Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.– Anthony J. D’Angelo
Bill Pullman was immersed in Outward Bound decades ago as an instructor in Australia. However, last month was the first time he experienced Outward Bound as a student. One week after he returned from our eight-day winter dog sledding course, I had the pleasure of talking to Bill about lifelong learning and why everyone, at any age, should have access to Outward Bound programming.
Attitude is Everything
Q.) Where do you work? And what inspired you to pursue a career in this field?
A.) I head a small biotech company called Proximagen and we discover and develop new medicines for conditions like epileptic seizures, cancer and joint inflammation. I moved to this field of endeavor after spending my early years as a medical specialist and academic researcher. I’ve been able to bring some important new drugs to patients who need these therapies.
I was inspired to enter Healthcare as a career choice back when I was 17 and was doing the service component of the Duke of Edinburgh award – I was a helper in a nursing home.
Q.) What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A.) Probably the most impactful but also simplest was ‘follow your passion‘ and let your gut guide you, the rest will follow!
More recently, I’ve taken note of the advice that ‘you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your emotional reaction.’ Attitude is huge! This advice was recently on my mind as I was working with some young research associates. You can control the integrity of your data, and that’s important; however, you can’t control if an experiment goes bust. Controlling how you REACT to that is everything.
Q.) What is the best advice you’ve ever given?
A.) I’ve passed on the advice to ‘follow your passion’ and attitude is everything to others, including my daughters – especially in workplace situations.
Q.) What is your advice for future leaders?
A.) Be humble, ask for help, advice and input, because you can’t know it all and often the best solution comes from digesting a variety of inputs.
Q.) What is your favorite outdoor activity?
A.) I literally said to my wife last week, that my VOBS dog sledding program reminded me, and validated, how much I love the outdoors. It’s what makes me tick.
In winter time I love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In the other months of the year it’s various running based activities including orienteering, track and mountain biking.
Q.) Tell us about a person that changed your life for the better?
A.) My parents as a couple. My mum for my Swiss cultural heritage (finish what you start) and my dad (a scientist) for being disciplined and precise.
Q.) How did you first hear about Outward Bound?
A.) I learned about OB many years ago in the U.K. when I took part in the Duke of Edinburgh award – a program based on Kurt Hahn’s philosophies. Then in Australia in the mid 1970’s when I was an Outward Bound instructor. Fast forward now 40 years and I was fortunate to reconnect with Outward Bound through VOBS and their winter dog sledding program.
Q.) Why did you want to go on course?
A.) For the adventure of a new experience with dogs in the Boundary Waters, to push my boundaries again, but most importantly for learning more about myself to help manage a life transition to semi-retirement.
Even though I’ve instructed Outward Bound courses in Australia, being a student on course was a brand new journey. It’s a great reminder that to be a good leader, you have to be a good follower. It’s also a great reminder that age is just a number. You’re never too old to learn. In fact, I am amazed at the interpersonal skills of my younger course Instructors. I couldn’t imagine having their skills as a 20 or 30 something year old.
One of my goals for going on course was to slow down. Take things step by step. This dog sledding course provided the perfect opportunity to practice that. You can’t do step three before you do step one. If you miss putting on your liner gloves and rush out to feed the dogs, your fingers will be numb from the cold and you’ll have to start your layers over again. In addition to slowing down, to be thorough, I also learned to slow down to enjoy the moment. This course helped me reset my speed dial.
Learning in the Moment
Q.) What moment(s) from course do you think about the most?
A.) No question, first and foremost, is the magic of the solo experience. I also think about the wonderful people I met on the course, moments of celebration and the sauna followed by an icy cold dip in the river. All told, I keep reflecting on the principles of Outward Bound, especially compassion and integrity and how important attitude is to success.
Q.) What were the hardest moments?
A.) The day solo finished, mushing after breaking camp was a tough one. Fresh snow and slushy lake conditions make for a really tough day. We got to camp around 9:00 p.m. and still had the work of looking after the dogs, making camp and cooking a meal. I often think about what it took to get through that day mentally.
Q.) What were your favorite moments?
A.) The whole holistic experience. Solo for sure, meals around the campfire and succeeding together. That feeling of: we’re doing something really great… together
Q.) How did VOBS impact the way you live your life today?
A.) Often in my field, all of your academic knowledge doesn’t matter until you can effectively put it into practice. Intellectual concepts become reality when you’re outdoors on course. You’re applying what you learned in the moment.
The outdoors is a great liberator and teacher, and I feel I’ve benefited from numerous lessons. Perhaps, most of all, is humility and how you act in the face of adversity. I look back and have no regrets about any of my life choices as they’ve been guided by a compass of some form or another. In my chosen field I’ve been fortunate to be a trail-blazer.
Q.) Our values are: Compassion, Integrity, Excellence, Inclusion and Safety. Which Outward Bound Value is your favorite and why?
A.) Compassion – especially in society today it’s important to recognize when we’ve been privileged and also when others come from another perspective or background. In order to succeed in life, we have to embrace our differences while treating everyone as human.
Q.) Why should people go on a VOBS course?
A.) To really learn who they are – their intrinsic values as opposed to what they are – so they can enjoy success through life and contribute to the success of others.
Q.) Why do we NEED VOBS in this world?
A.) To help reinforce the key values – even in one individual – that one individual can and will make a difference.
Q.) What is one word you would use to describe VOBS?
Q.) Now that you’re a donor (Thank you!), why do you think it is important to give to an organization like VOBS? What inspired you to give?
A.) I’ve been granted gifts that have been nurtured and enjoyed success as a result. Not everyone is so lucky, many factors can get in the way including health issues. Often, it’s the little things we can do for one person at a time that make a difference. I especially wanted to help foster programs for the under-served in our community here in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Outward Bound has been and will continue to be a trail-blazer in this regard.
Giving or Going Outward Bound
If you would like to make Voyageur Outward Bound Programming possible for students that could not otherwise afford it, join Bill and our growing list of supporters. You can donate online with this link, send me an email or give me a call: (651) 401-0635.
If you would like to go on your own adventure of liberation and learning, check out our list of Voyageur Outward Bound Courses here.