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Leaving the comfort zone behind


A 22-day wilderness experience at age 17 not only changed the way Doug Dieck felt about the outdoors, but it also propelled him into a quest for achievement in all areas of his life.

Dieck, vice president of development for Ryan Cos. in Clive, formed his appreciation for the outdoors at an early age by being involved in the Boy Scouts and car camping with his family. Dieck’s father learned about Outward Bound, an adventure and skills course set in the wilderness, and he enrolled each of his three children in the program. Dieck said what he remembers most about the experience is leaving his comfort zone.

“The outdoor part of it – canoeing, ropes courses and portaging the Boundary Waters – was enjoyable, but the part that was really beneficial, in hindsight, was learning how to work together with people you didn’t know,” Dieck said.

Minnesota native Dieck met people during Outward Bound who came from backgrounds much different from his. Whereas he had grown up with a supportive family, some of the other 12 members in his group had unstable families, and in some cases, were sent to the program as a last-ditch effort to make them turn their lives around.

“These people didn’t believe in themselves, because nobody had told them they were worth it,” Dieck said. “I started off not particularly liking them and wondering what their deal was, but by the end of the 22 days, I didn’t want to leave them. We’d become friends.”

Outward Bound changes people, according to Dieck, who noticed an immediate transformation in himself and the members of his group.

“It was neat to watch them evolve and have some confidence in who they were, and it was neat as well for me to adapt my philosophy and learn that my way wasn’t the only way or the right way,” Dieck said. “I accepted that everybody has value, and as a team, we can work together to do anything.”

More changes followed for Dieck, who “caught the bug” for outdoor adventure while completing requirements for a master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. During that time, Dieck often took weekend camping trips to see the area. He started by “car camping” with friends, and progressed to being equipped with the right gear for backpacking and real outdoor adventure.

“It’s a very gratifying thing to have everything you need to live on your back and your feet to carry you and you can go anywhere you want,” Dieck said. “It’s just a neat feeling of anything’s possible.”

Dieck’s passion for the outdoors remains strong, and this summer, he plans to climb Mount Rainier in Washington. Four other guys – friends and a brother-in-law – have agreed to climb with him. Dieck always looks for a new challenge – something to take him beyond what he knows he can do.

“Climbing high peaks and doing 22-day survival courses gives you the feeling that anything is possible, and I can push myself and recognize that there is more to me than I probably think there is,” he said.

Expanding his comfort zone provides not only excitement, but also therapy, he said.

“In order to have breakthrough thinking, in my mind, you have to get out of your normal scenery,” Dieck said. “When I go hiking, I spend time processing what is happening in my life, and I couple that with thoughts of my surroundings. It takes me from task-driven, daily things to looking at the big picture.”

He plans his adventures far in advance so he can consider what he wants to “process” on his trip, sometimes taking along a book on a subject he wants to learn more about. But he doesn’t spend the whole trip in solitude.

“You find people from all over the world when you’re hiking,” Dieck said. “Part of the fun is taking those experiences back to your daily life and asking yourself how someone from outside might look at things.”

Something else he takes away from his adventures is a sense of relativity, he said.

“Having been exposed to Outward Bound and having been pushed outside my limits, it makes coming back to my job and getting challenged to solve a customer’s problem not as big of a challenge as it could be,” Dieck said.

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