Elizabeth Keeler | Confessions of a Cliff-Jumper

Elizabeth Keeler grew up on a farm in Raymond, Alberta, the second of eight children.  She holds a Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance from the University of Calgary, and a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of British Columbia.  She spent the last couple of years working as a business communications writer and teacher in Vancouver, BC.  She is currently pursuing her MBA at the Marriott School of Business at BYU.


I don’t like extreme sports and I secretly despise people who fling themselves off cliffs in the name of leisure.  I take paranoid care of my body—I have only one chicken pox scar after 30 years in a gravitational field.  But, sometimes, when I ponder my life, I think I might be living my own version of insanity—call it “vocational cliff-jumping.”  My secret resume includes things as disparate as “pianist”, “lab chemist”, “dancer”, and “businesswoman.”  (I could throw in some other good ones, like “shoveller of dung” and “door-to-door makeup seller” but, to be fair, those weren’t career moves.)  I am constantly jumping headlong into the deep end of some new professional endeavour.  Let me further damage my credibility: I have moved 20 times to 13 cities in 4 countries in 3 continents attending 6 universities in 10 years.  Peripatetic, you might say.  “Geographic fix-it-itis” my friend’s mom diagnosed.  “You think moving from one thing to another will fix everything.”  I imagine the people speaking at my funeral saying things like: “She was confused.”  Or, “a nice girl, but her internal compass was way off.”

Source:  istockphoto

There is often internal questioning as I embark on yet another life change.  What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I stay put?  Confusion and self-doubt have been a part of every transition.  Last year, as I was contemplating forging ahead with my MBA, the questions started again: When and where will I find my bliss?  This time I got an answer, and it shocked me.   You are living it, the voice came from deep, deep, you know, very deep inside me.  Pause.  Lighted bulb.  With sudden clarity I knew I was living my dream in total perfection: I am a self-decreed explorer.  I envisioned myself wearing a captain’s hat as I steered my lone ship across the tumultuous waters of the Atlantic, a modern-day  John Cabot, Jacques Cartier, or maybe even Columbus.

That sounds cocky.  It is a little.  In my defense, I think my compulsive need to explore is not ego-driven, and I’m pretty sure it’s not because I’m a flake, or because I should see my shrink to work out my commitment issues.  I simply have a strange, primal need to go over boundaries.  I am obsessed with these invisible borders, because they are signposts for what is unrealized.  Beyond boundaries lies the dark unknown, spaces I haven’t conquered; spaces that might conquer me.  Beyond boundaries are new ideas, new creation, the fascination and shock of the hitherto unexperienced.  Rather than walk on lighted circuits, I feel compelled to go to the dark spots and put my flag down.  Call me Captain Elizabeth.  (Indulge me.)

Source:  istockphoto

While I admit there is fear associated with doing something outrageously new, fear is not my greatest deterrent to risk-taking.  My past life as a musician was like a life-time vaccination against fear.  I have yet to do anything as terrifying as play a Bach fugue for Professor Engle, who was known, on occasion, to mime cutting off my head.  I may experience terror frequently, but it’s more like an old, pesky friend.  No, my greatest deterrent, by far, is guilt.  Guilt has accompanied every life change I’ve made.  It’s as if there are voices telling me that changing makes me fickle, weak, or abnormal.  Perhaps it’s the age-old view that incontinence and irrationality are bound up in my femininity.  Changing my mind is weak, a modern-day instance of fainting in my corset.  The proper thing to do is to be still, stable, responsible.  Don’t change, don’t move, be dependable, be who you’ve always been, be found in the same space as before.

Sometimes guilt is justified, but I have searched my soul about the wrongs of cliff-jumping, and I believe the guilt is ill-founded.  If I had acted in perfect accordance with my inherited social conscience, I would be living in rural Canada celebrating my twelve-year wedding anniversary with my husband, cows, dogs, and kids.  That may be right for some, but it would have been wrong for me, a sure recipe for socially-guilt-free misery.  So what’s the deal with my guilt?  I could expostulate on how women have historically not been risk-takers, positing ill-formed theories of cave women defending their little ones while their husbands were out bush-whacking.  But I don’t really know.  Perhaps there are evolutionary reasons for the guilt of adventure, but one thing is for sure: the flip side of the guilt-coin is stagnation.  To me, that’s the real danger.  I asked Google and it confirmed my suspicions:

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing.

[She] may avoid suffering and sorrow, but [she] simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.”  (Leo Buscaglia)

Source:  istockphoto

So, while I am perplexed by the guilt, ever-present as it is, the Captain in me insists I sail in spite of it.  This week’s expedition was to enroll in the advanced private equity class offered next term.  As a classmate graciously pointed out, it’s laughable how little business I have being there.  However, what I know from being an experienced jumper is that after terror comes exhilaration, and if I’m lucky, ecstasy – the ultimate reward.

To be clear, I am not promoting that people change jobs every year for the rest of their lives (heaven forbid).  I am merely shamelessly advocating headlong, plummeting, frontier-busting, head-shaking, free-falling adventure, however that looks, because it’s worth it.  I don’t know about you, but I intend to keep up my dirty little habit of cliff-jumping for a very long time, even at the risk of a confusing epitaph on my tombstone.


Not infrequently I hear it said women are risk-averse.  In one sense I think that's true.  As I looked for photos of cliff jumping women, they were hard to find.  My experience, however, has been that women are actually willing to take pretty big risks.  Like Elizabeth is willing to do.

What is the most thrilling thing you've ever done?  Wasn't there actually a lot of risk involved?

Couldn't you argue that getting married is a pretty risky thing?  And if you happen to be a stay-at-home mother reliant on your husband's income, isn't that taking a risk?  What about birthing a baby?

For more on exploration, you may want to read Eva Koleva Timothy's Lost in Learning.

Eva Koleva Timothy | Lost in Learning

Born and reared in Bulgaria (and now a proud citizen of the U.S.), Eva Koleva Timothy is the mother of 3 young children whom she homeschools.  She is a Media/Communications graduate with a B.A. from the U. of Utah, and has studied at the Oxford School of Photography.  Eva has received numerous accolades including Best in Show in the 2005 UK CACC slide competition; her work has been shown at the Said Business School at Oxford University, The New England Institute of Art.  Her most recent project, Lost in Learning, about which I've asked her to provide the back story below, is designed to be a national traveling exhibition.  She loves collecting shells at the beach, dancing with the music turned all the way up, and Bulgarian cooking. 


In casting a lens upon the great explorers, artists and scientists of the Age of Exploration, Lost in Learning  is meant to encourage us to embark upon or continue our own voyage of discovery.

All images copyrighted by Eva Koleva Timothy

As I've considered the course navigated by these discoverers, I have crafted the acronym S.A.I.L. which stands for Story, Angle, Immersion & Light.  This acronym not only outlines the process of exploration, but also pays homage to Columbus whose journal inspired this exhibit.  Each of the S.A.I.L. elements has figured prominently in my own life, beginning with the stories my dad told me when I was still a young girl.

His words would whisk me off to lands of far away and long ago.

Some of the stories were fantastic, fairy tales, Arabian nights, Bulgarian folklore and the like. Others were based in European history and about Alexander the Great, Da Vinci, Columbus and other larger-than-life figures.  And though the stories were from long ago, because I grew up there, they didn't seem so far away.

Bulgaria, in particular, has been at the crossroads of every major civilization for over two millenia, and under a foreign yoke for most of that time.  First, Alexander the Great, then the Greeks, followed by the Ottoman Empire and finally the Soviet occupation.

Growing up under Communist rule, I yearned for freedom.  When I told people of my dream to live in the U.S., most people just laughed.  At that time, leaving a country so tightly controlled by the Soviet bloc was ludicrous.  The stories my parents told me about history's great explorers and independent thinkers helped me remain hopeful that some day I would come to America.  .

Communism is so much about directed collective thought and attempts to manage perception.  Under communist rule, the economic climate was dismal, but ‘spun' as an era of glory.  I wanted no part of this world, and potentially could have become embittered.  Fortunately, my artist father continually highlighted the exquisite beauty in day-to-day life:  the wonder of nature (the play of light at sunset, reflections in puddles) and urban architecture (from archways to power cables).  This artist's angle, taught to me by my father, helps see a world filled with potential no matter how difficult or busy life becomes.

One thing I absolutely love about photography is the principle of focus.

When seeking to keep a positive perspective in a society as depressed and sullen as Eastern Europe was, my ability to focus was a very useful skill.  It does, however, make me one of the world’s worst multi-taskers.  Even at the dinner table, I like to stop, talk about, and really savor our meal.

When I was 14, and the Wall had fallen and there really was a chance that I could come and live in America someday. There was just one minor obstacle…I didn’t speak English and I needed to pass the University Language test the TOEFL.

I’ve never wanted to learn anything so much in my life (besides maybe photography).

I took 3×5 cards to the movie theater when watching sub-titled American films and I would write down all the phrases I could pick up from the actors. I started reading Shakespeare during my Russian class and got sent to the headmasters office. I talked with every American I could find and while books had never been a favorite birthday gift, I fell in love with the huge English-Bulgarian dictionary my parents gave me on my 15th birthday.

I did pass the test and thanks to the generosity of Richard and Linda Eyre and the friendship of their daughter Saren, I was given the wonderful opportunity of realizing my dream and coming to study in the U.S.

I love it when things just come together.

Often times it happens when we aren’t expecting it.

I’ve found though, that when I've toggled to seeker/explorer mode, I am much more likely to be struck by light or inspiration.

For example, I remember sitting one day reading a book by Daniel Boorstin, former head of the Library of Congress. The book was titled The Discoverers and detailed the history of discovery.

At one point he writes about Columbus’ preparation for his journey westward and how he wrote copious notes in the margins of one of his geography books.  Adoring history as I do, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see the book with his actual handwriting!”

I had recently taken up photographing a series of old books I had brought with me from the year our family lived in Oxford. Then thinking about Columbus' book had written, I had the idea to photograph manuscripts, instruments, artifacts in a way that would tell the story of these amazing men and women I was reading about.

So I did.

I found a copy of the Imago Mundi with Columbus notes and putting it together with an old compass, the project was born.

Columbus Writing
From there I visited the Harvard Collection of Scientific Instruments to photograph the Renaissance era artifacts. I acquired copies of facsimile manuscripts by Galileo, Newton, Hooke, Handel, Da Vinci and others. I also visited antique shops to find period spectacles, prisms, a miniature spyglass and a beautiful old magnifying glass to add a unique artistic perspective to the photographs. These lenses, which granted new sight, focused light and enabled learning in that era became in many ways a symbol of the project.

They also came to remind me that the discoveries we now celebrate and teach about were made possible not simply because of raw intellectual power, but mostly because of how these men and women opened their eyes to see the world with curiosity, imagination, and a desire to explore.


In Eva's notes about S.A.I.L., she compares the reasons for learning in The Little Prince, which are fame and fortune, to learning because we hunger to know more about a topic.  I wonder if when we are famished, we are on to our dream.

The first element of discovery is Story.  Eva's father is a storyteller, and encouraged her to see herself as the hero of her story.  Are we reading books that encourage us to be the hero of our story — and for children to be the heroes of theirs?

The second element is Angle.   We all tell ourselves stories.  The perspective we have, the kinds of stories we tell, determine whether we pursue our dreams, or not.

The third element is Immersion.  What do we find ourselves focused on?  One of the best ways to figure out what our dream is, is to observe what we think about when we don't have to think about anything.

The fourth and final element is Light.  How does the creative process work for you?  In what areas of your life are you most creative?  Do you find yourself wanting to visit the Lost in Learning exhibit?  Me too.

We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall this week.  How fitting that we are hearing from Eva.  Can we, as Mr. Gorbachev did, tear down the walls that are keeping us from our dreams?

Contact Us

Fill out this form and we will follow up to create a customized plan to help you build a smart growth organization.

Media & Press Inquiries

including requesting Whitney as a guest on your podcast

Media & Press Inquiries arrow_forward

Gain insight into growth, adaptability and agility

Download our free resources outlining the Accelerants of Growth—including books, podcasts and TEDtalks to help you move up your S Curve of Learning.