Phil Keoghan: His Own Amazing Race to Live Life to the Fullest

UPDATED: January 3, 2010
PUBLISHED: January 3, 2010

TAKER. The seven-time Emmy-winning host and producer of The Amazing Race and best-selling author has explored the deepest
underwater caves. He’s set a world bungee-jumping record. He even ate dinner atop a volcano—an erupting volcano.

When he immigrated to New York City from New Zealand in the late ’80s, he had little money, no job and no friends.
right? Keoghan, 42, says it’s the only way to be. “The successful people I know have taken a lot of risks—risk
of failure, financial loss, being judged. Successful people tend to think less about what might go wrong and focus on what
might go right.”

There’s a difference between risk and calculated risk, however—a lesson Keoghan learned
when he was 19. The events of that experience transformed him from a daredevil kid into a driven, compassionate adult who
still savors excitement. Keoghan was just breaking into the film industry when he agreed to assist on an underwater documentary
detailing a shipwreck off the coast of New Zealand. He and his diving partner entered the bowels of the ship to prepare for
filming; the rest of the crew was supposed to meet them shortly. They never showed. Keoghan’s dive partner went to
look for them, and the minutes stretched out. Keoghan began to hyperventilate; he became disoriented, stirring up silt and
clouding his vision. He couldn’t find his way out of the ship, and his partner was nowhere to be found. “

It would
be, without a doubt, the worst moment I’ve ever experienced—just absolute panic and despair,” Keoghan says.
“I didn’t know what to do. I was out of control and didn’t know how to save myself. If I didn’t move,
I was going to die. If I did move and couldn’t find my way out, I was going to die.”

No Opportunity Wasted

divers found Keoghan in time, but the event had a profound effect on his outlook. Resolved to maximize every second and never
take life for granted again, Keoghan wrote out a list of everything he hoped to accomplish in his life. First up, a return
to the sunken ship he had feared would become his grave. “If I left that ship as a memory and never went back to prove
to myself that I could handle it, then I would forever live with the regret,” he says.

His initial list, which included
bungee jumping and exploring those deep underwater caves, evolved as he transitioned from a carefree youth to a husband and
father of a young daughter. It also drove him to help others. From it, he developed his best-selling book, NOW: No Opportunity
, and built a successful motivational speaking career. Today, he’s also host of No Opportunity Wasted
on the Discovery

One of the first keys to transforming yourself into a successful person, Keoghan says, is to get over your fear—whatever
it is. Take bungee jumping, for instance. “You stand on that bridge, and if you were to measure all the things you’re
scared of in life on a sliding scale… you’re used to living at zero to 0.5. Starting a new job is a four. Starting
a new relationship is a five. [Starting] out at a gym might be a three. You want to try to do all these things but are too
scared to begin. I assure you that standing on the top of a bridge with a rubber band attached to your feet and then leaping
off is a 10. Leaping off is a mental leap. If you take your mind to a 10 and you allow yourself to be scared at a 10, pushing
yourself physically and mentally more and more, eventually you become practiced at taking those mental leaps. If you practice
facing your fear, you will become good at it.”

have this issue with the word failure."

Facing the Fear

If the idea of jumping off a bridge has you gripping
the pages of this magazine, take heart. Keoghan says not everyone needs to push out to a 10 to reap the benefits of this
mental exercise. For many, just stretching out to a seven or eight will push them in the right direction. He points to an
overweight CBS colleague who kept pestering him to go bike riding some weekend, only to beg off when Keoghan tried to set
a date. Keoghan confronted his friend and convinced him to go on a simple, relatively short ride in Santa Monica, Calif. “

know this guy to be a fun, upbeat guy,” Keoghan recalls. “After about 4 or 5 miles, we were going up a gradual
hill. He was breathing and leaning over the bike. He was huffing and puffing and all red in the face. I thought he was going
to throw up. I suggested we go back, and I could see he’d gone into a very dark place in his mind. He was really down
on himself. So I tried to talk him up. I told him this is a start, this is good. I realized how big a deal this was for him.
He’d built this up; this was a fantasy he’d had, but there were all these reasons why he hadn’t done it—he
didn’t have time, he didn’t have a good bike, he was fat.”

Later that night, Keoghan’s friend e-mailed
him, apologizing for ruining the ride. He explained that he used to be a competitive cyclist on the USA Cycling National Development
Team and even sent photos of him crossing the finish line in first. Keoghan was blown away. He helped his friend get a top-of-the-
line bike with the catch that he be on it when Keoghan began his trek across the United States to raise money for multiple
sclerosis research. He was there, already 7 pounds lighter. Today he’s dropped 50 pounds and accompanies Keoghan on
club rides. “

His whole life has turned upside down,” Keoghan says. “On a very individual level, that’s
the kind of person I want to get through to. I’m not looking to change someone who does something that works. If they
have something that works and are successful at running their lives, that’s great. I’m looking for people who
have lost their way and need direction.”

The Next Challenge

Those lost people Keoghan finds often have a pessimistic
view of life, he says. They are constantly reasoning why something can’t or won’t happen. It’s a cycle that
can have lasting consequences. “People become very good at what they practice. If you practice building a ‘wall
of no’ up in front of everything you’re trying to do, you’ll be very good at building that wall. The more
you practice, the thicker the wall becomes; the more resilient it becomes, the harder it will be to push that wall down.”

The key, says Keoghan, is to jump off that proverbial bridge. Train yourself to take calculated chances and risks; stretch
your mind to embrace what you fear the most so that life’s challenges don’t seem that great. It’s that mindset
that sent Keoghan down into the longest underwater tunnels beneath the Yucatan jungle in Mexico. An admitted claustrophobe,
Keoghan was terrified of being trapped in underwater caverns. He embraced his fear and was rewarded with some of the most
spectacular views he’s ever seen. “

I have this issue with the word failure,” he says. “I don’t
like the word. I don’t think there’s such a thing as failure. To me, failure is just a necessary step to achieve
a goal.”

Being fearless and optimistic is all well and good, but identifying what you want to achieve is just as important,
Keoghan says. Finding something you’re passionate about is the final piece to the puzzle.

What would you regret
not doing? That takes a lot of soul-searching. It’s not something you just sit down and do. What gets you excited? What
would you pay to do? If you’re doing a job that you would pay to do, surely you’ve arrived somewhere good.”

With those words, Keoghan is quick to catch himself. For him, the journey is the story. He’s always moving, always
always looking to mark that next item off his list. “I’m not selling a quick fix. This is a lifetime of work.
This is about something you work on and focus on. My friend with the bike, he’s going to have to keep working away.
We’re going to have a one-year celebration for him when he gets back down to his riding weight. Then we’ll have
other goals for him.”

After that, who knows? Keoghan’s next challenge is just over the horizon.