Shortly after publishing my article on the 20/60/20 Rule earlier this week, I realized I have been employing the same strategy in my personal life for years without even noticing. One particular story jumped to mind that I'd like to share with you today as an inspiration to try it for yourself.
Several years ago, I made an appearance aboard a ship traveling through Antarctica as a guest speaker from National Geographic. My presentation went off without a hitch, and I remember scanning the room as I stepped off the stage, mentally preparing myself for the hard part – meeting dozens of strangers. But I had a plan, and just like the tack-sharp, technically proficient photos captured as part of my first 20% in the field, I started where I felt confident, immediately approaching the two or three people in the room I already knew. I thanked the host for their hospitality. I caught up with the person who invited me. It was easy and safe – a sure thing.
Then I shifted my attention to the 60%. I approached people in groups. I allowed myself to be introduced. I pushed beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone and was rewarded with many interesting and fulfilling conversations I wouldn't have otherwise had. And that was how I spent the majority of my evening until I saw the man hiding the corner.
No event on any Arctic expedition vessel will rise to the level of a black-tie affair, but while most attendees had done their best to dress the part, this gentleman stood out in his rumpled polo shirt and loose-fitting track pants. It was time to attempt that last 20%. I navigated through the crowd to introduce myself, and he peered at me through smudged glasses as I pulled up a chair.
The conversation was strained at first, my mind racing at every pause as it struggled to produce the next topic for discussion. "This is not working," I thought. "I must tell him something I'm passionate about." So I shared my love of aviation and told him a story of flying my ultralight airplane in the Arctic. His face lit up. "Son, just stay there one second. I have to go down to my room. I'll be right back," he said and rushed out of the room, returning a few minutes later with a handful of pamphlets he spread out on the table in front of me. "I'm the oldest active flight instructor at NASA. I teach all the astronauts how to dead-stick land the space shuttle." What followed was one of the most engaging conversations I have ever had.
This is just one of countless occasions on which the 20/60/20 Rule led to interesting experiences with unique people. Without it, I would never have met the man who helps our planet's greatest explorers arrive home safely from the stars. In all likelihood, I would never have made it to National Geographic either, or found myself doing what I love at the helm of an organization dedicated to my greatest passion: conservation. Only when I began to explore beyond the boundaries of my safe place, did I experience the best this life has to offer. I am thankful to that last 20% for pushing me to grow – not only as a photographer and artist but as a person as well.