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  • Writer's pictureCJ DiMaggio

What I Learned the Day I Almost Died

Things were going great. Until suddenly they weren’t.

It was a beautiful summer day in Yosemite National Park.

I was hiking with some friends in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, in a scenic wilderness twenty miles from the nearest road. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and all was right in the world. The views were incredible and seemed to get better with every step.

As the afternoon wore on, the river beside us looked more and more inviting. It tumbled over rapids and waterfalls on its way to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir far below -- the primary water supply for the city of San Francisco, 200 miles away.

We stopped to take a break. I took my backpack off and bent down to lower my drinking bottle into the cold river. Just then, I slipped on the slick wet granite and into the river. Though it was only a few feet deep, the river quickly swept me off my feet. If it weren’t for a lucky boulder that I was able to grab hold of at the last minute, I would have tumbled to my doom over a hundred foot waterfall!

Choking, stunned and embarrassed, I fished myself out of the river and sat down on the riverbank to dry myself off and collect my thoughts. I had never had a “near death” experience before, and I was scared. But little by little, I began to notice things differently. I saw new colors in the mountains and the trees, and I heard new songs from birds in the trees. I was grateful for every step I took that afternoon, and I was grateful I had friends around me.

It didn’t stop there though. For weeks afterward, in the oddest moments -- sitting at my desk at work, shopping at the grocery store, or exercising at the gym -- I would flash back to that moment in the mountains when I almost lost everything. And I would realize that there were rules to taking chances, whether you’re hiking in the mountains or building a business.

1. Be aware of your surroundings. Read the room. Step back and pan back before you jump in. Focus on where things are going, not on where they are now.

2. Don’t be complacent. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Be suspicious when everything’s beautiful and everything’s going well, because that’s exactly when problems arise.

3. Problems are on you in a flash. Before you know it, you’re in over your head and it’s too late to react. Your reaction means nothing. Your preparation means everything.

4. You’re always alone. Even if you’re surrounded by trusted friends or co-workers or partners, ultimately you’re the only one who can save you. Even if they hope the best for you, they may be out of reach when you need them most.

5. Only take risks you can mitigate. Hedge every bet. Make sure you have a way out. Just as skydivers always have two parachutes, make sure you always have a backup.

6. When bad things happen, pick yourself up. Don’t just go with the flow and hope for the best.

Since that fateful day, I’ve always had a sharper sense of what could go wrong when I’m in the mountains. A dead tree could fall on my tent. A flash flood could come even if it’s raining miles away.

Risk is everywhere. It’s impossible to avoid, and that’s a good thing.

It gets your blood pumping.

It keeps you on edge.

It keeps your senses sharp.

It helps you spot new opportunities and make the most of the opportunities you have.

Are you looking for opportunity in the right place?

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