living a life of fun and adventures between Europe and Asia on the Hippie Trail. In Montreal, with colorful memories from Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Milan, Istanbul, Teheran, Kabul, Delhi, or Kathmandu, you got recognized as a visionary visual artist by your peers. Face it, Ted: a thumbs up by Leonard Cohen is no small accolade! Then, with no prior business experience, you survived and eventually thrived as a real estate entrepreneur despite the burst of one of the biggest real estate bubbles of modern times. Much later in life, with seventy candles on your birthday cake, you would not stop and went on climbing more mountains to bring home a world record. So please, Ted, tell me: when I am in the audience listening to your talk, sure I may say 'wow, how extraordinary!', but do you honestly expect me to say: 'a-ha, me too, I see…'? I don't know what it is about you, Ted. Maybe you fell in some magic potion when you were a kid. Maybe some angels blessed you with some superpowers. But when we listen to you, we do not see ourselves; we see a superhero. For most of us, it is a little bit hard to relate. Ted, come to think about it, despite the encores, despite the applauds, your talks may affect people in ways opposite to the ones you seek. Folks in the audience most likely say to themselves: 'wow… impressive… super-impressive… but nothing like me… daring to reach like this is not within my reach…'"
At that point in my pitch to Ted, I paused. Taking a deep breath, I looked at my dear friend straight in the eyes and, with a grin, calmly went for the close: "So Ted, please enlighten me, what's your goal? What do you want to achieve with your talks? Do you want to keep impressing the crowds with big WOWs and then let people resume their normal and mundane lives? Or are you ready to make the necessary adjustments to precipitate a few 'a-ha's and transform people's lives for the better and forever?" To this, Ted responded with a smile: "Dom, you are such a badass, and you know it… Of course, we are going for the 'a-ha's, let's get to work!"
One possible strategy to make public speakers more relatable to their audience is balancing feats with failures. I probed. Ted did not need to think too long to select a few tales of epic F*CK ups. One of them was when he ventured ahead of his teammates on his way down from the Carstensz Pyramid summit in Papua New Guinea, the highest volcano in Indonesia. Ted was hoping to quickly come across the trail that the group had climbed up nine days earlier. Instead, he found himself lost and alone at sunset in the thickest of the jungle, where he had to survive the night with no food, no water, no sleeping bag, no tent, and nocturnal carnivores roaming around. He survived.
Another failure was when, after a long day of rafting down the Tuolumne River in the untenable heat of the Yosemite National Park, Ted succumbed to the chants of Sirens and went on with a solo climb of a rocky mountain nearby. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew stayed behind on the beach for teatime. As the slope got steeper, the ground got less stable than anticipated. There was no turning back, only the hope that some way forward would miraculously open up and loop back to camp. That day Ted's miscalculations brought him dangerously close to dehydration and potential heatstroke.
And then there was Valentine's day 2010, when Ted and I summitted Mount Washington together, six weeks before his scheduled departure to Nepal for his first bid to ascent Mount Everest. With gales of 120 km/h, our descent from the summit had been torturous – Mount Washington holds the record for wind speeds in the Northern Hemisphere: 372 km/h. The wind eventually calmed down as we reached the tree line. Teased by a couple of climbers who had passed us along the trail, and against our better judgment, we took off our crampons and started to slide down on our rear ends. Ted was leading 10 to 12 meters ahead of me. I could hear him laugh. Then, in a heartbeat, all things fun stopped. Trying to grab whatever I could, rocks, small trees, branches, to prevent my body from catching speed, I turned to panic. Both my heart and my mind were racing. What had happened to Ted? Ahead of me, he was and then, poof, gone! In what must have been seconds but felt like interminable minutes, I managed to slow myself down and eventually came to a halt, right at the edge of a 4-meter cliff. Ted was there down below, barely moving, lying flat in the snow. I shouted: "Ted, buddy, are you ok?" Although he had avoided the worse, he was not ok. With his injured knee swelling rapidly, he would most likely have to cancel his Everest bid. Gone was his dream of ten years, he thought.
Ted narrates all three tales of failures with wit and many details in Dare to Reach. Whether at work, in life, or love, we'll never stress enough the importance of sharing the stories of our epic fails. Phoenixes rise from hashes. Through failures, we learn, grow, and wake up. The stories of Ted's F*CK ups are memorable. He is undoubtedly one to get going when the going gets tough. For him, the challenge is to keep his eyes on the ball when the going gets easy. A good lesson for all of us, indeed. Focus no matter what, rain or shine.
But back to Ted's talks. Would someone in Ted's audience respond with an 'a-ha, me too, I see…?' to tales from the Carstensz Pyramid, the Tuolumne River, or Mount Washington? Unlikely. On our quest to make Ted more relatable, back to square one we were, it seemed. We needed to dig further. I kept inquiring until eventually, and against all odds, while I was listening to the story of one of Ted's dreams coming true, I foresaw the shadow of a gem. If we could bring that gem to light, we would see that Ted is no superhuman, or at least he wasn't at the time. The audience would relate. Meet Blue Goose.
On the road again: a bus, a fork.
The year was 1973. Ted had made his way back to Amsterdam, an ocean away from his hometown of Montreal. By then, he had already been living a couple of years traveling throughout Europe and Asia, hopping on buses or hitchhiking. With six hundred dollars left in his pocket, he had to regroup and figure out his next steps: where to go, what to do, how to make ends meet? There was no Craigslist at the time so, to stay in the know or to meet, hippies and backpackers would hang out around the doorsteps of the American Express branch on Dam street, the place to be for anything related to money, travels, and good deals. A for sale sign grabbed Ted's attention: 'fifteen hundred dollars - 41-seater - 1956 Bedford Duple bus.' The theater troop that for years had been traveling around Europe on that bus was ending everything. The man holding the sign talked Ted into walking down a few blocks to check out the beast and kick the tires. At the time, Bedford Duple buses were to buses what Citroen DS cars were to cars: feats of engineering and design with sleek and aerodynamic curves when all other vehicles around were dull and boxy. On its flanks, in bold and voluptuous cursive letters, the blue bus with orange lights bore a name: Blue Goose.
That night, back in his room, Ted did not sleep much and dreamt of taking Blue Goose for rides all around, all year round. The following day, he was back down Dam street to chat with the seller one more time. Again, they walked around the block to check out the fancy bus. Ted sat behind the wheel, which was on the wrong side, the right side, as per British standards. There, he felt like a pilot in the cockpit of his plane. As he fell in love with Blue Goose, Ted parted ways with the seller, making the promise that he would think the whole thing through one more time and give his final answer the following morning. Inevitably, what followed was another sleepless night. Never in his life had Ted driven a bus; he did not even have the appropriate license and, last but not least, he did not have the means for such an impulsive purchase. To talk his way out of the impossible deal, Ted came up with a bullet-proof plan: yes, he loved the bus; no, he did not have the money. With six hundred dollars in his pocket, there was no deal in sight, period.
True to his word, Ted went back on the third morning to deliver his final and well-rehearsed answer. When all was said and done, he walked away from Blue Goose and its owner. Minutes later, as he was dragging his feet toward Dam Square, he was snapped out of his blue mood by a tap on his shoulder, and the sound of a loud and cheery voice: "congratulations Ted, Blue Goose is yours, here are the keys, five hundred dollars will do just great, you are going to have a heck of a good time!"
Standing alone on Dam street, with his last hundred dollars and a new set of keys in his pocket, Ted did not know if he should laugh or cry. Blue Goose. New owner. Bus driver.
Every single morning that followed, Ted went back to the American Express branch on Dam street. His turn to sit on the sidewalk with a sign on his lap that read: "Blue Goose – riders wanted to India." At the time, bussing the Hippie trail was the hip thing to do. The competition was scarce. There was the famous London based Magic Bus for the route between Amsterdam and New Delhi. The only other player in town was a van that travelers between Amsterdam and Barcelona. After a few weeks, Blue Goose still had no takers for its advertised trip to India. When the woman operating the charmless big van approached him, Ted was down to his last fifty Dutch guilders. Her bus was on its way back to town, but the news had come that it had broken down. She had a party of thirty-five booked to depart for Barcelona that evening. Would Ted and Blue Goose make the trip? Indeed, yes. Late that afternoon, when all the merry backpackers came to board the Blue Goose, Ted wondered: should he confess his inexperience and call the whole deal off, or should he keep on with the masquerade and start the engine? Blue Goose's trip to Barcelona was the first of many. In the years that followed, Ted collected many memories of fun and friendships driving all over Europe behind Blue Goose's wheel. He also made enough money to afford his adventurous life. The explorer and the entrepreneur had met.
"a-ha! Ted, I love your Blue Goose story! You could spin it in so many ways for your talks! How would you like to plug it in?" I invited Ted to reflect on possible options to chisel the narrative and challenged him to choose take-aways to best impact his audience. In the Blue Goose story, he saw an opportunity to stress the importance of daring to live our dreams, however grand they may be. We must make the first steps, keep going and pushing. The stars eventually align, and the universe conspires and helps us make our dreams come true. While I agreed with him, what I saw in the Blue Goose story was quite different.
The dream's question: should I come true, or not?
Unbeknownst to Ted, I was at the time in parallel conversations with Canadian filmmaker Barnet Bain, an expert and a coach in all things creative, a leadership advisor, also a mentor and friend of mine. Barnet had dared much when he pioneered the genre of spiritual cinema with his Oscar-winning movie "What Dreams May Come," a tale of travels between spaces, times, and different realms of realities. His view was that, for most of us, dreams don't come true. Dreams don't come true unless we do the necessary work to own our past and make peace with it. Short of this, like ghosts coming back to haunt us, our limiting beliefs and thought patterns outsmart us and find ways to stand in the course of our dreams, always. Groundhog Day. With Barnet's perspective in mind, I objected: "Ted, you may be missing a golden opportunity here. Your Blue Goose story is not the story of how you followed your dream. Your Blue Goose story is the story of how you chickened out. It is the story of, when your heart was imploring you to move forward, you listened to your mind instructing you to stay put. It is the story of you rationalizing yourself out of your dream and not daring to reach. From this perspective, the story is pure gold, for it will help your audience bond with you. Because so few of us learn how to dare to reach, to relate to you, we need to hear the story of you chickening out. There you have it: a story in your talks to cement the connection between you and your audience. To say that a hero is hiding in every human is cliché. To reveal the chicken behind the hero is nouveau. It is osé. Could you take it as a dare? You can also take the morale of your Blue Goose story a step further if you would like. On that third morning when you were wandering on Dam street, feeling blue after talking yourself out of your dream, it is as if some good genie came to your rescue, and through the hand of their previous owner, the keys of Blue Goose came to you, against your declared will. The good genies knew better than to listen to your words; they looked straight into your heart. Then, later, they kept a close eye on you and rewarded your perseverance by sending your way a party of thirty-five backpackers, the first clients of your new enterprise. You may be a natural at the art of daring, but back in 1973, you saw your limits, and you received an education on how to take your art to the next level. The pianist dares on his piano. You dared to explore Europe and Asia on the road, bring white canvases to life with shapes and colors, renovate dilapidated buildings, climb high-altitude peaks, and own stages with your talks. Since you first held the Blue Goose keys, you made the art of daring your daily practice, and you became a virtuoso at it. Who knows what type of life you would have lived if it wasn't for the nudges of the good genies of Amsterdam?" Ted nodded: "a-ha, Dom, touché!"
Ted and I were making progress on our quest for 'a-ha' moments to spice up his talks, but we needed more. Beyond Amsterdam's good genies, who were the people, and what were the events that had shaped Ted's character and set him on a wild course in life? What sparks had ignited the light in his shining blue eyes? Ted was not a seeker of divine inspiration, sitting in meditation weeks at a time in remote monasteries. Nor was he the heir of a dynasty of explorers. There were no such role models in his youth. Born to a newspaperman who specialized in typesetting and a stay-at-home mum, he was a single child in a modest Montreal family. As a solitary kid, roughly teased by his mates from time to time, he would enjoy running wild in the fields and drawing. So, what sparked it all? We eventually uncovered what could, at least in parts, shed light on the mystery. It took trials and meanderings, and me remembering one of the most transformative experiences I had lived with Ted, lost in a storm hours before he fell off that 4-meter cliff and injured his knee on that memorable Valentine's day in 2010. Back to Mount Washington.
Close your eyes, shut your mind, open your heart and see.
Our training coach Gilles Barbot had invited us to join a 3-day challenge with his team at Esprit de Corps to cross Mount Washington's Presidential Traverse in the coldest period of the year. The first day of the expedition fell on a Friday, and I needed to stay in town to facilitate a corporate workshop. Had Ted not volunteered to stay behind to give me a lift, I would have missed the adventure. After we climbed a steep route in deep snow, our improbable duo caught up with the rest of the group on Saturday afternoon. Ted was the man on his final weeks of preparations before his bid to summit Mount Everest. I, for my part, had never climbed a mountain other than on a ski lift. We set up our tents by Lake of the Clouds, where we spent the night. By Sunday, the weather had deteriorated drastically. Our friends had summitted the day before we caught up with them; they chose to hike toward Mount Monroe and down. Before the group left, Gilles nudged Ted and me into proceeding with our bid to ascend the summit even though the conditions were becoming riskier by the hour. The piles of rocks marking the trail – known as cairns, or inukshuks for the natives – were quickly disappearing under the snow. I took the job of standing put by the cairns while Ted would scout forward, looking for the following ones on our course. We were progressing slowly, one cairn at a time. The winds picked up, and visibility became abysmal. As Ted kept zig-zagging back and forth in search of the next cairn, I found myself drowning in thoughts of defeat: "what am I doing standing lost in the cold? No way we'll make it to the summit in those conditions. Ted, it's been twenty minutes, can't you see that we are lost? Let's call it a day, retreat, and catch up with our friends." I was not proud to see the quitter in me come to the fore, but I was ready to pitch my way out what looked to me like a darn cold version of hell despite my feelings of shame. Ted gave me no chance to speak: "Dom, sorry buddy, I can't find it, I'll take your spot, you go find the next cairn!" "What? Me? The apprentice?" I thought, "aren't you the one with experience?" I felt cornered but surrendered to my fate. In an instant, I woke up to the reality of the situation and intuited that my inner dialogue's toxicity would set me up for failure. In hopes of purging off my dark thoughts, I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and then exhaled powerfully. I could not be sure, but somehow it seemed like I had managed to cleanse myself on the spot and in a flash. With a clearer mind, I took a mental note of the direction we had been coming from, then turned around and sensed my way forward through the blinding blizzard. Less than a minute later, I was wiping off the snow of what I knew would be the cairn Ted had been searching. I shouted: "Ted, come on over, here it is!"
Remember the toilet paper roll.
As we were brainstorming at sunset on the porch of his summer cabin on one of Sixteen Island Lake islands in Quebec, I narrated to Ted my version of our Mount Washington adventures. We were looking for more 'a-ha's for his talks. Remembering the bliss on the mountain, blinded by the snowstorm but cleared of my dark thoughts, in search of the lost cairn, I had an 'a-ha' moment of my own: "Ted, there is a thread weaving all your adventures together. When you climb a mountain in the blizzard, when you purchase or renovate a new building, when you make art or improvise as a tour operator on the meandering roads of Europe, you approach life like a painter approaches a white canvas. What you love is to blaze your own trails. And while you have the mental toughness and discipline to set your mind on goals you picked, you also have the wisdom and the humility to stay focused and flexible to change along the way. It is with the strokes of the brush that the painting comes to life. Ted, your big dare is to bring ultra-creativity not just to your art, but to all facets of your life."
Ted nodded. The analogy with the white canvas resonated with him. He not only approved but expanded on the theme. In his youth, he spent hours alone in his room, drawing, and painting. His parents were supportive of his love for art and had him follow classes for children at the Montreal School of Fine Arts. If he dropped out, it is only out of boredom. He was too skilled and advanced for his age group. At the early age of four – and this is the anecdote the coach in me was looking for – he would regularly find his way to the toilet paper rolls in his parents' house to draw with his colored pencils. For this, he was not scolded but praised with love by his mum. Birth of an ultra-creative. Not just in art but in life, love, and work too.
We refocussed on the task at hand: the 'a-ha's in Ted's talks. In public speaking, everyone enjoys a good punch line, a grand finale. With the analogy of the white canvas, I saw for Ted the possibility of an 'à-la' Steve Jobs 'one more thing' moment. I also saw the opportunity to close Ted's talks with a witty line:
'ladies and gentlemen, to dare to reach in your life,
may you remember to make creative use
of your toilet paper rolls!
For long minutes, we laughed. I probed. Ted hesitated. When I insisted he declined or, should I dare to say, he chickened out. In the end, we run with the white canvas analogy for his talks but abandoned the idea of bringing up the story of the toilet paper rolls. I was a tad disappointed but eventually realized that Ted had exercised good judgment. He is less of a jester than I am. In his voice, the punch line would have sounded out of character. Ted knows how to listen to his gut, feet on the ground. Good for him.
When Ted gave his talk to the global Canadian bank, I sat in the auditorium with the executives in the audience. In the weeks that lead to the event, we came close to throwing the towel a couple of times. We held on. His talk that day was memorable. Forty minutes of pure joy. His words about his philosophy to approach life as a blank canvas sparked rounds of applauds. Instead of a punch line about the creative use of toilet paper rolls, but to nevertheless honor the formative years of his youth, give back and inspire forward, Ted offered to give a free talk to kids in a school of the bank's choosing. Why? Because, he explained, borrowing a line from the TED talk of Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander:
"[because success] is not about wealth and fame and power.
It's about how many shining eyes I have around me."
Thank you, Ted
From his loving mum supportive of his artistic debuts to the owner of Blue Goose and Amsterdam's genies, Ted knows that people change people. After his talk at the bank, all smiles, we high-fived each other and then called it a day. As I left on my own, wandering on Sainte Catherine Street's sidewalks in Montreal in the Spring, I started to reflect on the many ways that Ted had changed me. He and the genies of Mount Washington gave me a crash course on how to look for and see the invisible. The invisible out there: in the blizzard, the lost cairn was content in hiding. The invisible within me: behind layers of narcissism, a quitter was hiding safely in a blind spot and too often pulling strings, calling the shots. With gratitude for my ability to think, I also learned to give my gut and heart voice and follow my intuition. In the cold of the storm, I discovered that I could look at myself in a mirror with humor and compassion rather than self-judgment. I started to wake up. On the mountain, I learned to clear my thoughts. Ted taught me friendship too, not only to give but also to receive the support that only real friends can give to each other. We first met as training buddies with Gilles and his group at Esprit de Corps, a group never too shy to throw a dare at you. How about a relay marathon between Montreal and New York, a bicycle road trip from Vancouver to Halifax, or a transatlantic sailing race between Quebec City and Saint-Malo? Often in their boot camps, I carried Ted on my shoulders – he is light as a feather – and he held me on his back – I have the build of a rugby player. Later we became coffee mates. Our coffee breaks would last for hours. Sometimes he would tell me: "wow, Dom, I never thought of it that way." Other times he would nudge me: "Enough already, you are overthinking it, just make a move…" He more than once lifted me out of some seasonal blues. He knows that you take your steps on mountains and in life, but you cannot make it on your own.. And then indeed, with Ted, I dared to reach.
'Dare to reach' has been Ted's call to action for over a decade. In 2008, on an invitation by the Canadian Red Cross to speak about mountaineering, and with no full grasp of what he was getting himself into, he said yes. For him at the time, a stage was more intimidating than a high-altitude peak. 'Dare to reach' was the theme of his first talk; it became a go-to mantra, the name of his website, the title of the book he co-authored with Emmanuel Daigle, a brand in its own right. In our conversations over coffee, we agreed that mountain summits were metaphors. Choosing what to reach for, in itself, is a dare. A business leader may succumb to the mystic of mountaineering and draw on Ted or Emmanuel's wisdom and experience to help and inspire his team to achieve aggressive business goals. Fine enough. For another leader, the dare may be to break through understanding how to embrace new paradigms or novel views of the world. For someone else, it may be to venture and wander in wonder in new and uncharted territories: the land of vulnerability, the land of authenticity, the land of forgiveness, the land of reconciliation, the land of compassion and empathy, the land of self-love... Whatever you may choose as a dare, whatever you would like to reach for, maybe you will, like me, pick 'Cousin Emmanuel' and 'Uncle Ted' as your guides, your companions, with their book Dare to Reach on your coffee table. There are courage and nobility in the act of daring. To act with courage is to listen attentively to what our gut and heart say and act upon it. There are a few masters out there to guide us through our first steps.
Emmanuel Daigle, Theodore Fairhurst, and also Gilles Barbot are among them. So is Brené Brown. With over fifty million views, her talk on daring to be vulnerable is one of the most popular TED talks ever. Now I am thinking: one of my upcoming book reviews shall be about one of her books: 'Dare Greatly' or 'Dare to Lead.' Another thought is crossing my mind: should I dare to turn this lengthy book review of Dare to Reach into a chapter of the Book of So What? Its title may very well be: 'Ted's talk – the one and only.' What do you think?
On this note, I wish you a good dare.
Inspiring Leaders START WITH WHY.
For What's Next, We Ask: SO WHAT?
Far from being a fad, the search for a purpose is foundational to our quest for a better future. In words that sing to our ears like a Chopin melody, French writer, poet, aviation pioneer, and author of The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it beautifully:
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."
Doubting that the quest for a purpose was a silver bullet, I embarked on a strange journey beyond purpose. The CEOs, entrepreneurs, social innovators, advocates, researchers, artists, adventurers, and spiritual leaders I met en route revealed some of our new blind spots: purpose bloating, purpose washing, and purpose myopia, to name a few. The leaders and changemakers I interviewed also shared valuable keys to clear the way forward with courage.
To organize my unorthodox findings and unsure of where the adventure would take me, I started to write The Book of So What, with stories of reconciliations and transformations from the Loire valley in France, the St. Lawrence valley in Canada, and the Jordan valley in the Middle East.
If I had to pitch it to you in an elevator, I would say that The Book of So What explores the liberating powers of the modern jester's question:
"Inspiring leaders start with WHY. For what's next, we ask: SO WHAT?"
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#asksowhat | Book Launch: Fall 2021 | © Dominique Bel, 2020. All Rights Reserved in all Countries.
Photography © Theodore Fairhurst