Choosing to Be Epic

A week ago, I found myself at the southern tip of the British Virgin Islands, which sit to the east of Puerto Rico, and adjacent to St John.  I was there as a guide for SwimVacation – a company my friend started that leads ambitious athletes on open-water swims throughout the BVIs. Each day we would set out on a new adventure that included miles of swimming along spectacular reefs and jaw-dropping beaches. My role was to keep the clients motivated, excited and working hard. On the fourth day, we headed to Norman Island, an intimidating, uninhabited land with sheer rock cliffs jutting violently out of the Caribbean Ocean. It is one of my favorite places on Earth.

Norman Island was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson, who used it as inspiration for his book Treasure Island. For centuries, it was rumored that Blackbeard had buried some of his gold in the caves that line the southern edge of the land, and in the 1970s a family from Tortola actually discovered the legendary Spanish bullion after a hurricane churned up the cave floors.
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Along with the mystical qualities of the landscape, there is an abundance of sea life along the shores of Norman that rivals anywhere I’ve been. In the two hours I spent swimming that day, I was treated to creatures small (like a puffer fish) to great (like a reef shark). I cruised for miles back and forth along the cliffs, soaking in as much of the amazing energy of this surreal world, which bustled with life just feet below me.

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Exhausted from a full day of swimming and exploring, I lay resting on the boat, when I saw a woman from a nearby cruise ship bobbing on the surface of the water towards the caves, buoyed by a floatation device. I felt a tinge of angst, knowing that this woman was missing out on one of the most amazing ecosystems on earth, probably because she had no idea it was there. For a moment, I felt an urge to swim over and inspire her to explore a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

“Being epic” doesn’t only apply to running marathons or climbing mountains. It is a choice that we face all of the time. In the case of that woman, she chose a comfortable and safe afternoon. If she had let go, even for a moment, and gone under the surface, she would have discovered one of life’s great wonders.

Sometimes, though, the choice isn’t cut-and-dry. My experiences have taught me that figuring out the “choice” is often harder than accomplishing a goal. Once we set a challenge, we just follow the road map. But if we don’t even know what’s out there, how can we possible decide what to explore? In the case of  this particular woman, someone just needed to say, “Hey, why not check out what’s below the surface? It is amazing.” Or perhaps even offered to go explore with her.

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Photo courtesy Heather Perry Photo

In my own life, I am surrounded by motivated, fascinating people. They constantly invite me to try new things or take on new challenges. And they expect me to do the same for them. It can be overwhelming at times, but it is a lifestyle that I cherish. I know that I am lucky. But this “inspirational community” – where we are each inviting each other to expand our worlds – requires an investment from all its members. As much as my peers rely on me to help them grow, I trust that they will quickly push me over if they ever see me resting on a hypothetical ‘flotation device’.

Not everything we do everyday should be over-the-top. Life doesn’t work that way. But when a choice appears before you, with one option leading to a new, scary, or exciting opportunity, think about what you would tell your friends to do. Would you let them float along comfortably? Or would your invite them to “see what happens”? This is the essence of “being epic” – that each one of us is invested in the challenges we set for each other and ourselves.

When I’m in a crazy place or situation, I often think about David Byrne’s timeless lyrics: “you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” But no matter how hard, or surreal, or outrageous the challenge may be, I know that it is never just me. And sometimes, this knowledge is the biggest thing that keeps me going.

Be inspired by inspiring others.

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