Do you know how much you can take and push through? Ben Baker sits with Wes Harper, owner of LightWire, Inc. Wes talks about the premise of the show, “Naked And Afraid,” where a man and a woman meet for the first time with no clothes. All they have are survival-type items to make it through 21 days in a jungle. The show has a huge appeal to people because they can’t imagine themselves doing it. Participants need to mentally prepare for discomfort and suffering – where so much growth and self-discovery happens. Dive in!
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Being Naked And Afraid With Wes Harper
[00:01:02] Welcome back, my wonderful audience. Every week, you come back. You’re wonderful. You talk to me, email me at Ben@YourBrandMarketing.com and find me on LinkedIn. You comment, share and do all the wonderful things you do. I could not do this show without you. Thank you for coming back. I appreciate you. I have a guest that was brought to me through Marlana Semenza.
For those of you who don’t remember, she and I talked about looking through a different lens. She’s a photographer extraordinaire. She brought me one of her clients. You may know the name Wes Harper and know him as The Assassin. If anybody here is a fan of the show, Naked and Afraid, I’ve got Wes Harper or the show. Wes, welcome.
[00:01:57] Thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it. I always laugh when I hear The Assassin.
[00:02:03] It’s wonderful because you’ve got these two personalities. We will talk about it because we came from the green room and we were talking. You’re this mildest and nicest guy. You seem relaxed and calm. Things don’t seem to fluster you and then you go out and do the most extreme sport on camera that I can think of. There’s a huge dichotomy here. I want to give you a chance to let people know who you are, where you came from and what brought you to this point. I want to talk about being comfortable, being uncomfortable and pushing boundaries.
[00:02:03] I do all of those things almost every day. We’re in a good zone. That’s Harper. I grew up in Northern Virginia in a typical setting. I have a brother. We used to run around outside all the time and play in the woods. It was back when your parents kicked you out in the morning. We didn’t come home until it was dinnertime. We got into trouble, created a mess and cleaned it up. We were wild and free. That’s where I got my background.
Remember the success you had in completing and breaking through the finish line. Click To Tweet
I was running through creeks and tromping through the woods. My parents used to take us camping all the time. I got exposed to the outdoors at a very early age, like the diapers-type page. I developed a love for the outdoors and all things hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. All of it became a passion of mine. I don’t even like being inside, to be honest, even still. I’m wearing a button-up shirt and sitting in an office for work. I don’t enjoy it. There’s got to be a window open or I’ll die.
[00:03:52] Tell me a little bit because you do your day-to-day job is you’ve owned an IT company for years, from my understanding, since the mid-’90s. You came from the heady days of the internet and technology. You and I started in technology about the same time. I started a few years earlier than you, in the late ’80s or the beginning of the ’90s. You came to the technical world. What brought you from the world of IT to a point where you sat there and went, “There’s this TV show. I could do that. Let’s see if I can audition for this?”
[00:04:35] It’s crazy. I’m two separate people, but I’ve always maintained a love of the outdoors. When I’m not being corporate Wes Harper, I throw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, go outside, walk around, hunt, hike and fish. I’ve never lost that passion for the outdoors. I get caught up in watching all these survival shows and Alaska this. All those shows fascinate me. When I stumbled on Naked and Afraid, it was the first episode, and something about it gripped me. I want to do it from the first episode. I never thought I would, but from the first episode, I was thinking, “This is the coolest thing that I’ve ever seen.”
[00:05:22] Tell me a little bit. You’ve done this show three times. People sit there and say, “I’ve gone out and suffered for 30 days. I’ve done it and been there. I’m done.” What was the impetus at that stage of the game to say, “I want to do this,” and then once you’ve finished licking your wounds, sit there and say, “I want to do this again?”
[00:05:51] It’s a little tough to describe, but I’ll do my best. When you get done with a challenge, you don’t ever want to do another. You are done. You’re hurting and starving. You’re filthy. It takes you weeks to recover from all that. You don’t want anything to do with it ever again until it starts creeping back in on you. You forget about the bad stuff and remember the good stuff.
It’s very easy to forget that you got stung by 50 bees because you also got to look up at the stars with no light pollution and see the Milky Way. It was gorgeous. You also remember the success you had in completing and the feeling of breaking through that finish line. That doesn’t go away. That stays there. The little slights, hurts, scratches and scars fade, but the glory of it doesn’t. All of a sudden, you start getting that inkling that you would like to do it again. Once it starts, you can’t turn it off. You want to. It builds like a fever.
[00:07:04] Let’s go back a little bit for people that haven’t seen the show and become fans of the show. There are probably millions of people out there that are fans of this show. First of all, what is it like watching it on a television in your living room versus getting on a plane and being dumped in the wilderness? Let’s talk about it from two different levels. What is the premise of the show so people could have an idea of what they’re watching and then let’s get into what happens?
[00:07:42] In Naked and Afraid, the premise of the show is true. You do not wear any clothes. You and typically a female partner meet for the very first time when you have no clothes on and when you’re dumped in the middle of the wilderness or some remote location. You each have an item that you bring. You usually are supplied with survival-type items. You have to survive for 21 days. It’s the typical entry-level scenario. In 21 days, you get documented for how you either have success or failure.
Cameras are always running and recording every little moment of everything that happens during the day. There’s a huge fascination to see two people who have no protective clothing. Also, it’s a man and a woman, so there’s a little spin on that. You have to have to live until it’s time to go home. That’s the premise. It’s simple, but it has a huge appeal to people who can’t imagine themselves doing it and living like that for 21 days.
[00:09:05] The big thing that I can think of is whether it’s pushing your boundaries to the edge. You’re naked in the wilderness with somebody you don’t know. Your life depends on your relationship with this person in some way, shape or form. In business, we all need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We all need to sit there and say, “How do we adapt? How are we creative? What’s our resiliency level?” How do you go into this in terms of that mentality and prepare yourself?
Be mentally prepared for being uncomfortable. Click To Tweet
The first time you went through this, you had an inkling of what was going to happen, but you didn’t until you hit the ground and the helicopter flew away. You probably had no idea. When you’re looking at the 2nd and 3rd times you’re doing this, you say, “I’ve got a little bit of an idea.” How do you prepare yourself for something that you know is going to be hard? You know you’re going to be in pain at some point during this thing. You get yourself prepared to say, “How do I make sure that I am either in the best shape I am mentally and physically to be able to survive this and adapt?”
[00:10:29] There’s a lot that goes into that. You’re going to do all your survival preparedness prior to the challenge, learn how to make traps if you don’t know and toughen up your feet by walking on gravel roads because you’re not going to have shoes. There are lots of things like that. Your watch hours of YouTube survival videos. That’s one thing. The other thing is to get mentally prepared for being uncomfortable and comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.
I’m fortunate because, being a business owner and an IT problem solver, I walk into situations where I have no idea what’s going on all the time. It’s my job as a detective to figure out the problem and a solution. I applied that to the show. Your goal was obvious to make it. You try to have a plan for being able to survive and cope with the things that are going to happen. Usually, you can crumple your plan up and toss it in the trash after the first ten minutes because everything changes so quickly.
[00:11:48] Mike Tyson said, “Everybody’s got a plan until the first time you get hit in the face,” or something like that.
[00:11:52] You get punched in the face. That’s true. The show is no different than that. In the first five minutes of being in the challenge, you’re bleeding from multiple locations already, from what you’ve stepped on or what brush has scraped by you and the bugs that have bitten you. That’s your holy crap moment. Five minutes into the challenge, it’s like, “Here’s where we’re at. I may have to rethink my plan a little bit and adjust my strategy.” I’m fortunate that I’m a problem solver. I’m used to going into uncomfortable situations and I feel good there. I like finding solutions. I’m an engineer at heart. If there’s a problem, I want to solve it.
[00:12:42] That is something that puts you in good stead, whether it be in business, the outdoors or in an extreme situation. It’s the fact that you can step back, assess the situation, realize where the opportunities and the challenges are, realize what your limitations are, and move beyond them because with physical, either you can do it or you can’t. You’re like, “I don’t care what it is. I’ll never be able to deadlift 1,000 pounds over my head. It’s not possible.”
The question is, “What can I do to overcome the situation where I do need to move 1,000 pounds? How do I challenge that? How do I break it into manageable pieces to be able to push forward?” Let’s talk about the biggest obstacle I can see when you first come in. The X factor is the other person. You have no idea who this person is, how well-trained they are and their mental and physical capabilities. How much time do you spend at the very beginning having strategic conversations? Are you pushed right to the point where you have to go right away and figure it out as you’re running?
[00:14:11] It’s the second one. You have to figure it out immediately. You don’t have time. I’ve always had the attitude that even though I have a partner, I need to be solely responsible for surviving. I don’t rely on a partner, but if they bring quality survival skills or personality, then I’m overjoyed with that. I’ve never been someone who would say, “My survival is going to depend on this other person.” I go into it knowing full well that they could quit on day one.
[00:14:49] It could be twenty days on your own.
[00:14:41] That could very easily happen. On my third challenge in Ecuador, my partner fell and had to leave on day four. I was prepared for that on day one because I went into the challenge thinking that I was going to be by myself. I was responsible for my survival. I wanted to be responsible for my partner’s survival as well. Having them would be a bonus, but I didn’t need them to make it through the challenge.
Suffering helps you see how much you can take and push through. Click To Tweet
[00:15:23] You said from the second you step off the plane, helicopter, boat or whatever you come off of, you’re being filmed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Is it a natural physical crew? Is it remote digital cameras that are doing this? The question is this. Do you have somebody right there available to you if something goes wrong? Are you dealing with a digital camera and you have to wait for somebody to fly in if there’s a serious problem?
[00:15:56] There is a physical camera crew. It’s very scant. There are maybe four people tops between cameras, audio and a producer. The first ten minutes are intimidating. You’re aware they’re there in your face the whole time recording. After 24 hours, you barely even notice they’re there. They fade into the background and you try to survive. They’re there, but it’s almost like walking past a tree.
The tree is there regardless. They’re there, but at nighttime, they go home. There are infrared cameras set up to still record everything that’s happening. They have a medical team that is staged off-site if something happens. Someone was always watching the cameras. Depending on how remote you are, they know and can get you some help in a reasonable amount of time.
[00:17:19] Mentally, you are by yourself. Physically, nobody can help you. It’s not like, “Turn off the cameras.” All of a sudden, there’s a buffet dinner sitting there waiting for you at the end of the day. This is a legit 21-day absolute survival that’s being filmed for a television audience, but they have no way, shape or ability to help you in their right.
[00:17:46] They’re documenting what you’re doing. The cameras are always going. Would they like you to succeed? Sure. That’s human nature. You want somebody to succeed, but it also makes incredibly good television to fail. They’re either way on that. They’re going to get a good TV show out of it no matter what. There’s no help and assistance. It’s just you and they’re documenting.
[00:18:16] Now that we have set that parameter, let’s talk about pushing boundaries. When you’ve gotten to a point and you’ve been up for 24 hours, you’re bleeding, hungry or whatever you are, how do you mentally push beyond that to be able to sit there and say, “The sun will come up tomorrow. Hopefully, it’s not going to pour rain on me and get cold. I can move forward?”
You’re at your absolute lowest or when you’re at a point where you’re sitting there and going, “Can I move any further? Can I lift my arms another day?” How do you mentally move beyond that to enable yourself to push your boundaries, live through that uncomfortableness and survive and thrive?
[00:19:16] They’re twofold. One, before I did my first challenge, I was given some pretty sage advice. They said, “If you don’t think you can make 21 days, readjust your thinking. Can you make it one more day? If your answer is you can’t, can you make it one more hour? If you say no, can you make it one more minute? If you play that game, you will make it a lot longer than you ever thought you would.” The other thing is I have developed a love for suffering and misery.
When I am at my worst, I will often be smiling because that’s what I signed up for. I want to see how much I can take and push through. When things get bad, I remind myself, “This is what you asked for and you’re getting it.” Even though it’s pain, starvation, cold or blistering hot, I remind myself that’s what I signed my name to. It makes me grin because I’m getting exactly what I asked for. Knowing that helps me push past the uncomfortableness.
[00:20:40] Let’s get you home. You spent 21 days in the wilderness. You come home to your wife, kids and family. You come back to your work. Can you explain the experience in a way? How do you decompress, evaluate and be able to run through the incredible experiences that have happened in your mind when you can’t share enormous amounts of this with even your wife or kids?
You can share your experience even with someone you don't get along with. Click To Tweet
[00:21:31] It is very difficult. I share everything with my wife and kids, an NDA be damned or not. I talked to them about it, but there’s no way for me to describe what happened and have someone else understand it. They can appreciate it. When they see it on TV, they will go, “That’s what you were talking about.” For them to fully understand what you go through out there, the experience or this elephant that passed by me at 15 feet, unless they have had that same experience, there’s no way to capture that.
It’s like when you go on vacation and take photos. The photos are never as good as what you’re witnessing. That’s also why the Naked and Afraid cast have been doing the show for years. It’s a very tight community because they’re the only other people in the world that have also gone through those same experiences. They understand on an intimate level the smallest of things like the puncture wound you got on your foot and you had to hobble around for three days. It’s easy to say, but unless you’ve gone through it, you don’t quite understand.
[00:22:50] Do you find that that’s an enormous support group for you? It’s the Naked and Afraid alumni or the people that understand and have been there. You probably have an unwritten shorthand that you can talk about and everybody immediately understands. They feel the pain and understand the challenges. It’s a lot easier to have conversations there than you could in other places.
[00:23:17] That’s 100% true. You can share your experience with someone you don’t even get along with. You don’t even like them, but they have had the same experience as you. That locks you together. It ties you to those people because they truly understand on a level that’s hard for other people to conceptualize.
[00:23:41] Let’s talk about something that a lot of people don’t think about, which is fans. You’ve got a lot of fans and people, the good, the bad and the ugly, that have followed you through three series of this. I’m sure people are screaming for you to do a fourth. I’ll ask you. Would you ever do another one of these?
[00:24:04] I don’t think I’m done at this point. I’ve recovered from my last challenge long enough. The desire is there. I’m not the one who makes those production decisions, but I have quite a fan base. That drives the show and viewership. I can’t let any cats out of the bag, but there might be something in the works.
[00:24:25] We will let it go to that. Let’s talk about those fans because I’m sure some support you in those fans, but some probably are obsessed in one way, shape or form. How do you deal with it all? Engaging with your fans is important, especially if you ever want to do this again. You need to keep the fan base alive and the mystery and mystique going. How do you make sure that you keep this mystique going without it enveloping you? That’s the best way of looking at it.
[00:25:04] Never give out your phone number. There are no return addresses on autographed pictures. The fans for the show are great in general. They’re fantastic. What I’ve come to realize is because they see me on TV for 43 minutes, a lot of them feel that they know me and who I am and I’m somebody they can relate to when in reality, they’re seeing a very bit part of my life that is captured on camera in this weird circumstance that is not my everyday life. It’s almost like you have two personalities. That’s hard on my wife. She has learned that the Wes on TV is not the Wes who’s in the kitchen doing the dishes. We’re two different people.
You have to be super aware that your home life is not your TV life. You still go on your hikes, camp, and document stuff, but it’s not your day-to-day activities. I still take out the trash. It’s not like I’m some guy who doesn’t have to do that because I’ve been on Naked and Afraid three times. I have to do all the regular stuff that I enjoy doing, but people don’t see that and don’t know it. They just know Wes the Assassin, who killed three animals in Africa. They’re like, “That must be all he does. He just hunts all day every day.” It’s tough. Even after three episodes, I’m still learning how to deal with that correctly. Some things get crazy. Some are genuinely great people. You get all kinds.
[00:26:46] That’s the reality of whether you are on TV, you run a business or in life. Most people are phenomenal people. They’re warm, generous, giving, interested and interesting. There are people out there that sit and go, “I’m going over here now.” We all realize that there are those people in our lives. We have to be able to manage it, whether we’re TV stars or in our regular everyday life.
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My question is this. How do you take the lessons that you learned through Naked and Afraid? How has that made you better in your work life? What are the things that you’re doing? How do you run your company and manage people differently because of your time on Naked and Afraid?
[00:27:43] I’m probably better at making hard decisions. It’s a survival show and the decisions you make affect whether you’re going to make it or not. In some cases, they could easily be life or death situations where you have to make the right decision. That’s very true in South Africa with all the predator-type animals. Coming back into the business world, I found that some of the hard decisions weren’t so hard anymore. It was affecting dollars but not anything more than that. You weren’t going to lose a foot because you had to make a hard business decision. I’ve been able to make those decisions a lot quicker.
I realized that I don’t have to check my email every five minutes. Every text that comes through to my phone on a Friday at 4:55, I do not have to get right on. Everything is going to be okay. This is an immediate gratification world with emails and texts where you’re like, “I need an answer now.” You don’t need an answer. You just want an answer. It will be okay. That has helped. When people realize that your time is a priority, then they respect, appreciate and factor into their lives.
[00:29:08] Wants versus needs is the toughest thing for any of us to assess. I want to dive into that because that’s important. That’s a good way to push this thing towards the boundaries. How do you define and be able to assess for yourself what’s a want versus a need? Where’s that checkbox and thought process that’s going through your mind that enables you to define where it is in the spectrum and how important something should be for yourself?
[00:29:50] That’s difficult and it’s time-dependent. When I come back from a challenge, I immediately have a black and white set of rules of wants and needs because I’m used to it. That’s why I had to deal with it and overcome it. Do I want to eat dinner at 9:00 at night and fill my belly full? I would like to. Do I need to? No. I’ll be okay until tomorrow. Do I want to run out and do some off-the-wall thing? Sure, but I don’t need to.
Do I want to spend more time with my wife and family? Yes. I need to. You learn what’s important and what’s not. Unfortunately, it’s easy to slip into old patterns after a little time goes by. A couple of months after a challenge, all of a sudden, you want to eat a pint of ice cream. “I need it. I have to have it. There’s no way I’ll get through the day if I don’t have a pint of ice cream.”
I’m a beer drinker. Do I need to have three beers while I’m watching Sunday night Naked and Afraid? I don’t need to, but after a few months, I feel like I do. “I want to. I need to drink two beers and watch the show.” It’s very skewed. It depends on the timeframe of when you get back from the challenge. Overall, you retain a sense of wants and needs and learn that there’s a lot that you can do without easily. You don’t miss them.
[00:31:28] What’s the best way people can get in touch with you?
[00:31:32] I’m easy. It’s through my company. Wes@LightWireInc.com is my email. I’m on Facebook and all over the place at Wes Harper. You can message me there. All you have to do is google my name and there will be twelve different ways that you can reach out to me. I’m pretty good at getting back to people. If I’m on family time, then I don’t. It will have to wait, but if I’ve set aside time to take care of social media and interact with fans, then I do. I usually get back to people within 48 hours. I try to. Business-wise is a different animal. If you’re having an emergency, I will get back to you pretty quickly.
[00:32:13] I promise and you’re going to be reassured that I won’t be calling you on a Friday night around dinner. It’s guaranteed. Let me ask you one last question because this is what I ask everybody as they leave my show. When you leave a meeting, get in your car and drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to know about Wes Harper when you’re not in the room?
[00:32:39] I want them to know that I’m a real person. I’m not some fake guy who showed up in a song and dance. I want them to leave and say, “I like that guy. He’s a decent human being. I would like to be around him more.” Conversely, maybe they leave and go, “I don’t like that guy for whatever reason.” I’m okay with that too. I am who I am. I’m not putting on any fronts. I’m Wes Harper. You see what you get. If they had that takeaway, then I feel great about it.
[00:33:23] We all need to be able to sit there and say, “This is who I am, the good, the bad and the ugly.” Wes, thanks for having a wonderful chat with me. I’m sure my fans loved it. I loved it. Marlana, here’s a shout-out to you for bringing Wes into my life. Thanks for being a great guest.
[00:33:43] Thank you very much. I appreciate Marlana setting us up. She’s fantastic. Anytime, Ben. Who knows? Maybe there will be a fourth challenge ahead and we can reconnect.
[00:33:52] That would be awesome.
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About Wes Harper
Wes Harper is the owner and President of LightWire, Inc. LightWire is an IT services company commonly referred to as an MSP (managed Service Provider).
They provide IT support to small and medium-sized businesses across the Triangle and throughout the US. Wes is married and has 5 grown children. He has a passion for all things outdoors and is also an All-Star cast member on The Discovery Channel’s show, Naked and Afraid.