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Area 51 2023 Recap: The Next Realm


Today’s personal and professional lives can be driven by routines, ones that may become familiar and comfortable at times. However, tomorrow’s reality challenges the status quo, asks each of us to embrace the uncomfortable, and break norms to discover what is possible in the next realm. Driven by innovation and fearlessness, those that break boundaries and take risks will receive the greatest reward.  

Through the portal and into the unknown

The 2023 in-person Area 51 kicked off bright and early at Duke Energy Center in downtown Cincinnati. Our largest-ever in person event saw more than 1,300 associates connecting in person, ready to enter the Next Realm.  

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After entering the third floor through the “portals,” the day kicked off with our fearless leader, Milen Mahadevan, preparing us for a journey through Heart, Mind, and Soul that took 84.51° associates to “the Next Realm”. He challenged associates to identify, face and conquer our fears.  

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Associates first heard from Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut and former Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. After flying in space four times and logging nearly 1,000 hours, she is literally out of this world! 

Dr. Ochoa shared her story of overcoming rejection and the unknown to build an overwhelmingly successful career. After being doubted and rejected numerous times due to her gender during her path to NASA, she found a way to persevere and was ultimately accepted into the astronaut program at NASA. She entered a realm unknown to Latinas and only relatively known to women.  

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“A frontier is sometimes an actual place—where explorers come and pioneers settle—and sometimes it’s a metaphor that represents the limits of knowledge or achievement in a particular field, where boundaries are pushed,” she said. “In other words, it’s a new realm. And pushing boundaries is something that is important, both to NASA and to your organization, and something that requires courage.” 

Dr. Ochoa left us with her favorite quote, one usually attributed to John Quincy Adams, that she has modified with “courageous”:  

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a (courageous) leader.  

Then, it was our turn to identify and face our fears. 84.51° associates walked through a room filled with pillars marked with different fears people experience in their careers. We found and identified the fears that most resonated with us, claiming them as ours to overcome to help us enter the next realm.   

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Next, it was time to explore how our mind impacts our fears. Tommy Caldwell, one of the singularly best rock climbers to ever live, took the stage. Tommy is known for having the creative vision, skill, and seven-year fortitude to complete the first free climb of the Dawn Wall, the steepest, blankest face of Yosemite’s El Capitan.  

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Tommy busted the myth that the most important part of rock climbing is physical fitness. Instead, he said so much of it lies in mental strength.  

After completing the Dawn Wall climb, Tommy admitted that he didn’t know what was next for himself. He dedicated his time to lobbying for nature and climate protections in D.C., before embarking on a seven-week journey to the Devil’s Thumb rock peak in Alaska.  

Tommy walked us through the peaks and valleys—literally and figuratively—of this journey. He taught us that sometimes in life we will have to shift our path. It might be the route up the mountain or deciding what the next mountain is, but if you want something, it is the willingness to keep going that is needed.  

Then, it was our turn to put our minds to the task! We worked as a team to roll our zorbs up and down a track, rolling over every obstacle thrown our way and learned it takes agility to conquer challenges. 

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To round out the day, it was time for our spirit session with our host, Michael Thompson. Michael built his career around community, something he encouraged all of us to do. He shared his recent art with us, Murmurations, and explained how it was heavily influenced by the people he surrounds himself with.  

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Michael shared that one of the best things we can do to grow and engrain ourselves in spirit, is to build and nourish our community. He also introduced three principles that he tries to live by to keep the human spirit alive and well in his world:  

  1. Create as much as you can in your life (be a creator vs. a consumer whenever possible).  

  2. Be empathetic and ask questions.  

  3. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by your title or a system.  

He dismissed us for our final session of the day, a community service project. We created art bags for children in our communities who are fearlessly facing illnesses. We packed bags with the materials and created custom cards for each pack. The bags were donated to the Ronald McDonald Houses of Chicagoland and Cincinnati, and to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.  

Bringing it all together

To wrap up the day, Milen left us with three key takeaways.  

We all have that “inner voice”

Milen shared that even organization presidents, like himself, are not immune to the inner voice that says, “you can’t.” He encouraged us to take solace in the fact that we all hear it and to lean on each other to overcome it. 

Go where the fear is

“Our fears will consume us, if we let them,” he shared. “But if we name them, admit them, shed light on them, they get smaller.” He reminded us that Dr. Ellen Ochoa could’ve said, “There’s never been someone like me in space, so I must not be good enough,” but she didn’t. Instead, she walked straight towards that fear and overcame it, paving the way for others to follow.  

You have to want it

To get us to the next realm, we each need to take control of our path and push it forward. We can’t be overcome by our fears or our doubts. We must challenge that inner voice, shift when needed, and push ourselves into the unknown so that we can achieve even greater success than we have known thus far.  

He left us with this quote:  

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” 


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