Today my employer arranged a guest speaker ostensibly to talk about resilience. Actually, what he mainly discussed was thrillseeking. Not only is he a medical doctor, he is also a base jumper and adventurer.
I don’t understand this corporate obsession with adrenaline junkies. They are venerated as role models and staff are sent to scary team bonding sessions involving abseiling or other scary activities to somehow improve their productivity.
As the speaker said at the start of his talk, some people are genetically programmed to seek out risky thrills. And some people aren’t. But as today’s talk illustrated, those who are addicted to the rush appear to be determined to hook us all up to their drug of choice.
And it is an addiction. There are many examples of sports people and adventures who, once the source of their rush finishes through injury, age or other misfortune, fall into destructive behaviours in a quest to return to their previous highs.
Don’t get me wrong, the human race needs people who will take risks and push the boundaries of what is possible. From the bottom of the deep ocean to beyond our atmosphere, the human race has been propelled forward by those who conquer their fears.
But do we need everyone to be like them? Or should we delight in those who are satisfied with simple pleasures? Is a doctor who is satisfied in life with the thrill of a difficult diagnosis any worse than one with a passion for jumping off mountains? I’d argue that they might very well be better.
Most organisations tend to be risk averse. Decisions have financial, legal and human consequences. There are opportunities to reap the rewards of bold decision making, but that is not enough on its own without the due diligence behind it.
A large part of my job is cleaning up after others who seek big impact without considering the long term consequences of their decisions. Like someone who reaches the top of Mount Everest they get the glory, but it’s often those who sit in the background that do the groundwork to make reaching the pinnacle possible.
Does it matter that I hate roller coasters and heights, high speeds and big drops? That I get my thrills from solving a complex technical issue? So long as there is a willingness to explore new possibilities, to adapt and learn. To consider the risk and the reward and make a decision accordingly.
There is the classic tale of childhood, the dare to smoke a cigarette. Maybe you might find it pleasurable, but is it wrong to look at the probable consequences and just say no? Does it really matter if most of us never go bungy jumping or sky diving?
We can celebrate those who put their lives on the line, but they shouldn’t be our only heroes.