As you may know, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure: watching reality television competitions. I find the shows that highlight amazing talents people have, or push them to excel past their comfort zones, are particularly entertaining. One such show I’ve been enjoying is Naked and Afraid XL. It’s a spin-off of the Naked and Afraid series on Discovery, except instead of dropping two people out in the middle of nowhere with no clothes and only one survival tool for 21 days, it features 12 people surviving the wilds of South Africa for 40 days.
The contestants — all alumni from the original show who have extensive survival training — aren’t competing against each other, but instead are challenging themselves to make it through the ordeal. In this series, one contestant named Clarence caught my attention. In the original series, he survived 21 days by himself in Honduras after his partner gave up. For the XL show, he was dropped off at a very small watering hole with two other survivalists, Stacy and Jake.
Immediately upon their arrival the three survivalists went to gather water. About six feet in diameter, the watering hole was muddy, stagnant, and putrefied. Elephants had recently passed through and left their droppings in and around it.
Not to be deterred, the three filled up their cast iron pot and carried it back to camp to boil. All three agreed it was disgusting, but Stacy and Jake were able to stomach the putrid water better than Clarence, who sipped a little but not a lot.
By day four, Clarence was over it. He worked to convince Stacy and Jake that if they were going to last for 40 days, they had to find a new source of water. Although Stacey and Jake hated drinking the nasty water, they were willing to drink it if that’s what it took to survive. As bad as it was, it was still water, and without shoes or weapons, a hike through the Swati Valley in Africa with only a vague map offered plenty of risk and no promises.
The three argued for days. Stacy and Jake tried to coerce and shame Clarence into staying. Eventually, though, Clarence was not willing to endure to a situation he knew was bad for him, and decided to find better water on his own.
As Clarence started to leave his friends, Stacy and Jake quickly realized their chances of survival were worse without him, and they followed. By the end of the day, the trio reached a ridge overlooking a large valley below. What they found was a large lake, full of animals drinking and relaxing in the shade. They even thought they saw smoke, so they called out. People called back to them and soon they were united with another group of Naked and Afraid XL contestants. They climbed down the hill and jumped into the water to swim with their new friends.
Unlike Stacy and Jake, who were willing to put-up with a bad situation just because it was safe, Clarence was not. The discomfort he felt was a signal to him that something needed to change. He knew that their survival meant taking a risk on the unknown, and working to find a better situation, and for him the potential reward was worth the risk. Moreover, had they not moved at that time they probably would eventually have been forced to do it, but they would have been depleted. Because they took the risk while they were strong, they actually increased their chances of finding something better. Choosing to take the risk sooner was actually a safer strategy than being forced to take it later.
When we find ourselves too comfortable or safe we don’t move, we don’t grow or change. This is why stretch goals and challenges work so well to propel us into new aspects of ourselves. They motivate us, get us out of our comfort zones and allow us to see ourselves in a whole new light.
Clarence didn’t know there was a lake of cleaner water with a day’s hike, he just had an instinct. It was his discomfort and disgust with the current situation, combined with his willingness to take a risk on the unknown, that propelled them all into a much more survivable place.
When you look at your life, what aspects of it make you feel too safe or comfortable? And what aspects feel uncomfortable, but too risky to try and change? Either could be a sign that something has stagnated for too long and needs to shift. Make a chart with three of these things on the left, then on the right put one small risk for each that you could take to move in a new and more positive direction. And then be like Clarence; take that step and find your new watering hole.
“In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” — Mark Zuckerberg