Those who know me well know I choose to spend much of my free time hiking and backpacking in the wilderness. To paint a picture, I’m not talking about car camping in a tent nestled between 2 RV’s in the local KOA. I mean spending time with nature, usually many miles from civilization, up close and personal. This is where I go to climb mountains.
I work in the business world. My days are filled with meetings, conference calls, and long hours staring at computer screens. This is polar opposite of the wilderness. In the backcountry, there are no meetings, no coffee machines and cell coverage is unlikely and more importantly unwelcome. Although the two environments are very different, they both require the participant to have an incredible amount of mental clarity and focus in order to be successful. They are both demanding in their own right.
To climb a mountain, I often start out from a small remote town where I can get a good night’s rest, organize my gear, and mentally prepare for the journey ahead. These are towns where the local diner isn’t on Facebook and the motel (yes, with an “m”) doesn’t show up on Google Maps. It takes planning and foresight just to get here, and my journey up the mountain hasn’t even begun. From here, I’ll often drive many miles, maybe an hour or more, down narrow dirt roads until I find a gravel parking lot. This is the start of a trailhead into the mountains, the start of another adventure. But the work to get to the top of this mountain actually began much earlier.
Just like preparing for a big meeting with leadership or a customer presentation in the office, I spend time reviewing my plan and making sure I’m prepared before starting a hike. I focus my thoughts on the task ahead. I make sure I have the right gear. I need to know where I’m going, and make sure I have a plan to get there. I anticipate what the environment might throw at me. In the backcountry, I can encounter severe weather, dangerous terrain, or even wild animals. In the boardroom, I may have angry customers, endless questions, or failed technology to fix. But with preparation, I can be ready for any of these things.
The preparation to reach the summit of a tall mountain begins months before stepping onto any trails. I first have to choose my destination and identify potential routes. I have to research the dangers involved. Are there snakes or bears? Where will I find water? Can my gear keep me safe? How many days will the climb take? How much elevation change will I encounter? How hard is the hike? Am I physically fit enough or do I need to train harder? These are just a few of the many questions that need to be answered in order to successfully summit a mountain.
In the business world, the questions are very different, but just as important. Are my coding skills up to the task? Are the stakeholders onboard? Is that Director going to throw a roadblock? Is there enough money in the budget? Have I lined up the right resources? Will the new system accept data from the old? Can we keep out the hackers? For both situations, I need to utilize years of training and practice. I spend time upfront, honing skills, anticipating problems and making sure I’m prepared for what lies ahead.
When I’m in the backcountry, I depend on my outdoor skills and the mountaineering gear in my pack. I have to stay warm and dry, feed myself, not get lost and ultimately keep from getting severely injured or incapacitated along the way. I do all of this, usually while covering a dozen or more miles each day, gaining thousands of feet of elevation. The terrain is unforgiving with fallen trees, boulders, steep hills, and miles of hard packed dirt all waiting to inflict injury, break my will, and ultimately end my journey.
In the office, I depend on my personal skills and technology. I need to code that new website with a language I just learned. The budget spreadsheet requires formulas to be corrected and new costs added. That presentation isn’t going to build itself. I need to make sure I have the right software installed for the big meeting tomorrow and verify it works on my Mac. My job is on the line. I can accomplish all of these things, just like climbing a mountain, with hard work and advanced preparation.
When most people find out I climb mountains, they inevitably ask me why I do it. For me, the answer is always the same. I climb mountains because it’s hard. Just like in the business world, or in life, climbing mountains takes an incredible amount of engagement, skill, planning, equipment and support in order to be successful. It’s not something you show up and do on a whim. I find mountain climbing prepares me for success in the office, and more importantly, for success in life.
How do you approach problems and tasks at work or school?
Are you engaged, thoughtful and prepared, or do you show up and hope for the best?
Enough commentary for now. I have another mountain to climb. Will you join me in preparing, or are you just going to wing it?