Burn the Ships 5: From Biomedical Engineer to Reality-Show Adventurer: Joel Hungate #154
March 7, 2023
Go do it! That’s the counsel, the hope, the legacy the mother of our guest this week, Joel Hungate, gave her son. He’d need those words more urgently than he ever could have imagined when she died by suicide, leaving him to question everything on which he had based his life.
In this episode of our special winter series, BURN THE SHIPS, Warwick talks with Hungate about how his Mom’s death left him in an emotional spiral that he was only able to get out of by embracing his faith. And taking seriously her exhortation to “go do it.”
He’s done just that by trading his corporate career as a biomedical engineer for creating the Adventure Genome Project, in which he helps men and women not just get fit and healthy, but to do so with an eye on embracing adventure.
It’s a journey he knows firsthand, as one of 16 contestants on the new Netflix survivalist series OUTLAST, premiering on the streaming service March 10.
His tip for all of us: Put one foot in front of the other. That’s how you get to the top.
- Joel’s backstory (5:07)
- Clues from his youth that he was designed for adventure (6:07)
- His first career pursuit in medical engineering (10:18)
- The crucible that changed his personal and professional lives (11:21)
- His decision to burn the ships (18:41)
- How crucibles can improve our lives (27:19)
- The importance of gratitude (36:33)
- The Adventure Genome Project (38:43)
- How he ended up a contestant on Netflix’s Outlast (43:13)
- A word of hope and some perspective on being a generalist (50:47)
Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Beyond the Crucible.
One of the last conversations that I had with Mom before we lost her, in fact, she was always my number one advocate to go on these adventures. I’d still had a love for mountaineering, for trekking, for camping, all the outdoor things. And she’d always said, “No, you got to do the big one. Go out, get on this expedition, go do these wild things. There’s just incredible opportunity for you out there.” And she always had a sense, this kind of prophetic sense about just when she interacted with people, she could get to the heart of what they were called to do. It was just an uncanny ability. And for me, she was the one that said, “Just go. Go do it.”
Go do it. That’s the counsel, the hope, the legacy, the mother of our guest this week, Joel Hungate, gave her son. He’d need those words more urgently than he ever could have imagined when she died by suicide, leaving him to question everything on which he had based his life. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show.
In this episode of our special winter series, Burn the Ships, Warwick talks with Hungate about how his mom’s death left him in an emotional spiral that he was only able to get out of by embracing his faith and by taking seriously her exhortation to go do it. He’s done just that by trading his corporate career as a biomedical engineer for creating the Adventure Genome Project in which he helps men and women, not just get fit and healthy, but to do it with an eye on embracing adventure. It’s a journey he knows firsthand as one of 16 contestants on the new Netflix survivalist series, Outlast, premiering on the streaming service March 10th. His tip for all of us, put one foot in front of the other. That’s how you get to the top.
Well, Joel, again, thank you for being here. And the week that this comes out will be the week I believe that your new Netflix show Outlast comes on. And you’ll obviously tell us a bit about, it’s a survival show set in Alaska. Obviously, we won’t tell you who won or what happened. We will give a spoiler alert is that Joel is alive as we speak. So he did survive. So as we said off air, we hope it doesn’t contravene the Netflix contract. But yeah. So Joel is here to at least tell you that he did survive. But before we get to Outlast, he grew up in Indiana. And I’d love just to hear a bit of the backstory. And I know obviously you’re a person of faith, as we are, and your mother was a huge part of that foundation. So talk about what was life for Joel Hungate, growing up in Indiana, and your mom and the influence that she had on you.
First of all, Gary, Warwick, thank you. What a pleasure it is to talk. I grew up on a hog farm in East Central Indiana. And that experience, I think really, one, predisposed me for love of the outdoors. It’s just a part of life. It’s what we did for fun. It was out hunting, fishing, being in the woods. That was my childhood in a nutshell, and myself, my brothers. And you mentioned my mother undergirding all of that. We grew up with the Midwestern values that a lot of people have come to know and associate with places like Indiana. It’s that moral compass, that sense of who one ought to be. And that it has to transcend our reality, it has to transcend our understanding, and just who we are as people. It’s got to be vested and rooted in something that goes beyond us.
And for me, she was that conduit, that catalyst for understanding faith. And how critical that was, not only to who I’d become, and to how you respond to what life throws at you. So growing up in that environment, it was baked in. The idea that faith was just a part of life. And we saw it as the underpinnings that guide, that constant, that you can count on no matter where it’s going to take you, no matter where the wind blows. And for me, that was almost exclusively distilled by my mom in a very intentional way. And not only for me and my family, but for our community at large.
So Joel, we’ll get to kind of what you do now with adventure and just helping people be more generalist and understanding, you want them to be participants, not just watchers. As good as Netflix shows are, and I certainly watch a fair share of them, and have my favorite shows and series. You want people to be participants in life, not just observers. But when you think back to when you were growing up, are there clues back then that you look back on and say I can see some clues of who Joel Hungate is now? Were you somebody that loved adventure? Just talk about some of those threads in your growing up that may be clues to who you are now.
Yeah, for me it was always you end up with that feeling, your heart longs for it. I say often that we were designed for adventure. And we are, right? Especially as a young man growing up in that environment, an outdoorsy person, you start to find yourself finding purpose, finding fulfillment in those settings. And it’s always that those settings that challenge you. It really brings to life who you are under those trying circumstances.
For me, that challenge was exhilarating. Growing up, whether it was being out in the woods, getting to navigate for my first time. I remember going hunting with my dad. It’s one of the things that, kind of those stage gates, those initiation ceremonies as a man. I get to go hunting, deer hunting in particular.
And I remember the very first time that he set me at the edge of the woods, he handed me a compass, took a bearing, and he said, “All right, here’s the direction you’re going to go.” And this is the first time I ventured into that darkness to find my deer stand by myself. And I remember the sense of pride, feeling so alive. And I was 10 or 11 years old at this time. And you’re taking the shotgun for the first time, you’re going into the woods. I’m scaring everything away. I’m not being quiet whatsoever.
But I found that deer stand. I found it and I nailed it. I didn’t get lost. I didn’t have to back out and go back to the truck. I was able to take that challenge, that invitation into the unknown. And ever since then, you know could say it’s kind of an addiction too, that concept. You’re looking for that next step to challenge yourself and see can you answer it, and then who do you become in that process?
So for me, little events like that. Growing up as an athlete, I was a football, basketball, baseball player. Pre-baked challenge, the team aspect. But the other side of it, something that’s also been equally exhilarating, I was introduced to the concept of leadership, which I think is a natural foray when you start to think about adventure and purpose. So that’s where that childhood, growing up, being outside, accepting those challenges, started to dovetail into what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be as a professional. And ever since then we’ve been off to the races.
Wow, that’s amazing. So I think from what I understand, you got a BA in science at Purdue, and that took you on a career that, at least at first, it doesn’t seem like the outdoor adventurey career. I mean obviously you’ve got to pay the bills, I realize. And it’s fun to be in the wilderness, but you’ve got to be able to support a family and a roof over your head and all that. So just talk about that scientific bent and some of the medical stuff you’ve got into at least after college. So where did that all fit into the story of Joel?
I can almost think back to a singular point. It has to do with my dad and my uncles, all of which, I come from a long line of engineers. And I remember them asking me at one Thanksgiving that we were all gathered, not even a young man, I was a child at the time, “Hey Joel, what’s your favorite subject?” And I go, “I like history.” And they go, “You mean math.” So ever since then, that has been kind of pre-baked into the pie, right? And also I think the natural curiosity that comes with adventure lends me really well where I continue to question and ask. And that opened my eyes to what possibilities were in science, and in particular engineering being a very practical hands-on application of the science. So it drew me in.
I remember sitting in the throes of being a young adult in middle school, early high school, what do you want to do? And not wanting to just say I want to be a doctor or a lawyer, or whatever was par for the course. I found out that Purdue, which a school that I had loved and had followed and my family had all went there, so I was very familiar with it, I found out they had a new program. It’s called biomedical engineering.
And that adventure side of me was always coupled with the idea that I wanted to help people. And I thought, wow, I can go be an engineer, and I can create things that help people, or I can apply that technical aptitude to new devices or new ideas. And it just infinitely fascinated me. So I remember in my sophomore year, I started telling the career counselor, they said, “Joel, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to be a biomedical engineer.” And I don’t even think it was an accredited opportunity for a career path at the time. So it’s like you’re making up words to folks. And they’re, “Okay. Great.”
But I was blown away by the burgeoning field on that front and the idea that we could be at the interface, treat the human body and the miracle that is biology as something that we can start to understand and add our insights, our ideas, those God-given inspirations that we just run across randomly, or that we innovate our way towards incrementally and make somebody’s life better. I said sign me up. So that’s what got me into the science space.
I want to pivot here, but from what I understand you were doing well. I mean, you were VP of orthopedic programs at a company called DARI Motion Scientific Analytics. I’ve got it quasi right. And at a relatively young age. I mean you were doing tremendous. It seemed like a career for you in the biomedical area, sky’s the limit. I mean things were great.
But then it sounds like a life event happened with your mother in 2016 that, if I’m understanding correctly, it changed the direction of your life in many ways. So just talk about, you’re on this seemingly fast track at a young age in the biomedical area of engineering, and life is going well. I’m sure you were doing well at it, enjoyed it. But then just talk about what happened to your mom, and then how that seemed like it changed the direction of your life. Maybe not initially, but it did a while after.
It absolutely did. For us at that point, my mother being one of those just anchor individuals in my life, that person that you go to when you’re in the middle of the woods, when the storm’s around you, and can offer that resetting, that idea that, hey, we’re grounded in our faith. There’s a way through this no matter what you’re facing. She was that person for me, for my brothers, for our family.
And right around that time, in late 2015, shortly after my nearest brother, Nathan, was married in October of 2015, that kind of ballpark, Mom started to battle severe anxiety. And for us, we had no experience with mental health issues, behavioral health challenges. Knew nothing about it from an advocacy, or what the family should expect standpoint. And we started to be thrown headlong into what all of that entails.
And for the folks that have gone through that, I can just hear your heads shaking right now, because if you haven’t been exposed to it, if you don’t know what that looks like, how to help and advocate for a loved one, it’s a challenging space from the standpoint of there’s not a lot of involvement of the family. The way that mental health was treated at the time, and still continues to be stigmatized in a number of ways. The ability for you, as somebody suffering from mental illness, in this case, severe anxiety, eventually some form of major depression, akathisia, pacing, all these things started to compound. As the family, you’re not often augmented with any of the resources to understand what’s at risk, how do you help this person? Who do you talk to? What kind of support navigation exists? At the time there wasn’t any.
And I’m states away. I’m in Kansas City area, I was living in Topeka at the time, working in a medical device capacity for a large corporate entity. Life was going incredibly well. Career was fantastic. My wife’s career was fantastic. She’s a chemical engineer. But we’re living out there, and then all of a sudden I’m states away from this person in my life that means just everything to me. I don’t know what to do or how to help. The family, we’re confused. You’re kind of left out of the loop in a lot of the care pathways there. And it goes from something’s just not right to major events where ends up inpatient behavioral health that she has to seek.
The constant feedback that she would give us through this entire experience was, I don’t know what’s wrong, but when I go through this treatment, it makes me feel crazy. I feel like a crazy person by the way I’m treated, the way that we’re all lumped together, the way that this kind of overlaps, and then just throwing medication at the problem. We weren’t finding anything that worked.
And what we didn’t know at the time as a family was that there are certain thresholds, and this is as a PSA to anybody that would be going through this, certain thresholds during treatment, medication changes, dosage increases, decreases, ramping on, ramping off. Where somebody like my mother who we used to joke that, she literally used to joke about this, “Hey, if you ever find me dead, it wasn’t suicide.” She had this zeal for life. She was a philanthropist, she was a minister. She had a Christian radio ministry. She’s fed tens of thousands of people. Was one of those folks that, kid you not, we talk about it, you wake up and just looking for somebody to love on.
She was like a ricochet against every human being that she interacted with. We could be at Red Lobster, and next thing you know the waitress is coming over, we’re having them over for dinner and we’re talking about life stories, and she’s sharing the love of Jesus with this person. They’re sitting with us by the time it’s all said and done. At Red Lobster eating cheddar biscuits. That was the kind of person she was. She was magnetic.
And to see that completely robbed from her personality by mental illness, and then to see that the stigma of it kept her from feeling like she wanted to pursue the type of care that was available, and it didn’t feel like it was well-matched. We’re going through this entire process. And we are thinking, okay, seems like it’s getting better. Seems like it’s getting better. She seems positive. And then just like that, one day I get a call, and we lost Mom to suicide out of the blue, out of nowhere. Didn’t even think it was a remote possibility. I had no idea that during those critical thresholds, those times during treatment, that the propensity for suicide ideation to ramp or decline that we needed to be on the lookout for that sort of thing. Wasn’t even on the radar.
So I’m floored. And imagine what you go through in that environment. You start to question, Lord, this is the person that instilled faith in me, and I’m robbed of them in the most gut-wrenching, impossible way. Unfathomable grief, unfathomable questioning of why. There’s no good answer for this. How on earth could this happen to this person? Why on earth would that be her fate? Why on earth would this just happen out of the blue? So I’m reeling. And when all of that happened, everything that I thought I was built on, all the trappings of life, when all of that collapses and all that you have left is that foundation, I found myself firmly planting at two feet falling through the floor until I landed on it, and I got to test how sure of a foundation it actually was.
Wow, that is a huge amount. I mean, I’ve got to believe there was all these thoughts that you’ve described going through your head. Not only were you probably wondering are other people thinking how could a good God let that happen? We’re human. We all have doubts. You’re probably thinking yourself, if you’re going to take anybody, Lord, how can you take my mother? I mean, she is your servant. She’s on the front lines for you. Surely you could have done a miracle, done something. You can’t lose somebody like this. This is as good as you’ve got here. At least that’s what you’ve been thinking.
How could she have done that? Were there signs with medical care? Were there things that could have been done better? Could we have been smarter, better? Could the doctors have been? All these series of doubts from faith to medical to spiritual to emotional. What does it mean for my life? I mean, you probably had a tsunami of emotions, anger, doubts. Gosh, if I hadn’t been the few states away, would it have made a difference? And I mean torturous questions of which there’s no good answer. I mean what were some of those emotions? And I think you’ve hinted at it, how did you deal with that sea or tsunami of emotions and doubts and anger in so many different directions?
Yeah. You hit the nail on the head, Warwick. This idea of what did I miss? Could I have done something? What was the last thing I said to her? Did I contribute to this? Did I not say enough? Where on earth did we miss? Where did healthcare miss? What were the signs? How could I have been so blind? Right? You start to go through this grief, this idea that what could I have done? What could our family have done? And oh no, by being so far away, by being aloof to the idea, did I not take it seriously enough?
On top of this kind of focusing effect that everything else felt like noise. My entire career came to a screeching halt. Paused everything I was doing. My wife and I packed up and we drove home. Worst 10 hour drive you could possibly imagine. Just silence, tears, rationalization, bargaining, the full stages of grief, it felt like I went around that mountain 40 times. It’s unfathomable to think. In a way like that it’s almost unconscionable. You think, oh yeah, if you lose somebody, it’s always a tragedy. But this just seemed to be some sort of insult to injury on top of that because never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that that was the tragedy that awaited our family and my mother for all the reasons that you just went through, that same thought.
And you end up at this inflection point where you say, what do I actually stand for with all of this? Where is faith in all of this, and what does it mean? Right at that deepest, weakest point, His strength is made perfect in our weakness. And I’m sitting there, and you’re feeling that. You’re feeling that that temptation to say, how on earth could any of that be worthwhile or true?
And I had this moment of clarity, that burn the ships moment, that the irony being the very faith and the level, and it wasn’t just faith, it was a living faith that she instilled in us, a call to action on a daily basis and accountability of how one ought to be. That very thing she instilled in us was the only foundation sure enough to withstand what we were going through. That realization, it blew my mind. And it was just, one, an immediate answer to prayer, immediately clarifying moment to say, wow, what really matters here? And what are we doing, and where are we going? What does it mean?
For me, it was clarifying to say, I have family that needs me. There could be so much more than just this fast track corporate world conversation that I was on where that seemed like the biggest deal going on. Yeah, we’re moving on up. Things are great. Success, success, success. But it was the world’s standard. And it was this reminder that, though we were robbed of her, it wasn’t the quantity of years that she gave us, it was the quality. It was the idea that we all leave a wake in life. And that wake is like a ship moving through the water, hers was like the Titanic. It was a tsunami.
And it’s this idea, when you really see what that foundation is made of, it really is a put up or shut up scenario. And for me, I saw that it was sufficient, that it was the surest thing that my life could be built on. Literally in the strangest way, it was kind of the culmination of everything that she had taught me in that moment. And that this was the binary pass, fail. That if you actually believe, if you actually believed it, then what waited on the other side was the fact that there was something that transcends your circumstances.
And if I was built on anything else, I would’ve fallen right through that foundation, and I would’ve been running away from it a million miles per hour because I would’ve found out very, very quickly that it wasn’t up to the task. When you find out and you cling and you go deeper, and you realize that this is what it was about the whole time. It’s not just this moralistic deism, this therapeutic deism where God just wants us to feel good and everybody be happy. It’s the fact that you have something that truly does transcend the tragedy that is often life. And out of those ashes becomes an opportunity you didn’t even imagine.
And for me when that happened, I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the truest inflection point. My life took a dramatic turn from that day onward. And to see that, the jet fuel that added to just the opportunity surface area for what was going to come next, it’s just unfathomable. And that can only be a God thing. There’s just no other explanation for it. And I will never be convinced that if I had any other foundation in my life that it would’ve supported me when I fell at 1,000 miles per hour and had to land on it. Was it still going to be there when you stand back up?
So let’s talk about that inflection point because your life shifted, and let’s talk about some of the things that you did. And one of the things that occurs to me, I’m sure it occurred to you, is living your life founded on faith, following the true calling that God has for you. And it’s not just about corporate career and nothing wrong with corporate career, but if it’s all about money and climbing up the ladder, and my identity as being in a VP of this or senior VP or CEO, and living a life where, from your perspective and mine founded on faith, where you are taking some real adventures, which you did, to me, in a sense that’s living your mother’s ultimate legacy of living a life of faith and being who you believe He created you to be.
And to me, living a beloved one’s legacy is there’s a deep sense of satisfaction in doing that. She’s smiling up above and down on you, and I’m guessing pretty happy. So talk a bit about what that inflection point was for you. What this sort of massive crucible, changed the course of your life, how did that change it and what direction happened then?
Right at that inflection point, I had this kind of a awakening around the comfort that I was kind of just riding along. This idea that I was drawn to adventure, I had this purpose, I grew up that way, and you started to settle into the groove. That’s just easy, right? It’s easy. And not easy from the standpoint that it doesn’t require work, but it’s easy to wake up and say, you know what, it’s what the day holds. You got to put the food on the table. But you don’t start to ask that question. You say, is there more? Is there a purpose beyond this?
And for me, literally from that point where I was able to give the eulogy for my mother, our family, we decided right then and there, we were going to talk about mental health, the stigma around it. We weren’t going to beat around the bush, or say, “Oh, we lost Mom.” No, we were going to say, “No. We lost her to suicide. And here was our experience.” And first and foremost, that honor to be able to carry on someone’s legacy, to tell the story that could hopefully potentially save another family from the tragedy we experienced, but also honor her and who she was.
Right off the bat, I had an opportunity to speak. And that day giving the eulogy, I found a passion from the storytelling side of what I do. I’ve always been an odd engineer. I’m kind of a contradiction on that front. Where I’m one of those engineers, it’s hard to get me to shut up. It’s not as if you pull it out me to get me to talk. So then turning that into an opportunity to share this story, I started looking at my life.
And my wife and I, we felt really drawn to find our way back home to Indiana. I had a younger brother who was in high school at the time, sophomore going to be a junior. Lots of high school to go when we lost Mom. And I thought, how on earth can I get back home to be with him, support him? How on earth can I leverage this experience to rethink where I’m going from a trajectory standpoint?
And one of the things that sat in the back of my mind before, one of the last conversations that I had with Mom before we lost her, in fact, she was always my number one advocate to go on these adventures. I’d still had a love for mountaineering, for trekking, for camping, all the outdoor things. And she’d always said, “No, you got to do the big one. Go out, get on this expedition, go do these wild things. There’s this incredible opportunity for you out there.”
And she always had this sense, this kind of prophetic sense about just when she interacted with people, she could get to the heart of what they were called to do. It was just an uncanny ability. And for me, she was the one that said, “Just go. Go do it.” So shortly after that, I decided to throw in on this crazy first ascent expedition out on a mountaineering excursion in Western Mongolia, to be the first team to summit this mountain that had been attempted multiple times. One of the most remote areas on the planet.
Paused what I was doing career-wise. I said, “I got to go do this.” Part of me was doing it in honor and remembrance of her. Part of me was searching for who that person is deep inside and who I was called to be. Kind of this crucible almost experience, this extrapolation of that crucible moment to say, am I up for the task of what this next phase that the Lord is calling me to go through? And it’s kind of this wilderness experience for me to go out and be tested. Kind of another rite initiation towards this next phase of life is how it ended up shaping out.
So I not only did that, this wild experience out in Western Mongolia, we had summited this mountain that no one had ever climbed. This incredible daring mountain rescue at 10,200 feet. A story in and of itself with just an incredible team wrapped around me. But we were able to be the first people to summit this mountain. Came back, revitalized, renewed. We got to name the mountain. Is just an incredible experience. Made lifelong friends. I was the only American on this team out of the UK and New Zealanders. Just an incredibly inspiring experience, and came back with this new vigor of what could be.
And I quit my corporate gig. I threw in with a startup company. Invested my entire life savings in it, literally burned the ships on that front, and started pursuing this new path that I had no idea I would ever be on. And that had opened doors into the venture space, into travel, making incredible connections that it ultimately led my adventure stories to continue to compound. And that inspiration to not only continue to have experiences and adventures, but to tell those stories, to inspire others, to share Mom’s story. And that ultimately led me to an opportunity to be on this incredible first of its kind unscripted, adventure reality competition that’s airing on Netflix called Outlast.
I know Warwick has another question for you, but before he does, I’ve got to make this remark. I’ve got a note this. You’re the only guest we’ve had on the show where this is true. You’ve just told a beautiful story, Joel, of how you burned your ships. But the matches that burned your ships were given to you by your mother. Your mother gave you those matches that you used to light those ships that were no longer sufficient for the life you wanted to live, the life she wanted you to live. She gave you those matches. She inspired you to do exactly what you did. And that is a beautiful thing. So Warwick, sorry, I’ll let you ask a follow up question.
No, no, no. Just that is so profound what you just said, Gary. So Joel, does that make sense? That beautiful image of your mother giving you the match in a sense, burn the ships, but really she sort of gave you the clues of the next direction in life, right? She gave you the vision in a sense.
I could not agree with you more, Gary. That was incredibly beautiful, well stated. And it’s funny, you start to look back, and this conversation, this concept of elevated sense making, self-reflection. What did all of that mean? And in retrospect, what you just articulate is exactly what happened. None of that, this cascade of things that I’ve been on, these experiences I’ve had, these life altering connections, experiences in business, in my family. And we did eventually making it back home to Indiana, I had twins in 2018. That’s another one. You talk about a whole different kind of ship you’re sailing on, right? My third child showed up in 2020.
To be a father, to be home, to have these adventures, these opportunities, unfathomable doors opening. And to know that that tinder, that matchbox, that spark, looking back from the moment you thought would’ve been the darkest in your life, that hiding in all of that was a spark for a flame that was far and above going to burn beyond any anybody’s wildest imagination. That was incredibly profound.
And again, you start to look back on it and think, wow, our God truly does, He makes all things work together for our good. When you’re aligned with what that plan and blessing and conversation, what He has in store. Not trying to bogart that conversation, to grab the wheel and do what we think is best. And when you’re willing to let go, when you’re willing to take that and run with it, and say, listen, not my will. You’ve got something better in store for me. How incredible it is that it’s beyond anything we could ever dream of for ourselves. It was incredibly beautiful.
Just a couple of things that you said I think it’s important for listeners to reflect on. I mean a couple things. One is often, out of the darkest times, and we say this a lot, out of the ashes of your crucible, something beautiful can come. I mean, what could be more horrific than having a mother take her own life who was so vibrant. The last person who you would think would ever do it. Who would joke about saying, “This will never happen to me.” It happens. Be it out of those ashes, out of the deep darkness, if you will, a challenging time, came something beautiful, A gift of a purpose, which we’ll talk about in which you help others. Being with family back in Indiana, helping your younger brother in high school. So that’s sort of one thread that occurs.
And the other is, and we talk about this a lot on vision, look, as a Harvard MBA, you know my tendency is to want the five, 10 year plan as an engineer, right? Gantt charts and metrics, you want all that mapped out. Well, life and God, or creator, whoever you believe in, it doesn’t work. There is a reason they call it faith because you typically get the next step, not the next 50, right? I’m not a mountain climber. When you climb a mountain, you’re not thinking, let me think of step 85. No, let’s just climb the next couple because if we don’t climb the next couple, the rest doesn’t matter. Let’s focus on the next few steps.
And so somebody could have said, “Okay, so Joel, your plan is to go to Mongolia, wherever that is,” and it’s north of China, I believe, for listeners. But not everybody would know that. “So you’re going to goodness knows where to climb some mountain that nobody’s ever done. That’s your plan? You’re quitting your job to do that? That makes no sense, Joel. Okay, be serious. Be responsible to your family. This is an idiotic plan.” There might have been some that said that. But yet, you felt called to do that.
And that next step led to an amazing series of other steps you had no clue would’ve happened. So part of the lesson is whether you believe it’s God or your inner voice or whatever, when you feel that still small voice that says, you know what, Joel, you need to do this, you do it. Do you know what I mean? There was a step of faith you took. You had no way of knowing where that was going to lead. And it might have sound nonsensical to many people. Probably did, if that makes sense.
Well, it’s this idea that how often and how beautiful is it when we realize that, hey, the promises that we can lay hold of, and what we are really asking is, listen, today’s got enough of its own worries, right? Jesus said so himself. Why are we worrying about step 85? Why I’m on Z, when I need to be thinking about what do I need and what do you want of me today? And when we live that way, you have this kind of being present, but also being open. Creating that opportunity surface area for these kind of things to work in your life because you’re willing to say yes to it. You’re willing to tune yourself to that frequency, to that message, to what is in store or beyond what your plans were today.
And if you start to think about it in a multi-day tranche, just like mountaineering, it’s about going that place where you can just put one foot in front of the other. That’s how you get to the top. And you learn to suffer well, right? And do it one step at a time. Same thing when we think about our lives. I wake up and my prayer is, God, you have whatever I need for today. It’s sufficient for what I need today. What do you want? Where do you want us to go? What do you want me to do? Can you give me the words? Because I don’t have them. I’m woefully insufficient. I’ll talk too much. I’ll say the wrong thing. I’ll be in the wrong place. Just help me make the most of what you have in store for today.
And if we do that every day, your life becomes this cascade of significance because you’re choosing that on a daily basis. You’re enculturating that idea. And it was the same thing with a trip. Just like you would lay siege to a mountain, that’s how you have to think about life. The clear and present danger, the challenges of the day ahead, that’s enough. But we have somebody that’s sufficient. We have a faith that’s sufficient that transcends those circumstances. Well, I don’t need to dwell on what’s around the corner. Of course you want to plan, of course we want to think about things, but we don’t want it to define us in a way that keeps us from moving into what He has in store or keeps us from saying yes.
There’s something interesting that you said in the bio for you in Outlast. And that was this. It’s the last line of your what makes you think you can survive in Alaska? You said this, and it goes right along with what you were just saying, “I know I can face whatever awaits me in Alaska with a heart of gratitude, no matter the circumstance.” Your life is a good example for listeners should hear this. That sentence works if you take out in Alaska and place anything else in there. I know I can face whatever awaits me in a job that’s fallen apart with a heart of gratitude no matter the circumstances, in a marriage that’s troubled with a heart of gratitude no matter the circumstances, that’s the perspective that you’re presenting here, is that you can face whatever you’re going to have to face with a heart of gratitude and from your perspective, in your case, from all of our perspectives, with God guiding the way. So that was a nice way to get a little bit of God into your bio on the show for Netflix.
They let a little bit sneak in there, don’t they? No. It really is. And for me, it’s that what are you built on? And if you have that foundation, your perspective allows you to think gratitude first, and then you can face whatever it’s going to throw at you with that gratitude, like you said. And it’s so refreshing because I realize that it’s not fallen on my shoulders. If I’m choosing this, if I’m choosing to face it with that heart, that mind, that gratitude, what’s the worst that could happen here? There’s a hope that’s beyond even this life.
So all of this aligns itself, grants its own perspective, and then all of a sudden it’s really, it’s so much easier to think and come from a place of gratitude, no matter what you’re facing, no matter how hard it gets. Because I always know, and I’ll say it till I’m blue in the face that no matter what is happening with me, it’s always way better than I deserve. And I think if you can start to orient that way, wow, it’s so much easier for life to achieve that right perspective and you don’t get hung up on the injustice and tragedy of life.
So well said. So I want to just talk a little bit about the Adventure Genome Project and Outlast. And so climbing that mountain in Mongolia, that set in train a series of events, that the course of your ship, if you will, your new ship, was going in a different direction. So talk about your passion for both those things, in particular, Adventure Genome Project, but also Outlast. Just talk a bit about, it’s adventure, but there’s a purpose behind the adventure. What’s sort of the vision behind that, would you say?
No, I love it. It’s amazing how the confluence of all the things that you’re passionate about, how they have a way of just finding that middle of the Venn diagram, this improbable cross-section. For me, it was this idea, from a biomedical engineering perspective, I knew a lot about human movement, health, wellbeing, the idea of what the future of health and healthcare has to look like. And that’s what I do on a day-to-day basis. I work in healthcare, health and wellbeing, and delivering that in my community.
And then I had this idea, this kind of light bulb moment, of adventure readiness. Where adventure is a means for wellbeing. This idea that if health was a sufficient motivator, like, hey, Warwick, you should be healthy because health is good, and then we’d all be a lot healthier than we are. It’s not a sufficient motivator. We know we should move more. We know we should eat better. We know we should be ready and willing to do those sorts of things, but we don’t do it because health is a means, not an end.
So we’ve crafted this idea in Adventure Genome, this adventure readiness concept, that adventure, experience, the things that make life fulfilling and worth living, health, know-how, expertise that unlocks your ability to tap into those things, as opposed to just being the reason you should be healthy for the sake of being healthy. You now have a purpose. Hey, I want to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim, so I’m going to get healthy. I’m going to eat right. I’m going to get control of the discipline areas in my life that I need from a physical and mental standpoint so that I don’t waste my time and money and effort out on the trip only to stop a quarter of the way in. Say, “Hey, pick me up on the way back. I’m tapping out.”
So that this idea of adventure readiness started to resonate. That we can not only think about adventure as something that just folks are doing on Netflix’s series, hanging from some foreboding peak in the Karakorum. “Well, I’ll never do that. I’ll just have to live vicariously through this experience.” You can start to look at it, and say, well, what’s adventure mean for me? And how can I scale this idea of adventure, and get that foundational building block of know-how, gear, equipment, logistics, community.
And that’s what created this idea of Adventure Genome. And what we’re doing is starting to amass those resources, tell that story, connect people to those things to create kind of this marketplace of experiences. So I’m really excited as that’s kind of in its infancy and coming to life. It’s starting to pull on the heartstrings of so many folks that are drawn to adventure. They know it, they haven’t been able to articulate it, and they also have never thought of themselves as being worthy or capable of it. And we’re challenging that notion.
So for anybody listening, you can do so much more than you think you can. And I come from this place of people as purpose. We are impossibly precious. We are the rarest, most infinitely precious thing. To know somebody, to be alive, to be imbued with life, to be a human being. You are infinitely precious, infinitely worthwhile. How much more so are those adventures and the things that are awaiting you in this life? So that’s the whole goal is how can I empower that passion, that inspiration in others to scale adventure to whatever that means for them. But know that it’s not just for me and the folks on Netflix or the folks on TV, it’s not these crazy expeditions. It could eventually be there. You might eventually want to go do that.
How can I help you create those building blocks so that you unlock that type of adventure? And that’s the mission, the ethos of that adventure readiness concept. And to challenge it at this interface of health and wellbeing, of faith and philosophy, and what it means to live a life of significance, of purpose and know how. And then getting out and being people of action and doing it. So again, if all of that can coalesce around that inflection point that a center of all these passions, again, that’s only a God thing. To be able to take these disparate experiences and connect those dots.
Well, just as the last theme, because listeners are going to be curious, and the Outlast series on Netflix will come out the week that this podcast comes out. How did that happen? And to the degree you can talk about it, again, we don’t need to know who wins, you’ll have to watch the series, but just talk about how that happened and what that experience was like.
So I was so drawn to the concept of Outlast. I want to continue to put myself to the test. Southeast Alaska is one of the most trying environments you could ever imagine. It’s a temperate rainforest at incredible northern latitudes. What that means is 33 degrees during the day, you’re getting rained on the entire time. At night, it freezes. Rinse, repeat. In an environment where you have to source all of your own food, all of your own firewood. Try to create firewood when everything is wet, everything is cold, everything is difficult. I was drawn to the challenge of that.
But conceptually, philosophically, this idea of who do you become in an environment like this where we’re dropped into Southeast Alaska, lone wolf type, alpha adventure survival people that would probably prefer, and in many cases it is easier, to just do that sort of thing by yourself. You only have to feed one person. You have to worry about one person. But the leadership side of me said, wow, part of this is we have to work together on teams as a part of the concept for the show. And what a challenge to put yourself in one of the most trying environments on the planet, to get a chance to learn from some incredible people, and to put your skills to the test in that environment. Sign me up. So I was drawn to the fact and just blessed by the fact that my background qualified me to take that next step into a setting like that.
But then number two, the challenge of in that setting with those incentives, with this incredibly ambitious concept, the philosophical underpinnings. And really you’ll see this as the show comes out, 50% of the challenge is the elements and the danger and the difficulty, the other 50% is human nature. It’s what’s happening up here, and it’s what’s happening in the minds of all those people that you’re with, with just really unique incentives.
So what an incredible experience. One, a brilliant concept brought to life by some brilliant people. So I was drawn to that endeavor just in general. But more importantly, the meta narrative of all of this is would I still be Joel in the most trying of settings? And again, it’s kind of that you start to seek out these kind of pulse check crucible moments of when I’m broken down again to whatever foundation my life is now, is it still what I think it is? Am I still sufficiently grounded in my faith to be me through the most trying of circumstances? And what does that mean in a setting like this? So to have a chance to see that pan out, that’s what I think is going to make this some of the most compelling television. So yeah, could not highly encourage it more. And especially if you have a Netflix subscription, you are in for a treat come March 10th when this drops. Because it is going to be just wild, ambitious, just unlike anything I think a lot of people have seen.
And that sound that you heard listener was, I’m going to say, the pilot of our sea plane since we’re talking about being put out in some remote area, it’s not an airliner, it’s a sea plane. The pilot has indicated it’s time to fasten your seat belts. And we’re going to begin our descent to end this episode, but we’re not there yet. And we’re not there yet because I want to say one thing to you, Joel, and I want to ask you something about the show.
First of all, I want to say to you, we’ve done, this the 153rd episode of this show. And you, my friend, are the first guest ever to use the word bogart in a sentence that didn’t refer to Humphrey when you said they didn’t want to bogart all the time. I just thought that was fabulous. So bravo, you’ve broken new ground.
Secondly, at the very beginning of our conversation here today, in talking with Warwick, you mentioned this idea of growing up with Midwestern values, ideas of who we ought to be. I grew up in the Midwest as well, still live here in Wisconsin. We’ve all seen reality television. Because I’ve worked in Hollywood, I’ve worked for some of these shows that are reality shows that are survival type shows. And I know how the contestants can kind of interact with each other. I’m fascinated to hear from you how out of place can it be to have Midwestern values in what is usually viewed, often presented as a cutthroat competition show?
Oh, well, brilliant, brilliant question because for me that was the struggle, the internal struggle for me the entire time. It’s again, who ought one be and how ought one behave. And those questions, I’m big on the philosophy side of it because I think it’s such an enforcement to what I believe in from a faith standpoint. That strong philosophy and theology come hand in hand, and consistency on that front is key. Now imagine you’re thrust into this incredible setting where all of that is on the chopping block in terms of the incentive, in terms of where the game could go, in terms of how the competition is going to pan out.
For me, and I think that’s going to be one of the most compelling aspects of this, the human nature component of this series is unimaginably interesting. Being in that setting, knowing how it works out. And I’m so excited for folks to see that interplay. To get to experience that where it’s such a nuanced take on the concept. Bunch of people enter a game, we get down to some winner. The concept’s everywhere. It’s tried and true as it gets. But this nuanced take of really leaning into what does that really mean about who we are as people? That for me is what drew me to the game, and a chance to say, do I come out of this still being Joel? And am I proud of that? What does that mean for who I am? And what will that tell to other people? Will that be inspiring? Will it be something that I wish I could change? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Yeah, I almost missed my opportunity. I was so excited to bring up the bogart thing that I forgot to ask you this question. People know pretty much the web address to find the show, netflix.com. How can they find out more about you, Joel, and about all the projects that you’re doing in your new ship that you are now in?
Yes. Now anything and everything, to see what’s next for Joel Hungate and his adventures, joelhungate.com. J-O-E-L H-U-N-G-A-T-E .com. All of my social media, you can connect to everything that I’m doing outside on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, any of that. But joelhungate.com, that is your source of truth for what is next.
Warwick, take us to the finish line of our reality show here.
Well, Joel, thank you so much. I mean, it’s just really inspiring, your story, and just how the terrible circumstances with your mother has just fueled this passion for adventure and wellness, and just helping so many people. There might be, I guess, a couple different questions. I know one of the things you talk about is generalists, and I’d love to hear a bit about kind of what’s next for you in that whole generalist theme, which I think is fascinating. I’d love to hear a bit about that. But also there may be some people today that maybe today is their worst day, and they’re going through some real challenges. What would a word of hope you would have for folks that maybe today isn’t a good day? So two very different questions, I guess, but I wanted to get the generalist one in there too, as well as a word of hope.
Well, on the word of hope front, you may need to hear it today, but you are known, you are loved, you are worth it. You have purpose. You have a plan beyond your wildest imagination because you are the only you that will ever exist. And you have a life that only you will live. In the history of all humanity, all of the known universe, you are unique and you’re precious. You’re worth it. And you are called to so much. And it’s so much more than whatever that circumstance happened to be today. Your life transcends it, your value transcends it. And I just hope if somebody needed to hear that today, I hope they know that, regardless of what life has thrown at you, regardless of that circumstance, you are worth it. You’re known, you’re loved, you’re important. So don’t believe for a second that that doesn’t apply to you just because things aren’t going the right way, things are challenging, times are tough. There’s so much more, and you are absolutely 100% known and loved.
And again, for the conversation on the generalist, I’m a big believer. I come from engineering. I’m an innovation background, especially in the startup space. Innovation happens when we connect dots that people haven’t connected before. And I think the generalist is a dying breed. We live with our blinders on. We think I’m going to know the most about this one thing and I’m going to be hyper specialized in it. Victim of it myself. I was doing that in the corporate world for a while where I was really, really good in the orthopedic space. That’s what I did. That’s what I knew.
But this idea that we have more information at our fingertips than ever, it’s easier to access, it’s easier to digest, it’s easier to know and connect these disparate dots. It’s easier to bring new perspectives into whatever it’s that we’re doing. I would challenge everybody, especially if you’re a young person thinking, how am I going to differentiate myself in this world career-wise, whatever it happens to be, start to fill in the gap of the things that…
When I became a biomedical engineer at Purdue, I looked around and I said, wow, a lot of really smart engineers in this class. I came from a little school in Indiana, and I thought, wow, I’d better find something interesting to differentiate. So I got into soft skills, business, being able to present myself, sales skills. And that confluence of technical background with all of that made me really dangerous. And it’s this generalist approach that I think is going to start to help us find creative solutions to the things that are plaguing us in society.
Adventure Genome’s a great example. How can I take adventure, biomedical engineering, startup innovation mentality, and this idea, this philosophy of committing to readiness, being ready to say yes to whatever life is going to throw at you, or the good Lord has planned for you and bringing it together? So that’s where the power happens, that’s where it manifests, is when we talk about generalist connecting dots that no one connected before. So if you’re wondering what you should be and where you should go, be a generalist. I think you’ll be really surprised how you can pull from these disparate buckets and create opportunity for yourself and for other people and give back. Because if you’re doing something that betters the lives of others, and all the while it’s fulfilling for you, you found that sweet spot.
I have been in the communications business long enough, listeners, to know when the last word on a subject’s been spoken, and that exhortation from our guest, Joel Hungate, I think is a really good place to end our conversation. Because it doesn’t end our conversation. It plants a question in your mind, a question before you that you can then explore once we hit stop record.
Before we do that though, please remember that we understand your crucible experiences are very, very difficult. They can be very painful. But we also know that sometimes your boat can feel like it’s drifting off course a little bit. Sometimes you can be heading in a direction that you didn’t think you wanted to head, that you don’t want head, and you want to reset. When that happens, Joel’s story’s a great example. Get yourself a book of matches, strike one, burn your ships. We’ll see you next week.
If you enjoyed this episode, learned something from it, we invite you to engage more deeply with those of us at Beyond The Crucible. Visit our website beyondthecrucible.com to explore a plethora of offerings to help you transform what’s been broken into breakthrough. A great place to start, our free online assessment, which will help you pinpoint where you are on your journey beyond your crucible, and to chart a course forward. See you next week.