Confessions of an Extreme Sports Addict

Article by:
Salvador Paiz, EO Guatemala
Salvador Paiz
EO Guatemala

My addiction to extreme sports started at an early age. It began with water polo in high school, followed by a long stint of scuba diving. Eventually, skydiving was thrown into the mix. By the time I graduated from college, I had completed the first 100 of more than 350 jumps.

Later, when I moved to Guatemala, I picked up kite surfing, a sport I’ve been hooked on ever since. To some it might look like I’m using extreme sports as a way to escape the high-stress, buttoned-up life that I lead as vice chairman of Wal-Mart, Central America. That’s only part of the story. Sure, there’s an element of release that helps counter the pressure of my workload, but there’s also an element that helps me manage my work and become better at it. Sound unrealistic?

Consider this: Every time I prepare for a session of kite surfing, I hone the same four skills I use every day in business.

  • Don’t Give in to Failure
    The first few months on the kite board were some of the most frustrating I’ve experienced. Half of the time the board sank, and with it, my spirits. However, frustration soon gave way to small gains. I started keeping afloat for 30 seconds or longer, feeling my confidence build with each raise of the sail. Six months later I was jumping 15 feet in the air! The first time I felt myself soaring above the waves, I realized the meaning and purpose of every futile attempt that had gotten me there. Nobody is born knowing how to do this stuff; it takes repeated practice. This fact helped me navigate the learning curve during the first few months of the various roles I’ve held throughout my career.

  • Give Yourself the Freedom
    Kite surfing has taught me the importance of freedom when it comes to performing within a framework of success. If I want to take advantage of a rogue wave and execute a spectacular jump, for example, I need to anticipate that jump and provide myself the freedom to improvise and execute at the appropriate time. It’s the same in business. I remind myself that real success depends on quality execution, which is dependent upon the amount of freedom I give myself and my teams to maneuver.

  • Push T hrough Your Comfort Zone
    Comfort zones are dangerous inhibitors of innovation in both work and play. In work, comfort zones lead to a pacifying lull where we stop questioning the status quo and forget to keep pushing the envelope. It would be far easier to master a few basic skills or to always take the safest route, but to be really innovative and enjoy the rush of the extreme, you have to be willing to go beyond your limits and then go even farther. If you don’t go there, the competition certainly will!

  • Visualize the Big Picture
    Before I hit the waves, it’s essential that I visualize my success. Legendary baseball pitchers will tell you that they have to see the pitch before they throw it. I use this technique to imagine myself above water, in the air and landing. Visualizing success is something I might have never tried in my work life. I was too busy trying to do my day-to-day work to take time and visualize the big picture. But since I’ve started incorporating this technique, I’ve discovered that I can not only see my goals with greater clarity, but I can visualize the way to achieving them. Visualizing is a compass without which I dare not navigate.

    These four skills help me get ahead in life and business. I believe that my willingness to hone them will lead me to even further improvements in both work and play. However, in order to get to where I need to go, I have to remember the most important thing in both extreme sports and extreme business: You can only get so far by strategizing and visualizing, because in the end you have to be willing to jump.

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