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On any given weekend, you can usually find me in the mountains—climbing, mountaineering or backcountry skiing. The most common question this prompts from coworkers when they see photos I post is, “is that safe?” followed by looks of extreme skepticism.

While I spend of a lot of time thinking about the risks of my chosen hobby, I have a hard time answering that question.

For me, there are two aspects that determine whether I feel “safe” in the mountains:

  1. Managing risk
  2. Managing fear

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of this post, both apply to working in the advertising industry. I’ll explain more below.

James Eastham Risk Mountaineering

Managing Mountains of Risk

Mountain sports are dangerous. Pick up any climbing gear, and you’ll see big orange warning labels regaling you with the many ways you could die—even if you’re using the equipment properly.

There are natural hazards like rockfall, crevasses, avalanches and extreme weather. Obviously they must be managed in order to reduce the risk of injury, and, you know, death.

Managing hazards well—and imagining outcomes—is what allows me to take carefully chosen risks while still feeling comfortable with the situations I put myself in.

There’s no better way to give yourself pause than imagining the several excruciating ways you might die.

A measured approach to risk taking, where you understand your ability, the hazards present and the consequences of failure, allows you to determine what your level of acceptable risk is.

Measured risk allows us to be audacious within reason. The rewards aren’t a surprise, but a result of foresight. 

Managing Chasms of Fear

The question “is it safe?” is usually followed up by a second question of “but isn’t that scary?” And certainly there are situations I’ve found myself in that are a bit nerve wracking, like trying to traverse an exposed ledge, or climbing high above my last point of protection.

As Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, fear is the mind killer, and it can paralyze you from moving forward. But on the flipside, fear keeps you sharp and attentive and helps keep you safe.

The key to managing fear is not to ignore it, but to lean into it.

Once you’re confident you have the skills to achieve your goals and understand the risks, you have to push past the hesitation and to commit. The rewards that follow will be hard earned, but worth it.

Being timid or hesitant in mountaineering and the advertising industry will often prevent you from flashing your climb or reaching the summit, from completing your goals and delivering a great piece of work. But those final moments of the climb—when measured and embraced properly—will set you apart from your competition.

CB + Risks

Taking risks and being afraid doesn’t only happen when you’re hanging off a mountain. Every day we take risks at Calder Bateman. And arguably it’s when we’re taking risks that we do our best work.

Risk propels us forward. It pushes us to be better and do better for our clients. 

We weren’t sure that a Kickstarter would fund Pride Tape and we were nervous about how people might receive our Clio-winning HIV Tonight campaign. But pushing past that fear of failure, and planning out the measured risks translated into two incredibly successful campaigns. The same thinking can be applied to all of the work we do.

When you encounter risks in advertising, don’t shy away.

Be confident in yourself, trust in your team, respect the hazards and, if you do fail, learn from it and try again. You might fall on your face, but you won’t fall off a mountain.

James Eastham Mountains

About the author

James Eastham
What makes James an asset to the public relations team is not his expertise across a wide variety of initiatives. Nor is it his significant experience from policy development to government relations and stakeholder engagement. What makes James stand out most is his carrot cake. Try it and you’ll understand.

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