Leaders Embrace the Adventure

by Alli Polin on August 27, 2013

Leadership is an adventure, lose the stress and embrace it!

When I was in college I studied for a summer in London.  It was one of the best summers of my life filled with friends, theatre, and tons of adventure.  Nearly every weekend I would get on a plane to see more of Europe and had some very memorable experiences along the way.  One of the most memorable was my weekend in Lisbon, Portugal.

My parents had some good family friends that lived in Lisbon and they invited me to stay in their home for a long weekend.  I got off the plane at the airport in Lisbon excited and nervous; immediately a few things were evident:

  1. Nobody was there to meet me as planned
  2. None of the signs in the airport were in English
  3. The people at the information desk smiled a lot but spoke little English

I went to the nearest pay phone, and called my host’s home and one of their maids answered the phone.  Pretty clear trend by now, she did not speak English either.

After waiting for a while, I made a call to my parents for some advice. Should I get on the next plane back to London?  How long should I hang out at the airport waiting for them to arrive?  How well do they actually know these people?!

Here’s what I learned about myself and about leadership in the Lisbon airport:

I’m the Self-Centered Outsider

Hello!  I only spoke English.  I went there with the assumption that everyone speaks English.  How often do new leaders walk into organizations and it’s as if they are speaking a foreign language?  How many times have you joined a new team, started a new job or moved to a new town carrying all of your assumptions with you in a big suitcase.  Unpacking those assumptions can take some time.  In my case, my assumptions were dumped out on the floor and scattered to the wind in the first 15 minutes.

Instant Answers Aren’t Always Available

We didn’t have cell phones at the time; I couldn’t text anyone to see if they were on their way.  I had to decide to hang in there or run based on hope, expectations, and relationships that were already in place.  Today, we live in an insta-world.  Decision making happens 24/7 and goes hand in hand with access to decision makers round the clock.  You know that feeling when you decide that you’ll shoot off a text to get an immediate answer and it doesn’t come?  You check your phone 20 times thinking you just heard the bing?  It’s a sign: Decide for yourself with the information you have. We all have hearts, minds and guts; check in with them and you’ll find that you know what to do.

Embrace the Adventure, It’s Why You’re Here

I was really stressed out and started to feel the desire to run kick in big time.  The illogical, stressed Alli started to make up stories: They’ve forgotten about me, I’m going to have to sleep at the airport, there is a strange person across the way sizing me up to steal my belongings, on and on.  After I took a few deep breaths I remembered that if I wanted it to be just like home, I should have stayed home.  I had to make the leap from my comfort zone to the adventure zone.  In an adventure, even mistakes and missteps are a part of the journey and a part of our story.

“You choose: Adventure or stress.  Embrace the adventure!” (Click to Tweet)

I wanted to run, but chose to hang in there.  Just over two hours later, my host came rushing in and apologized for the mix up.  We hopped in her car and I began to smile and breathe easily again. Maybe, sometime over drinks, I’ll tell you about when things really got crazy over the long weekend.  Let’s just say, the adventure continued and I’m glad I was there to be a part of it.

When have you resisted the urge to run?  What was the outcome?

Are you ready to make the leap?  For speaking, coaching or consulting, Let’s Connect!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™ August 27, 2013 at 6:58 am

Hi Alli,
I so like this post! Any time we can explode assumptions, clarify expectations, and get outside of our comfort zone, we fuel success for others and those we lead.

Your post is powerful and beautifully compact 🙂



Alli Polin August 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

Love how you put that Kate – explode assumptions! When we hold onto our assumptions for dear life is when we hold not only ourselves back but our teams and organizations as well.

Greatly appreciate your comment and insights!


Jon Mertz August 27, 2013 at 7:43 am

I like the idea of “self-centered” outsider, Alli. This can apply in so many situations. We get caught up in our self that we miss what can happen when we try and try a little harder to engage others, whether they be in other teams, departments, or companies. We need to drop being a self-centered outsider and engage! Thanks. Jon


Alli Polin August 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

Yes! We may be self-centered outsiders but we have another choice – to engage, connect, inspire, challenge, innovate, collaborate… the list goes on.

Thanks so much, Jon for adding another layer to this post!


Terri Klass August 27, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Traveling and studying abroad is probably one of the most unique experiences for American kids who typically only see the world through their tiny lens. I loved your vulnerability, Alli and the way you viewed your uncomfortable feelings about being stuck and not knowing what to do about it. We all have to leave home at some point and venture out, even if we make tons of mistakes. That’s what leaders need to do too if they want to continue to grow and innovate. Loved the post! I remember my London study abroad like it was yesterday. It changed me too!


Alli Polin August 28, 2013 at 1:01 am

Absolutely, Terri! It’s the venturing out of our comfort zone, making it bigger and bigger by stretching ourselves that creates resilience and opens us to new experiences that change our leadership forever.

Looks like London was a great study abroad choice for both of us! I’ve been back a few times over the years and it’s truly a city I love.

Many thanks for sharing your experience too!


LaRae Quy August 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm

What a great post, Alli! I was right there with you at the airport, afraid and lacking self-confidence. Coming from a cattle ranch in Wyoming, I had to make similar decisions: stay home where it was safe or embrace life as an adventure. The great thing about adventures is that they take us right smack into the middle of the unknown! And we never come back the same…instead, bolder and much smarter.


Alli Polin August 28, 2013 at 1:04 am

LaRae – That’s quite a leap from the cattle ranch to the FBI! I love that it tells me that experiences like yours (and mine too!) are not reserved for people with a specific upbringing or circumstance but each of us can call forth lessons and courage from where we are to be bold and create a life that is FULL of adventure. It starts with just one step…

Appreciate you, LaRae!


Joy Guthrie August 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Excellent post, Alli! What a great leap you made in comparing yourself as the young traveler to a leader approaching a group! A great lesson for us all. Thanks so much.


Alli Polin August 28, 2013 at 1:06 am

Thank, Joy! Leadership lessons are everywhere since our lives and our leadership are so intertwined. Many thanks for your comment!


Lolly Daskal August 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Great post Alli

I particularly loved “I’m the Self-Centered Outsider”
It is so true when we are consumed with self,
our expectations, our assumptions, lead us on a detour of ourselves.

Best to bring a learning and open heart to wherever you go and whatever you do.

Thanks for sharing.


Alli Polin August 28, 2013 at 1:07 am

Lolly – Absolutely! It’s one thing to have self-confidence and yet another to be self-centered. When all we see is our view of the world, we’re missing out on so many ways for us to make a difference, learn and grow.

Here’s to living and leading with an open heart and an open mind!

Thanks, Lolly!


Sharon Gilmour-Glover August 28, 2013 at 9:33 am

Hi Alli,

I loved this post. I really like the way you connected assumptions and expectations to your state, both when you were becoming stressed and fearful and when you began to calm down and breathe again. It’s that expectation gap that gets us every time isn’t it?

I’m so glad you shared Penny’s post on Clarity for the Boss because I found your site! I feel like I found another kindred spirit. Now I just have to figure out how to get to Alice Springs for that glass of wine and the rest of the story!



Alli Polin August 29, 2013 at 6:38 am

Sharon! I’m so touched that you stopped by my site and took the time to comment on this post! Whether we realize it our not, we’re usually bringing some assumptions with us – an awareness of them definitely helps us to see things as they are instead of only focusing on the expectations gap!

The Wheel of Life is a great tool to bring an awareness to the bumps in our lives and why we may struggle to meet our expectations for a smooth ride. Great place to start the work of personal change.

Come to Alice! It’s beautiful!

Look forward to connecting with you more.

With appreciation ~



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