Answering the Call
At a time when there is seemingly unlimited access to people and content, it is increasingly difficult to identify opportunities that offer lasting value. In an effort to navigate this oversaturation, The Higher Purpose Project curates changemakers and industry leaders from around the globe who are committed to elevating their impact in the world, and invites people of all walks of life to connect with them in unique, stimulating environments. Fostering a conscious realization of author Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey,” The Higher Purpose Project offers bi-annual intimate, four-day summit experiences comprised of outdoor adventures, interactive workshops, and personal introductions to hand-selected mentors.
“With the Higher Purpose Project, we wanted to create this adventurous, fun experience for people to really connect with outliers, stay in perspective, and meet [their] goals,” says co-founder Dan Adams. “We wanted to create a gritty, genuine, authentic experience, not focused on any aspect of life coaching, but [that] cultivates unique insights from all different types of people.”
The platform has gained international attention for its grounded approach to both experiential learning and leadership development, uniting its members with world-class influencers ranging from Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Kerri Strug to Emmy award-winning filmmaker Michael Brown.
Crossing the Threshold
After four years working in finance, co-founder Dan Adams became inspired by a documentary featuring Kyle Maynard, the two-time ESPY award winner for “Male Athlete with a Disability,” who was born with arms that end at his elbows and legs at his knees (a condition known as congenital amputation). After connecting with Maynard at an event, Adams soon teamed up with him to co-create and co-lead Mission Kilimanjaro, an initiative epitomized by Maynard’s successful bear climb to the 19,341 foot summit of the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
“For me,” Adams shares, “[Mission] Kilimanjaro was that opportunity to prove not only to myself, but to those I loved, that if you hold to your beliefs, you can confront fears and limitations. You have the ability to build a vision and see that through. I think it’s all an adventure. And taking leaps to do those things is hard,” he adds. “You have to believe in this vision that hasn’t come to fruition yet, and you have to constantly show up.”
This wasn’t the first time Adams attempted to prove this notion. Prior to Mission Kilimanjaro, Adams had set out to realize the goal of becoming a successful NCAA athlete. During his time as an undersized middle linebacker for the College of The Holy Cross football team, Adams, at 5’9”, led the NCAA in unassisted tackles in 2005 and set the current NCAA record for most unassisted tackles in a single game (21).
“He possesses that mindset,” Maynard explains. “He’s a talented athlete — but he’s not the most talented athlete in the world — yet he broke a Division I college football record for tackles. It’s crazy. So he gets on that level, too, about the mindset stuff in a [unique] way.”
Maynard continues, “Without Dan, I don’t know if [climbing Kilimanjaro] would have been possible. When we came together, our whole idea was just to spread that message: that you actively create the life that you want to live. Sometimes you feel like you’re smashed against the rocks. Sometimes you feel like you’re ready to give in and quit. But [then you get] to that deep core place — that deep, visceral spot where you’re like, ‘I’m going to make this work no matter what; I’m going to create the life that I want to live because I said so.’
“That’s what we wanted to get across to people, and I think in some respects we accomplished it, and in the grand scheme of things I wouldn’t say we failed, but I think we’ve realized that you have to connect the dots a different way for people to really apply something to their own lives.”
Seizing the Sword
With this in mind after Mission Kilimanjaro, Adams knew the time had come to lay the foundation for his experiential platform. He began to gather the amazing people he’d met along his journey into a single space, sensing the power of their collective impact. He recruited friends like Maynard who had done some “really cool things,” including entrepreneur and future Virgin Galactic space photographer Eric James, All-American skier and mountaineer Karen Lundgren, and film director Pat Soloman, whose award-winning documentary “Finding Joe” features a cast including Deepak Chopra, Rashida Jones, and Tony Hawk.
“Initially, [Higher Purpose Project] was kind of like a hang-out in certain aspects,” says Adams. “I knew the power of having a strong network and wanted to remove the barriers in connecting people. I believe that you genuinely grow through living — through your direct life experiences.”
Then, an unexpected catalyst to the organization’s evolution came about in 2014 when Victoria Gigante attended her first summit. Aside from being an avid traveler and yoga therapist, Gigante holds a double masters in Psychology and Psychological Counseling from Columbia University and is a former Navy lieutenant. With a strong background in developing mentorship programs, including six years as director of the Academic Center for Excellence for the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Gigante returned from her first summit feeling that The Higher Purpose Project could deliver a much greater impact.
“When you work in one industry for a while, it’s easy to lose perspective about how you provide value,” Gigante notes. “This is especially true in the military and other large organizations where it is easy to get lost in the routine, failing to see a bigger picture beyond the daily responsibilities. My goal with getting involved with The Higher Purpose Project was to find a way to help more people feel empowered about their personal lives and how they provide value to their local community.”
Having defeated tremendous odds in her own lifetime, Gigante offered great insight into rebuilding the summit framework. “The thing that I love about Victoria,” Adams says, “is that she has tons of valuable life experiences, and I think that is a hallmark for a great teacher. [She also] overcame a rare heart condition to go into the military and become a distinguished collegiate distance runner. It’s amazing to see all the obstacles she has overcome to get to this stage of her life.”
Collaborating for the first time, Gigante and Adams joined efforts to optimize The Higher Purpose Project’s approach. “The Boston summit [in 2014],” Gigante explains, “was our test run to see if we could combine our strengths and provide more value to more people. We were very fortunate to complement each other’s strengths and improve the organization as a whole.” Dialing in on the Higher Purpose Project’s core values, Gigante and Adams laid the bricks, designing a program that incorporates magnificent landscape settings, intense outdoor challenges, interactive leadership workshops, and small-group dining with distinguished influencers of exploration and discovery.
Following the success in Boston, Adams and Gigante officially relaunched The Higher Purpose Project as co-founders. Today, the summits have evolved into training grounds that not only break down physical and mental limitations, but also empower and rejuvenate by way of creative expression. The summits include gourmet organic meals, morning yoga and meditation, and outdoor team-building exercises like ropes course challenges, rock climbing, and watersports — all conducted in an engaging environment “that doesn’t allow for podiums, canned speeches, and PowerPoint presentations,” as Adams likes to put it.
“The key… is just having that curiosity, the courage to ask questions. Be a little uncomfortable sometimes, and just seek those adventures…”
— Dan Adams
Return with the Elixir
Gearing up for the next summit, Adams and Gigante continue to lead by example, actively pushing themselves to elevate and expand, welcoming new obstacles in the form of unfamiliar adventure. “We see amazing things in the world, and we think it’s magic,” Adams shares. “It’s just being willing to be a person that asks questions — a person that explores.” Since 2013, The Higher Purpose Project has directed ten transformative summits in beautiful locations around the U.S.
“A lot of times these things people really gravitate towards, or have this romantic idea towards, are hard work.” Adams adds. “It’s brutal, and it’s not that sweet. The key, I think, is just having that curiosity, the courage to ask questions. Be a little uncomfortable sometimes, and just seek those adventures… Because once you see the truth, it’s not all magic anymore.”
As Seen in CREATIV Magazine VOL. 2 / Issue 9
[h/t Copy Editing: Paige Zeigler & Jessica Cyrell]