(Photo by Julie Lenard)
Todd Carmichael’s love of risk was born at the town dump.
The CEO and cofounder of La Colombe Coffee, host of Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds, and the first American to trek solo across Antarctica to the South Pole took the stage Friday morning at the Center for Architecture to talk about his love for taking risks at the Philly Tech Week 2016 presented by Comcast edition of Creative Mornings, hosted by O3 World’s Erica Nardello.
When he was a teenager, he and his sister went to the town dump — he to find bicycle parts and she to find magazines. His sister, he said, showed him a magazine with a series of photos, each with the same little red sofa in the middle of each photo: the red sofa in an artist loft in SoHo, the red sofa in a dugout canoe in the Amazon and the red sofa with the Egyptian pyramids.
“Is anyone else getting chills?” Carmichael asked. “I am.”
He knew at that moment that he wanted to be that red sofa: the ordinary being that would go to extraordinary places.
— Erica Nardello (@ericanardello) April 29, 2016
Shortly after, when he took a risk in summiting Mt. Rainier at age 15, he said looked out over the summit and could see his life.
“I was the red sofa,” he said, “and I knew I was going to be the hero of my own life.”
The typical definition of risk, or, as Carmichael put it, “the probability of shit going south,” is useless.
He prefers to talk about risk as a river of existence that we are all born into, with big class 5 rapids in the middle as the most direct path down, and safe tide pools on the side.
“Risk is a stream of choices,” Carmichael said. “How you paddle on that will depend on your life.”
As someone who has spent a great deal of time outside of America and who has adopted four Ethiopian children, Carmichael said Americans don’t have nearly as much risk as they think they do. Since Americans are born with higher privilege, increased opportunities and lower risks, Americans should be taking higher risks. He used the metaphor of automatically getting more chips for free at a poker game.
“The American dream risk starts with extra [poker] chips right away,” he said. “If you feel a moral obligation to put those chips into play, do something of significance, and leave a mark, well, you got them [the chips] for free, so if you lose them, who cares?”
Carmichael cited Americans as the most anxious people on earth, despite their low base risk. Instead of listening to these anxieties and feelings that are the “human rollercoaster of emotions,” Carmichael said to disregard feelings because you can’t trust them.
“Your judgment is probably not right because you’re afraid of stuff,” he said. “Your default is always going to overestimate the sense of things going south. To create wonderful things, put those chips into play and stop listening to yourself so much.”
Even his children get the same risk philosophy.
“I rely on our library of experiences,” he said. “I say, ‘You were scared then and you did it.’ ‘You were nervous then and you did it.'”
I was nervous.
I was afraid.
I did it anyway.
— Dustin Kemper (@tenfoldvisual) April 29, 2016
What happens if you take a risk and fail? Carmichael said the energy you can get from failure can be phenomenal. Failing can be an opportunity to work harder and know what to do next time.
“If you don’t run away from risk, [if you] embrace it, allow yourself the opportunity to fail, and take what you can from that failure, you can begin to build a life like none other,” he said.-30-
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