Outdoor Adventure Courses—Compressing The Time Between Significant Achievement And Transformative Results

Summer sailing for high-school students

Finding success in a middle-class world typically means learning from an early age to organize towards the future. Sometimes that means "investing" for years or even decades before we see the payoff. It generally takes sixteen years of schooling to earn a university degree—several more for a graduate degree. Many of us struggle to build retirement funds our entire working lives. And it can take years of hard work to achieve virtuosity on a musical instrument or a high level of skill at a sport or a craft. Heaven knows it also takes relentless effort over time to sustain important relationships. All those things require discipline and motivation, virtues that can be hard to instill in youngsters used to immediate gratification.

So what to do? How do parents instill the virtues of persistence and grit, the essential ingredients for success in a world where there is often a lot of necessary "pain" before people see the ultimate gain? You compress the effort > reward formula.

This is why outdoor adventure courses can pay such HUGE dividends. Because the challenges are considerable and require several weeks to accomplish, we don't consider the immediate impact "instant gratification." That has a misleading connotation since it implies a reward absent appropriate effort. We prefer instead to call it "proximate gratification." A participant has to earn success, but that success corresponds to an impressive accomplishment, and the impact on the psyche is often transformational: participants feel an exhilaration that comes from achieving a goal they never thought possible—or likely. 

Moreover, the impact doesn't just take the form of a thrill, it takes the form of a revelation: "OMG, I can't believe I just did that. Wow. What else might be possible?" Indeed—all sorts of things! There's an enormous satisfaction that comes not only from overcoming your own self-doubts, but in realizing so many new possibilities. And when goals become more ambitious, motivation and grit inevitably emerge. True self-confidence spawns self-discipline. Organizing towards future objectives becomes second-nature.

At the QBE European Leadership School, we use traditional gaff-rigged yachts to take teens on sailing expeditions in the English Channel—from France to the south of England and back again. Yachting doesn't require the fitness of trekking or mountaineering, so we can take "crew members" who would have difficulty climbing Mont Blanc. But any challenging outdoor adventure for teens is usually worth the investment. Take your pick.

The QBE European Leadership School is an adventure sailing course for teens operating out of St.-Malo, France.