Enter The Danger

Quite a few years ago I approached the mouth of an active volcano which was spewing lava. As Winston Churchill said, “You must put your head into the lion’s mouth if the performance is to be a success.”  A lesson for both life and business…

I visited Hawaii when their most active volcano, Kilauea, was in the midst of a several years-long eruption. I took a 4-person helicopter into the crater at the top to see the large lake of red hot lava bubbling away. We went as low as we could, right into the thickening and highly potent sulfur fumes.

It wasn’t the horrific but mesmerizing event that recently took place in Guatemala when Fuego volcano blew up, sending lava over a large area killing dozens of people and destroying many buildings. Some of the buildings now buried under lava were in a resort development built by a friend of mine. I once spent a glorious few days there walking along the black sand beach. Sadly, now it is all destroyed.

The reason the lava wasn’t spewing out of the top of the volcano in Hawaii was that Kilauea had built a lava tube about 15 feet in diameter that was channeling the lava through it and dumping it into the ocean from a height of about 50 feet. Vast amounts of steam were  continuously rising and blowing in the wind as the molten lava struck the water.

Once the helicopter landed, I hopped into my rental car and drove the few miles to the closest place to the volcano they allowed you to drive to. I then hopped out of my car, walked past the warning signs–as did many others–and approached the mouth of the lava tube. Approached meaning walked on top it. Although the lava had solidified, it was still so hot I could feel the heat through the soles of my shoes.

I could walk right to the top of the opening above the spewing lava. Right to the edge. My feet got hotter and hotter the closer I got. And the closer I got the fewer people joined me.

 It seemed that your  proximity to the  lava tube mouth became a measure of how much risk you were willing to take and the measure of the performance you would be able to give when you returned home.

I’m quite a risk taker so I walked quite close to the edge.  I walked past the final warning sign, a white painted piece of plywood on a short pole with stick figures painted in black falling off the end of the lava tube into the molten lava pouring forth. (Yes,that did occasionally happen.) Since doing this, there are not very many things that I won’t give a try or investigate. After surviving the possibility of the lava tube collapsing beneath me and throwing me in the steaming lava, everything else seems much less risky.

Many of the best things happen because you are willing to take some…or quite a bit…of risk. Usually it’s not as dramatic as standing on the end of a lava tube on a piece that could break off. And take you with it.

These days my risks tend to be taking bits and pieces of early stage companies in leu of fees when I am working either as a consultant or a board member. The risk, of course, is total failure and wasted time and money. But the reward can be so large.

As we reach the end of 2018, think about something you’ve fantasied about doing but haven’t quite gotten up the nerve to try. Skydiving fits the bill for some people. For other people it’s going to an ethnic restaurant with nary a dish they ever tasted and a menu they can’t read. And for many, it’s speaking up at work and telling your manager that something they want to do isn’t going to work out very well.

Make a deal with yourself to push your boundaries in 2019 and enter the danger…just a bit at first. As Friedrich Nietzsche reminded us, “that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”                      

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