This spring, I took my son to see The Croods, an animated Dreamworks film about a Stone-Age family that winds up on a big adventure. The plot is simple: Having spent the bulk of their lives within the confines of a safe-but-dreary cave, the Croods are finally thrust out (via a calamity and their daughter’s thirst for adventure) to discover the mysteries of a wild, wide-open world.
Once outside, the Croods initially encounter all sorts of terrible dangers and miseries. They must endure some nightmarish trials, but they grow through these experiences together. They meet new people and see amazing new places. Eventually, they learn how to cope and wind up finding a beautiful new oasis to call home.
As a parent, I could certainly relate to the father character, desperate to protect his family and get them back to the security of their cave. But I could also relate to the youthful exuberance of the daughter, and her desire to pursue new interests, learn new skills and explore beyond the limits of her family’s established boundaries.
The moral of the story is, I think, a good one: Unless we are willing to stretch beyond the known and certain, we’ll remain stuck in a static status quo. Unless we are willing to question the well-worn assumptions and rules of our tribe, we cannot move beyond those limitations. We can never discover the unique and wonderful life path that opens to us only if we create it.
Another thing the film emphasized is that if we are going to break new trail and explore new territories, we must be willing to endure a certain amount of doubt and discomfort along the way.
When I was 27 years old, I got to experience this for myself. An avid entrepreneur, I had worked hard with some partners to build a successful little health and fitness club, and we had just sold it to a larger company. I had a great position within the new organization. I was making a lot of money for my age, and I had the opportunity to take on bigger responsibilities and make even bigger money if I stayed.
There was plenty of upside available to me there. Yet, on some level, I felt the need to move on, to take what I had learned and build something greater, something innovative and life changing.
I could feel a new horizon calling, so off I went. Almost as soon as I’d set out on my own, though, I ran into trouble. I didn’t have investors or property acquisitions lined up properly. I didn’t have all my deal-making machinery in place. I encountered all kinds of obstacles I hadn’t planned on.
For the next three and a half years, I went through a miserable, Crood-like odyssey. I had come out of my comfortable cave to explore, eager to change the world, only to discover that pretty much nothing was going to go my way.
Each time I got things working in one sector, they fell apart in another. Every time I’d get one threat handled, another would rear its ugly head. Everything that could go wrong did, and then a recession set in. For a while there, I was convinced I was cursed, and on more than one occasion, the situation seemed hopeless.
But I stuck with it, and eventually things turned around. I got my first club up and running, then the next, and the next. I found like-minded partners who shared my vision. We hired great people, built beautiful facilities, developed incredible programming and organized inspiring events. New members kept showing up in droves and telling their friends.
Today, Life Time Fitness has more than 100 locations, and I have the privilege of leading a company where — through our clubs, our magazine, our trainers, teachers, coaches, experiences and events — we are able to help millions of people change their lives for the better each and every day, each and every year.
Recently, at our Summerlin club near Las Vegas, I met two members who had both lost an average of a pound a day since they joined in January. They were so grateful and so happy with their new and improved lives. And I was blown away by what it felt like to have had even a small part in creating a supportive context for their success.
Had they not been willing to leave the comfort of their former habits and patterns, though, that success would not have happened. And the same is true for me. If I hadn’t followed my urge to explore and do what I thought was right for me, Life Time Fitness would not exist.
So, what exploration is calling you? And what is the cave you’re getting ready to leave behind?