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Reframing our fear of failure

Adam Kreek

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Successful teams and organizations require a healthy relationship with failure. Too much fear — or too little — signals future disaster. Managing your fear of failure effectively allows for individual authenticity and reclaimed confidence, and we need both for sustained success and performance. In this session, learn to reframe your fear of failure and reclaim lost confidence by separating self-worth from past success and failure, and differentiating between blameworthy and praiseworthy failure.

It was a little bit smaller than this stage. It’s about 15 feet by 5 feet, which is about three meters by two meters, and 73 days. You can picture spending 73 days on a space this small with music playing in the background. The music of the ocean. There were four of us on this little, tiny rowboat. Four people in a very small space for 73 days. And you can barely stand the people you’re sharing lunch with today. Seventy-three days.

Again, we had no support vessels. We were completely alone in the middle of the ocean. It was a 29-foot rowboat. We had planned to take 60 to 100 days, 7,000 kilometers across the Atlantic Ocean. This is what it looked like. [visual] We planned to leave from Dakar, Senegal. We were heading to Miami, Florida. That was the actual path that we took. You can see we took a little bit of a loop-de-loop. And people often ask, “Well, what was that loop-de-loop? What was happening?” Well, we kept our boat pointed at Miami, but sometimes the ocean is so big and the winds are so big, it just pushed you around.

And one of the first questions I hear is “Why?” Why would you row across the ocean? Do you not realize you can fly across? The answer is yes. We made a conscious effort to take the slow route because when you take the slow route, you connect in a slightly different way. Then I think what motivated us was to have that connection that occurs when you disconnect. We wanted to get out into the middle of the ocean and disconnect.

On board this boat we had everything we needed to survive. All of our food was stored underneath the hull. Our water was created with a water maker. We pushed salt water through a filter and made our freshwater. We had scientific instrumentation on board. We had partnered with eight different universities to conduct research. So we were essentially a little, tiny science vessel going across the ocean. On top of that, we had connected with over 30,000 schoolkids and so we were sharing our experiences and our science with schoolkids from the middle of the ocean.

But I don’t think you quite understand how small this rowboat was. I’m going to need your help here. [visual] You’re going to be one of my rowers right here. Sit right here. You’re one rower. I need you here. You’ll be my second rower. And you right here, you’re going to be my third rower. And you’re going to lie right down here on the ground. So you have one rower sitting here, one rower sitting here, one rower sleeping here, and a second rower sleeping right here. You’re sleeping buddy is a six foot six, 220-pound, bearded snuggle bear.

And from the middle of the ocean, there you are. You’re seeing amazing things. I remember one time I was here in the cabin, I was sleeping, and the two guys on the deck started screaming. “Oh my, oh my, you’ve got to come out. You’ve got to see what we’re seeing.” I said, “Shut up, I’m sleeping.” Finally they convinced me. And you go and open up this little, tiny hatch. You crawl out of the hatch, and you’re standing by your buddy. You look up, and what is it? It’s a moonbow. I never even knew that a moonbow existed. I didn’t even know what a moonbow was. But there it was in the sky, full moon. Rainstorm on the sides. The light of the moon was reflecting on the rain. It was casting this muted colored moonbow against the Milky Way. It was unbelievable. The Milky Way cutting through the sky, and the ocean was green. Glowing green with phosphorous. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Then I look at my buddy, Jordan, and Jordan looks back and me, and he says, “This is why I will cross the ocean.”

If you want to experience the incredible, you must pay the tax of fear. If you want to see a moonbow, you must put yourself in a risky position of rowing across the ocean in a tiny little vessel. Had I not taken the risk out there, had I not taken the risk of row waves, the risk of storms, the risk of life and limb, I would have never had these incredible moments. Fear is the tax you pay to experience the incredible.

And we had to deal with fear. Seventy-three days in, much to our chagrin, we had just crossed into the Bermuda Triangle when our boat capsized. We had not planned for this, obviously. We had planned for this, but we didn’t want this to happen. And there I was sleeping in the little cabin. I had lain down to sleep. And my buddy, Pat, was right here. He was brushing his teeth. Markus and Jordan were on the deck, and then it happened. This wave, this funky wave from the wrong side, and had this wave come five minutes earlier or five minutes later, the hatch door would have been closed. We would have had no problem, but here we were just going into the cabin.

The wave comes and hits us from the stern, and before we know it, water starts coming in, and there you are. You see your buddy, Pat. Go Pat, go, go, go, go. Get out of here. Get out of here. You push Pat because you care about him, but he’s also in the way of the door. Pat’s out of there and before you know it, you’re trapped. The air is out of your lungs. There is a small space. You are not getting out of this space before you take a breath. You punch your hands around; you feel a floating cushion. You pop your head up, and you have a moment where all language leaves your brain, where your body is 100 percent present, and the only thing that matters is breath. You take another one. Dive down. You go through this little, tiny cabin. You push it away, and you go and hop on board of this upside-down boat. And your buddy, Pat, is there. Are you OK? Yes. You look down and see your buddy, Markus. Are you OK? Yes. You see your buddy, Jordan. Are you OK? Yes. Markus was literally caught with his pants down. He was sitting on the bucket, toilet paper in hand.

You look down at Markus and say, “Markus, I hate to tell you this, but there’s a piece of poop, and it’s floating beside your head. Markus looks over at it, and he looks back at me and says, “Yes, it really hit the fan, didn’t it?”

You look around at one another. You dedicated the last four years to make this journey a success. You brought aboard sponsors. You brought aboard scientists. You brought aboard schoolchildren, who were watching this in their classrooms. Hearing that this boat capsized. You failed.

And that’s the subject of this presentation. Failure. How are you dealing with failure? We all fail, and we’ve all dealt with failures in our life. My wife was talking to me the other day. She was reading this book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. A lot of great reminders in there. She’s telling me, “You know what? Every failure we experience teaches us something.” What a good reminder. Every failure we experience teaches us something.

Here I am in a room with people who are very successful. And you would not have been successful, you would not have gotten here to the Million Dollar Round Table were you not successful. But you also would not have gotten here had you not been able to deal with failure. But I’m here to tell you that dealing with failure effectively is something you’re going to have to deal with for the rest of your life. And if you want to deal with it better, and if you want to constantly grow your ability to achieve, your ability to love, your ability to give back, then you’re going to have to deal with failure just a little more effectively.

Because I think at MDRT, our goal is to help people achieve their dreams and help others feel protected and safe in their most vulnerable moments. Isn’t that what we do at MDRT? We help people achieve their dreams and protect them in their vulnerable moments. But we’re not going to be able to do that unless we know how to fail effectively. So I’m going to share some of my failures, and every failure teaches us something. So my hope is my failures that have taught me can teach you something.

My name is Adam. I was an Olympian. I went to the Olympics twice. I spent over 12 years rowing at the highest level. I rowed across the ocean, and now this is what I do. I believe that failure grows our limits. And today I’m going to use a bit of a methodology that I ascribe to. I’m going to tell stories. I’m going to teach philosophies. And I’m going to involve the audience. And I do this for a reason because if I just tell you something, you’ll feel good, but you’ll forget it. If I teach it to you, you’ll remember it, but you’re less likely to apply it. But if I involve you, you might actually take something and do something with it.

I’m going to touch on a lot of different points in this presentation, and my goal is for you to take one point, just one point. If you can take one point and apply it. So is it OK if I involve you? Yes. So, repeat after me: I can grow through effective failure. We’re going to play a quick little game.

Hold up your left hand, palm to the sky. Hold up your right thumb to the ground. And put your right thumb in the palm of the person beside you. You’ll make a circle around each of these tables. Face into the table. Thumb in hand. I’m going to count to three, and I’m going to say a word. And if that word is play, you’re going to catch the thumb and escape the hand. But, and this is a little like bloody knuckles for those of you who remember bloody knuckles, you’re not allowed to flinch. If I say a word that is not play, you stay still. We’ll do this a number of times. Ready? One, two, three, play. One, two, three, MDRT. One, two, three, potato. One, two, three, platinum. One, two, three, play. Very good. Who there failed a little bit? Failure can be fun.

I grew up in the land of the north, a bit north of Detroit, a bit south of Toronto in this town. Canada. In a little town called London, Ontario. London, Ontario, had this reputation as being Canada’s most average town, and my dad was very proud of this. I have two older sisters, an older brother, a mom who’s a nurse and who then stayed home with the kids. My dad sold life insurance and was a retirement planner. I rode my bike to school. My dad was very proud of the fact that market testers would test products in London, Ontario. And if a new hamburger or a new donut or a new soft drink was coming into Canada, they’d test out in London. If it was successful in London, it would be successful all across Canada.

When I was a boy, I remember my dad driving by the very first McDonald’s in Canada. He’d slow down our blue, wood-paneled station wagon, and he’d point out the McDonald’s and say, “Son, you should be proud. You live in the most average town in Canada.” And there I was, an average kid in an average town with an average family. And I wanted an average life.

I suppose it all changed when I was around 16. I started this sport called rowing. A local parent ran a window factory in my hometown. He decided to coach my public school and start up this rowing team. I thought it looked like fun. After about two years of rowing, he noticed something. He took me aside and said, “Adam, you’re an Olympian; you just don’t know it yet.” I remember looking at him and thinking, That sounds like a lot of work. My second thought was, I don’t believe it. That’s too big. That’s too grand. This scares me.

One challenge I have for you is to think of a goal that big. Something that’s too big. Something that you would never tell anybody else. Maybe only one or two people, but you’d keep it close to your heart. Something that, when you think about it, you think, That’s a dumb idea, that’s a silly idea. I can’t commit to that.

The main reason we don’t commit to these big goals is because we’re scared of looking bad. Think about it. You come to MDRT 5 times, 10 times, 20 times. I don’t want to set a big goal that might risk the fact that I might not come back another time. It’s far easier to play it safe. What’s that big goal? And we know that it takes a long time to achieve big goals. Have you ever wondered why the Olympics occurs once every four years? Have you ever wondered why elections happen typically once every four years? Have you ever wondered why an undergraduate degree happens once every four years? It takes four years to get an undergraduate degree. Are you wondering now? Because it takes at least four years to do something significant.

I gave each of you a card that has a little quote on it. On the other side it says, “What’s your next gold-medal moment?” I want you to think to yourself, What is my next gold-medal moment? What’s the next big thing I want to do? And something that is on the scale of 4, 8, 10, 12 years—something like this, the Olympic gold medal. [visual]

I remember crossing the finish line, and one of the first things I did was shove my arms in the air, yes. I hugged the guy in front of me. Gave him a giant squeeze. A big sweaty man in spandex. Shortly after, I go and I pick up the phone, I’m on the dock. We have our medals in hand. I pick up the phone, and I call my mom back in London, Ontario. “Mom, mom, mom, I just won the Olympics.” She says, “Yes, dear, I know. I was watching.” Love my mom. I’m going to pass this around. [visual] You’re going to get a chance to look at it, to hold it and touch it, and to imagine what that next gold-medal moment is going to be for you, that next big thing. You’re going to see a beautiful goddess on it. Do you know the name of this goddess? Nike, goddess of victory. She’s on every single summer Olympic medal. Has been since 1896. In the 1970s, she founded a shoe in a sports marketing company. It’s a joke. They named it after her. Take a look.

The Olympic medal took a lot of work, but it also took a lot of failure. It took persistence, but it took overcoming failure. It took falling down on the ground and picking myself back up. Six months before the Olympics, I herniated two discs in my lower back. It was awful. But I worked with a great medical team. I focused on what I could control. And in six weeks, we got something that normally takes six months and fixed it.

I think if we bring it back to MDRT, if we bring it back to the excellence that you are living day to day, I think we all need these reminders. I need these reminders. I needed these reminders as an Olympian. I needed these reminders as an adventurer. I need these reminders now as a businessman, as a father, as a community member. We all deal with failures every day all the time. It’s how we deal with them that dictates our path, that dictates our success.

A great study came out of Notre Dame University. I’m sure a number of you are familiar with this. You quit after the first call. Quit after the second call. Quit after the third call. Quit after the fourth call. And 60 percent of sales are made after the fourth call. If you do the math, how many people stick with it? Six percent. That’s why you’re successful. That’s why you’re here at MDRT. That’s how you’re going to repeat at MDRT. That’s how you’re going to achieve the goals you have in life.

To achieve the goals you have in life requires work. So I’d like you to repeat after me: I can do the work. It’s your next gold-medal moment.

It was interesting; gold-medal moments are magical. I remember after the Olympic gold medal, the medal was around my neck, and I was trying to run off the stage to give these flowers to my wife. She was watching from the stands. I go to run off the stage, and all the Chinese security guards were coming after me saying, “No, stay on dock. Stay there.” I get there. I’ve got to stay on the dock. They’re not going to let me out. I’m here on the dock, and there’s the water, and there’s the tarmac, and I see my wife out there. She’s out there. I’ve got to give her these flowers. And I think, I just won an Olympic gold medal. What are they going to do to me? So I jump off the dock, and I start running, and all these Chinese security guards are running at me. And I have flashbacks to American football. I played football in high school too. And my coach, he said, “Just swim, tackle through them boy.” So here I’m swimming and I’m swimming. And I go and give her the flowers.

The next day I woke up. Not in jail. I was not in jail. But it was normal. I woke up, and it was normal. And it reminds me of a recent time. I was flying on a flight to I forget where. I sit down next to this guy. I sit right down next to him. It turns out he climbed to the top of Mount Everest. “What was it like?” He gets all excited, “It’s really small. It was really small. And you know what? When you get up to the top, it’s like you’re on the top of the world. The wind is blowing.” I’m like, “How long did you spend up there?” He said, “Thirty seconds. Then I had to come and walk back down.”

What a reminder. Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. So what’s your next goal? You got your goal. What’s your next goal? What gives you the courage to continue? Is failure going to get you down or is success going to get you down? Because these are the two imposters that will get you down. You’ve got to treat them the same.

Often people look at success as a finish line. But success is not a finish line. It’s not. Success is a launching pad for doing more. So when you reach your success and you target success, do not treat it as a finish line; treat it as a launching pad. Too often, people think their gold-medal moments are wealth and money. They think their gold-medal moments are beauty and sex. People think their gold-medal moments are fame and status. But we see wealthy, beautiful, famous people every month who do what? Kill themselves. What gives? Because it is not what you get through achieving your goals that truly matters; it’s who you become. Because you have to live with yourself for the rest of your life. It’s not what you get; it’s who you become.

So what matters? What do we need to be pursuing in our life? We need to be pursuing self-awareness. We need to be delivering community value. We need to embody health and wellness. We need to be building authentic relationships with other people. It’s interesting. They’ve shown that when we pursue wealth and power and beauty, not only do we hurt ourselves and hurt our souls, but we end up hurting the Earth and polluting the environment. We end up creating more racial boundaries. We perpetrate racial stereotypes. Perpetrate racism. We hurt ourselves, and we hurt others. A lot of negative things come out of the pursuit of money, power, and beauty. And we know that. It’s been proven by science. It’s been proven in countless religions. We know that intuitively.

But there’s the flip side that’s true. When we pursue self-awareness, community value, health, and wellness, and authentic relationships, the other things come. There are external signs that we figured something out.

And this is how I like to structure it when I’m setting big goals. It’s great to set a cash goal. It’s great to set a residence goal. It’s great to set goals like this and have this as your gold-medal moment at the top. But make sure the cluster benefits that you’re pursuing on the route are fulfilling your four core needs. Is your big goal fulfilling your four core needs? If it’s not, you’re going to get in your own way. You’re going to self-sabotage, and you’re not going to reach your full potential. Make sure your core needs are set.

So repeat after me: I can pursue meaningful outcomes. And meaningful outcomes support your next gold-medal moment.

I’m going to let you in on a secret. I went to the Olympics, I rowed across the ocean, but now I’m a dad. I have a mortgage and a car payment. I have children in school, in sports activities, in music activities. I don’t have time to work out all the time. I do have life insurance. And guess what? I had life insurance when I rowed across the ocean. So for those of you who are busy and in the grind, and you recognize that fitness is important, but you have very little time, please reach out and contact me. Reach out and contact me through my website or through Twitter or somehow and just ask me, and I can send you a quick little seven-minute workout. This is what I do when I’m crunched for time. It’s all body weight. You can do it in your hotel room in your underwear. I did it this morning. And if you do not take care of your physical health, you will not get to your next gold-medal moment.

But to achieve your next gold-medal moment you also need to have, like I said earlier, gold-medal failure. I wasn’t always a speaker. I’ll be honest, to get to MDRT is a big goal of mine. And the career of a speaker speaking at this event is one of the highlights of your life.

I remember one of the very first times I delivered a speech. There was a large telecom company, and they bought a new gym for a high school. They said, “We need an athlete to come in and inspire these kids.” I put up my hand, and I got in my car. I drove to this high school, 400 kids. I got up to the stage, and I had one of those moments. You know, those public speaking moments? The nerves were here, the throat was here. I spat something out; I forgot what it was. Afterward, I was feeling horrible, and I got down. I shook the hand of the principal. The principal looked at me and, you know how sometimes it feels really bad when it’s actually not so bad? He looked at me and said, “That was the worst speech I have ever seen. You must feel like such a failure. At least the kids could see that someone who’s done something great can fail.” I wanted to die. So I took off. Felt awful.

But obviously I’m here today. I learned something about failure. I learned something about building off of failure. I learned something about dealing with the shame and the guilt and the self-sabotage that comes when we dwell on failure. Not only did I exceed as an athlete but I also failed. Athens Olympics 2004. I had not lost a race for two and a half years. I was sitting on the start line of the Olympic final. Nerves were rushing through my veins. I had all the belief that I could in the world. We were ready. Do we have any proud Americans in the audience? Yes. Thank you for delivering the worst day of my life. We got off the start line. The Americans took a lead. Then the Germans rowed through us. Then the Dutch, then the Aussies. The only ones who didn’t beat us were the French. The French never win. That’s a joke by the way.

And there we were. It was absolutely devastating. It was real devastation. People say, “Well it was just sport.” But it was everything to us at that moment. Three times a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year for four years straight. Eating, breathing, sleeping, everything was focused on this moment. And it wasn’t that we finished fifth. It was that our potential was so much higher, and we did not achieve our potential. People say, “Well, it was just sport.” But I can say, “Well, it was just your marriage.” They say, “Well, it was just an addiction. It was just sport.” Oh, it was just your kid. But when something feels like everything, it feels like failure. It cuts us to the core.

So how do we deal with the heartbreak? There’s only one person who said something that actually was meaningful to me in the depths of this failure. His name was Marcel Hacker. He was a German single sculler. He had planned to be on the podium, and he had finished seventh, eighth. He had a very disappointing Olympic regatta. He came up to me and said, “Adam, I see you did not row so well.” I said, “Yes, Marcel. I see you didn’t row very well either.” He said, “Yes, Sport, it’s Scheisse. Sometimes we just need to accept that Scheisse happens.”

But there’s also a process that we can go through. If you’re finding that guilt and shame are bubbling up again and again like it did for me, it took me years to get over this, this feeling of failure at the Olympics. It’s a simple process. And the first one is giving yourself permission to feel, to feel the failure. Too often we run through it. And when we give ourselves time to explore the failure, to feel the failure, we’re able to separate facts from feeling. Because sometimes what is true is not what we feel, and sometimes what we feel is not true. So can you separate facts from feelings?

We also need to separate the idea of “I am a failure” from the idea that “I am someone who has failed.” Very different. When I say “I am a failure,” I’m saying at the core of my being, I’m someone who has failed. But when I say, “I have failed. I am someone who has failed,” at the core, I have a goodness. At the core, I have a higher self. And guess what? I’m a human striving for my higher self. I need to grow from it.

So after we fully explored the feelings of failure, and we might have to come back over and over again to explore those feelings, we can figure out what we need to learn. And that’s the fun part. That’s the part we like to skip to. We write down everything we could have changed. We write it down, we write it down, we write it down. We talk to people. We figure out what we could change. And finally we grow. We become a better person. We create a new habit. So when we felt it, when we thought about it, we created a new habit. We can let it go. The same process you have to go through to let go of failure is the exact same process you have to go through to let go of success. So repeat after me: I can let go of past failures.

I remember when I was training for the Olympics, I was the fastest rower in Canada. No one could beat me. When I was on the water, no one could challenge me. Then Jake showed up. Jake started to beat me. And my first response was to put up an ego shield. I didn’t want anything to do with Jake. Jake reminded me of my humanness. He reminded me of my inadequacy. But there’s a choice when we see people who are good at things. We can either be jealous, or we can be inspired. Choose to be inspired.

I took Jake out for breakfast. I asked him, “Jake, what’s your secret to success? How do you row so fast?” And Jake, he’s a tall guy, he’s a bald guy, he’s kind of an awkward guy who stutters a bit. He looked at me, and he has this laugh. “I seek failure.” I said, “What?” He said, “I seek failure.” I asked, “What? You’re successful by seeking failure?” And he went on to explain. He said every single one of us has a limit. In fact, we have something I like to call the “capacity sphere.” And in that capacity sphere is our capacity to achieve, our capacity to love, our capacity to make an impact. Our capacity to do things, to influence. And if you want more influence, more wealth, more ability to have impact, you need to grow that capacity sphere. And Jake said, “I knew that I have a limit, and I knew the only way to grow my limit was to hover as close to it as possible. But when you start getting closer to your limit, it starts getting very difficult, and you start doubting yourself. So what I would do every week is plan to go to that limit and push through that limit. I’d go once a week, I’d hit that limit, I’d push through, and I’d fail. And the rest of the week I would hover below that limit. The next week I’d go to that limit. I’d push through it, and I’d fail. And then I’d hover below that limit. And then the next week I’d go to the limit, and I’d push through, and I’d grown. And I hover below that limit.”

And if you want your capacity sphere to shrink, you don’t hang out at the limits. You hang out in the center where it’s nice and comfortable. So repeat after me: I can seek failure. I don’t want you to seek any kind of failure. There are two types of failure you can seek. You can seek blameworthy failure or you can seek praiseworthy failure. I would encourage you to seek praiseworthy failure. If you think of blameworthy failure, it’s criminal. If you’re a Lance or a Madoff consciously breaking the rules, that’s criminal. That’s blameworthy. That’s not pushing the limits in the right way. Careless. I fall asleep at the wheel, and I crash my car. I’m smoking, and I’m killing my lungs. That’s careless. We’re smarter. We’re better. Status quo, not my problem. This is the way I’ve always done it. This is not my job. That’s another way to define blameworthy failure.

But on the other side, if you do something that’s exploratory like Mrs. Marie Curie, are you going to blame her for getting cancer by discovering radioactive minerals? Heck no. Doing something challenging. Are you going to blame these guys for setting up challenging businesses and failing? No. They learned a lot in the process. Doing something complex. Are you going to blame a single engineer when he tries to send a rocket into space and it doesn’t work? This is one of the most complex things our human race has tried to do, send something into space.

So are you pursuing failures that are exploratory, challenging, or complex? A modern economist once said that we need to have at least a quarter of projects fail if we are going to find success.

What’s your next praiseworthy failure? And it’s interesting if you do a little bit of self-reflection when you look at the difference between praiseworthy and shame worthy. Shame-worthy failure is motivated by what I call the “lower self.” Shame. Fear. Cynicism. Ignorance. Whereas praiseworthy failure is motivated by our higher self, our best self. The ideal self that we strive to be. Growth. Goodness. Service. Challenge. So repeat after me: I can seek praiseworthy failure.

As we get used to seeking failure, we get used to setting challenges. We need to set challenges. And I believe if we are not consciously setting challenges for ourselves, life will set challenges for us. A challenge you set for yourself is better than a challenge that life has set for you. Very true.

Going back to this challenge of rowing across the ocean. This is what it was like going across the ocean. I learned something very interesting rowing across the ocean. We had to row for 12 hours a day. We had seven to nine hours of sleeping every day and three to five hours of science and chores. Here is a quick little video I took from the ocean to share a little more insight with you. [visual]

It was interesting when you think about the adaptation we went through rowing across the ocean. When we first launched from the west coast of Africa, it was amazing. We left our friends in Senegal. We said goodbye. We’re going away. We’re in the ocean. We’re in the boat together. We’re doing it. Then shortly after, you start having this conversation with yourself, You stupid, stupid, stupid man. Why did you do this? Then after a while, you start to adapt. You say, You know what? I can do this. I can do this. I can grind through it. I’m a grinder. I can take it.

And then something really amazing happened during days 25 to 35. I noticed it myself. I noticed it in each of our crew members. We adapted. We started to thrive. There we were on a gorgeous little boat. The sun was shining. The fish were swimming. And we were spending time watching the sun rise, the sun set, the moon was out, the water was sparkling. We just kept thriving. And it’s interesting, if you were to look at the science of habits and the science of adaptation, it takes anywhere between 18 and 256 days to create a new habit. Think about setting something new in your business. Think about a diet plan or an exercise plan. Think about setting something up with your children. This is where quitting happens. This is where we fall off, get back on. We all fall off the horse. It’s about getting back on. So repeat after me: I can be patient and adapt.

People often ask me, “How did you row across the ocean?” It was pretty simple. One stroke at a time. We know the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But I guess this was more like 4,000 miles. A stroke. Yes. I’m glad we took this journey too. We saw beautiful things. Here’s my buddy, Markus. [visual] We had these fish swimming behind us. These dorado. Another day, we had these turtles swimming with us. This turtle came right by us, hung out for a couple of hours, and even tried to crawl on top of our boat. Amazing. We saw whales out there. We saw a herd of stampeding dolphins. A dolphin super pod. Picture 45 minutes of 100,000 dolphins going underneath your boat. Oh my goodness. The beauty of nature, the connectedness that that brings. It was about the many moments along the way. And I think in our own lives, we need to remember that we need to enjoy the journey too. A good way to enjoy the journey is to make sure we are feeding those four basic needs along the way. Are you feeding the needs? So repeat after me: I can savor the small joys.

One of the small joys of rowing across the ocean was facial hair. We had a facial hair growing contest. Bottom right-hand corner. [visual] Jordan won. So repeat after me: I can grow more facial hair. That’s a joke.

Want to know how it ends? We were in the Bermuda Triangle floating in this little, tiny kitty pool with a tent tarp on top of it. It was our emergency life raft. We’d turned on these beacons. The beacons went out to Clearwater, Florida, somewhere around here. A plane launched five hours after our beacon went up. The US Coast Guard showed up. I’m a very proud Canadian, but when that US Coast Guard showed up, I started chanting, “USA, USA, USA.” They circled overhead. They dropped down this buoy. We picked it up. These are pictures from the Coast Guard. [visual] We got a radio and radioed up to them. The guy from north Florida said, “We got the M.D. Hygiene coming to pick ya’ll up.” The M.D. Hygiene? What kind of a boat is that? I look at Jordan, and he says, “I think it’s a clean boat. Seventy-three days out to sea, and I could use a shower.” This boat was a giant car carrier, and this car carrier was huge. The guy, he’s a Bangladeshi captain, goes right up next to us. He’s amazing. He throws over this rope ladder. It’s about four times as high as this ceiling, clanging against the rusty hull. We climb up one by one. They wrap us up in blankets, and they give us triple rations of food.

We had this moment to think, Well, we failed. There would be school kids following us. The news was following us. We failed. We were having this conversation on this giant ship as we’re going to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We weren’t even going to be finishing in Miami. What are we going to do with this? We said, “Well, what we have to do—and we got word on that boat that the media was interested in talking to us—we just need to lean into this media and have a conversation and get our messaging out that the ocean is beautiful. The ocean is alive. You need to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature.”

So we got there, and we were on the phone over and over and over again, and for 18 hours we just didn’t stop. The media was talking to us. We were shown all over the world. And at the end of that day, I remember sitting down with our title sponsor. He had given us $225,000. We had to raise around $1 million to go across the ocean. I sat down with him, and I apologized to him. I said, “I’m sorry.” He’s a 60-year-old man. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t make it to Miami. I’m sorry we wasted your money. I’m sorry we failed.” He looked back at me and said, “First off, I’m glad you’re safe. Had you died, I would have felt responsible. Second off, we made more money and we got more media attention because you capsized than we ever would have had you made it there safely.”

There’s a great documentary on NBC; you can get it on the Internet. It interviews my wife, if you want to know what kind of person she is. The episode is called “Capsized.” It was on Dateline NBC . And it was great. We recovered the boat. We went out there with a tugboat, and we pulled it out of the water. My wedding ring and my Olympic ring were in that boat. Got those things too. So repeat after me: I can find opportunity in disaster.

People ask me, “OK, Kreek, you rowed across the ocean. You did this little Olympic thing. What’s your next gold-medal moment, man?” If you were listening at the start, you know that a true gold-medal moment is very private, scary, personal. Something you wouldn’t necessarily share with anyone. But I can share with you some smaller gold-medal moments I had in my life. Some are giving more presentations like this. I’ve got three beautiful kids. I’ve got a six year old, a three year old, and a two month old. I’m going to spend a heck of a lot of gold-medal moments with these little guys.

I’ll wrap up with this. I’m going to review what we spoke about. I said a number of things. You said a number of things. I want you to pick at least one thing. Do you need a gold-medal moment? You need to dream bigger and scarier and more privately. You need to deal with the failure more effectively in your life right now. We’ll do a review. I can grow through effective failure. I can do the work. I can pursue meaningful outcomes. I can move my body more. I can let go of past failures. I can seek failure. I can seek praiseworthy failures. I can be patient and adapt. I can savor the small joys, and I can grow more facial hair. I can find opportunity in disaster, and I can dream of my next gold-medal moment.

And I’ll leave you with this. One final benediction. May your seas be choppy, the winds unfavorable. And may the currents regularly push you off course unveiling wonders and blessings that you could have never predicted. Work hard. Be authentic. Persevere. May your next sunrise sparkle more in your soul.

Adam Kreek is an Olympic gold medalist turned engineer, journalist and adventurer. A social entrepreneur, he writes for CBC Sports, covering health and wellness for peak performance. During his 13-year rowing career, Kreek won more than 60 medals, including a gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.


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