Christian Heilmann

Do something crazy – it is immensely rewarding

Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I am not a big fan of the cold. I like spring weather with sensible temperatures. The last 3 days I spent in Kiruna, Sweden, which is very high up north indeed and right now running at around -20 degrees centigrade. That means that the inside of your nose freezes so that you think you always have a stray booger hanging from it and it also means that any water on your hair turns into icicles:


The trip was organised by some people in Spotify and cost me a few hundred pounds. What it gave me though was an amazing experience, seeing the Northern Lights, riding a snow mobile and – probably the most amazing bit – steering a dog sled over a frozen river, a frozen lake and through some woods. I also had to rough it as there was no space in the larger huts any more so our castle was the size of my bedroom in London, with no running water and the bathroom in an even smaller hut about 50 meters away. But that is by the by, let me tell you about the dog sledding.


We got out in the early morning wearing 3 trousers, 4 pair of socks and five layers of pullovers, longsleeves and jackets. I bought a down jacket for the trip but it turned out that in order to survive safely and not to have the smell of dog on you for the rest of the week, it is a good idea to rent another thick overall and snow boots, furry hats and two pair of gloves.


Feeling like the Michelin Man we drove to the dog kennel were we got introduced to our dogs and got the introduction how to steer a dog-sled.

Now, as a trainer and working in corporate environments for a long time I am used to explaining everything and getting every little detail explained to me to avoid people doing stupid things or suing me or my company. I thought that getting dragged through the woods by five dogs with a one track mind of running as fast as they can would warrant quite some introduction, too. But what we got was this:

These are your dogs, the first two are brothers, one of them is shy and the other is quite lively. They are nice though, you can pet them. Make sure to pet their sides so they feel safe or they may run towards the other dogs and get entangled with them. When the dogs get entangled, they might break a leg, be careful. Also when you stand the passenger should keep them on the leash to make sure they don’t go where you don’t want them to. These are the guiding dogs. The other three are the engines. The couple in the back is a female and a male, make sure the male one doesn’t go near other males as he will bite them and doesn’t stop until they are dead. He doesn’t like other males, but he likes females fine.

So much for the dogs – and these are sled dogs. They are nice enough but more wolf than domesticated wagging tail types. They bark and howl when they don’t run – a lot. As my partner put it, they are like arrows – they just want to go fast in one direction as soon as possible. The whole introduction to the sledge was this:

As the passenger, keep your feet on the inside of the skis or you might get stuck on a root and break your foot. Bend slightly with the curves to make the sledge go easier. For the driver: this is the brake, step on it to go slow and keep both feet on it when you want to stand in a place as the dogs might run off and you’ll fall off. This is the anchor, stomp it into the ground when you want to stand and the passenger should put the lead in the front on a pole or a tree. Keep the anchor safe as it might end up in your side, leg or the head of the passenger otherwise. Always keep both hands on the handle and steer with your weight. The dogs are nice, don’t worry. Just make sure not to run into the other sledges.

So there I was in the freezing cold with my glasses fogging over and being dragged by five semi-wild dogs who poop while they run and on every stop jump headfirst into the snow to eat it after giving you a “why did we stop, I want to run!” look. I was not in control, I was not really sure how this works or why.


But the longer it went and the more I saw the joy the dogs had when running the more I felt comfortable and secure in what I am doing and the dogs reacted to my steering and my breaking without a hitch. We switched on the way back and as a passenger you managed to see the snowy landscape from a totally new point of view.

I did it. When thinking back of all the things that could go wrong I am amazed about the nonchalance of the guides when it comes to getting us into this. But it works. They trusted us to find our way to cope and to get secure and more assured in what we are doing. And that made it extremely rewarding for me.

Now it is your turn. Don’t wait for the perfect introduction, don’t wait until you are considered an expert before opening your mouth or going out in public with your ideas. You don’t have to go into the cold and get dragged along by dogs. How about starting simpler and publish some of your thoughts or send out a proposal to speak at a conference? How about organising a talk in your company? How about learning a new skill you always considered yourself to be not having any talent in? Do it, do something “crazy”.

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