What Hiking Taught Me About Business

View from the top

Me at Twin Bears summit in Fairbanks, AK

I love hiking. Getting out of the city and experience the beauty of nature is always refreshing. Sure, I can get that from a park or garden, but it’s not the same as walking along well-worn trails (or even blazing a new one) far removed from the heart or even suburbs of NYC. So I’ll go hiking any chance I get.

My hiking partner is younger than me – quite a bit younger, in fact. I sometimes wonder why he puts up with me, since there were times I knew I held him back. No one likes being the weak link in the chain. When we hike, it’s usually just he and I, so it’s a chain of two. Finding the weak link is pretty easy in that situation. That fact gives me incentive to get better.

Sometimes we take on more than we can chew. For example, I’ve mentioned our attempt to tackle Alaska’s Exit Glacier previously (read about it here). That still doesn’t sit well with me, but we learned a few things about our abilities, our gear, and where we needed to improve. So what does all of this have to do with business?

From my experiences hiking, I learned the following three fundamental factors about business and how to make one grow:

  • Perseverance is key
  • Follow the path, but know when to go outside the lines
  • If your goal is beyond your means, work on improving your abilities

Perseverance – A Key to Business Success

One of our longest hikes was along the Old Croton Aqueduct trail. We started from the south end of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and hiked north to Tarrytown, NY. The entire route we traveled was about 20 miles. We actually wanted to make it all the way to the reservoir in Croton on Hudson, but we ran out of daylight, and Tarrytown became a good alternative. Don’t get me wrong, though; Tarrytown was a hike! There were times we thought about stopping at various points along the way. Since we were hiking parallel to the Metro North railroad line, it would have been easy to hop on a train back to NYC at any of the intermediate stops. But we decided to push on to Tarrytown. Let me tell you, it was worth it! We enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery ever. Additionally, since the trail ran through residential areas, we saw some impressive homes as a bonus.

Business is all about pushing forward towards a goal. Often, reaching that goal stretches us in ways we didn’t think possible. It challenges us emotionally, financially, and sometimes physically (which of us hasn’t spent a sleepless night working on something to meet a deadline, whether self-imposed or set by a client?), but the rewards make the effort worthwhile. Along the way, if you learn to enjoy the journey, you’ll often find you accomplished so much more than the goal. You’ve likely grown in the process, and that enables you to accept new challenges, some of which were beyond your abilities prior to achieving your goal. Like my hiking trip along the Old Croton Aqueduct trail, the journey was as (if not more) enjoyable than reaching the destination. Have you found the same holds true in your case?

Know When to Go Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes you have to go off the path

Sometimes you have to go off the path

Once, my partner and I went to Bear Mountain State Park. Since it was during the peak time to enjoy the full colors of the changing leaves, we planned to enjoy some of the picturesque vistas along the trail. We weren’t disappointed. However, for whatever reason, we were having a hard time finding the starting point for the trail that goes along the ridge line. After spending 15 minutes following what seemed to us as the most confusing signs on the planet, we looked up and notice some hikers a few hundred feet above us. So, instead of continuing to find the established path, we took a shortcut straight up! This was tough work, because the rise was nearly vertical – but it was worth it. We ended up on the ridge line, and a panoramic view of the valley leading down to the Hudson River greeted us, along with breathtaking landscapes of multicolored leaves. Of course, we eventually did find the marked trail, but our “short cut” brought us the results we needed at the time, allowing us to step back into the system (following the trail) and enjoy the remainder of our day hiking.

One of the reasons business owners opt for franchises is they buy a proven system of marketing and operating. There’s likely training provided to insure the franchisee has the greatest chance for success. It simply makes sense to plug into that system and let it work the magic it does so well. Yet even proven systems face new paradigms, and business owners must adapt to face the new circumstances. This doesn’t mean totally rejecting those systems. Rather, it means adapting portions of your efforts and strategies in particular areas, allowing the established ways of operating to evolve and encompass emerging technologies and circumstances. Basically, sometimes you have to color outside the lines, even while respecting the big picture. How many of you have adapted emerging means of communication (like social media) into existing strategies? Did it require that you change an existing methodology slightly or revamp it completely? If so, you can appreciate what I’m talking about. If not – don’t worry, your chance is coming! After all, the only thing constant in life is change. Thankfully, as a small business owner/entrepreneur, you’re in a unique position to adapt quickly to those changes.

Work on Improving Your Abilities

The Exit Glacier hike still sticks in my throat. It seemed like an easy enough hike, and perhaps a month later, we could have completed the trail. My level of expertise and my partner’s gear would easily meet the task later in the spring or early in summer. But, we were in Seward during late April/early May, and the trail was more challenging than we anticipated at the higher altitudes. We were literally hiking in a blizzard during the third mile of our hike (it was only a four-mile hike, but the trail rose 3,000 feet in the last three miles)! We had to turn back shy of reaching our destination. Since we didn’t have pedometers, we couldn’t be sure exactly how close we were to the goal, but it was probably a mile or less (I’m leaning towards “less”). That still stings!

Sometimes in business, you hit situations you are simply ill-equipped to handle. If it’s something you can assign to a consultant, great! But often circumstances (financial and otherwise) render that option moot. At that point, you may have to shelve the plan for the present. The key here is that it is only for the present. Likely, you identified exactly which skills you lacked but needed to reach your goal. Now, you can work on developing those skills. The next time you take on the challenge of reaching your goal, you’ll be ready with all the necessary skills to make it happen! Have you ever had to back-burner a goal until you developed new skills or acquired new resources? As long as you now know what you need in order to achieve that goal, then it was just a temporary setback. What about me and Exit Glacier? Don’t worry; that hunk of ice hasn’t won yet! You know I’ll make the trip to Seward again and make it to the end of the trail. I’ll take pictures to prove it!

We can learn a lot from hiking, and indeed from many of the things we enjoy in life. We should constantly learn lessons from the things around us. It makes us better people and better entrepreneurs. I learned lessons from hiking that helped me with business. What are some things you enjoy, and what lessons has it taught you? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

This entry was posted in Business, Mindset, Personal Dvelopment and tagged , , , , by Kerwyn Hodge. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kerwyn Hodge

Kerwyn Hodge has been an entrepreneur from early on. He’s been both a worker and manager, predominantly in the design and construction industry. Kerwyn transitioned to the Direct Selling industry, and joined LegalShield in July 2009. He works with businesses of all sizes, helping to protect the legal rights and identities of employees and their families, as well as helping to protect and grow small businesses with 100 employees or less. Check out his blog at https://kerwynhodge.wordpress.com. You can reach him at 646-340-8087, or via email at kerwynhodge@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “What Hiking Taught Me About Business

  1. Well, City Boy, my geeky pastime sure isn’t physically strenuous, and it may deprive me of the joys of swatting bugs away from my face in the summer, but learning a few extra languages both taught me lot and reminded me of essentials things that had slipped my mind.

    I think the most important thing it taught me is that I needed to have more patience, not only with others, but with myself, and not to expect things to move faster than they can go. We live in an egocentric, instant gratification society where we, to varying extents, been conditioned to expect that not only can we always have what we want, we can have it five minutes ago. Building up a respectable basic level command of another language can be time consuming, especially when you decide, like I did, to learn a language that uses a pictograph writing system and requires you to have a few thousand characters primed in active memory for every day use. I remember several occasions where I fell sleep with no fewer than half a dozen Japanese reference books spread out across my bed and had dreams about Kanji scrolling across my walls.

    That patience it takes to commit that many characters to memory is also necessary in business. You will have misunderstandings, get things wrong, and deal with indecisive people who may need several talks / visits with you before they are ready to purchase the good or service you are offering. If you lose patience with them because of a misunderstanding or an error, no matter who should claim ownership of it, you can end up alienating the immediate client and losing ones you never knew you could have had. Also, giving up on someone before they are ready to commit to purchasing is a lost sale. Just because they are not buying right now does not mean they will not in the future.

    Learning Japanese also made me focus on details, and I mean even the smallest of them. Let’s face it, when you have several thousand characters using a set number of radicals for their components, there will constantly be large groups of characters that you will unfailingly mistake the more complicated ones for others while you are first learning them. This is why, if you have ever seen someone studying a language with a pictograph writing system, there is a certain likelihood that you will see them carrying a character dictionary with grids next to each character that show the progression of the strokes from beginning to end and a work book of varying levels depending on their current level. Yes, one little stroke added or missing changes the entire meaning AND reading of the word. You learn to pay attention. Of course, you will also drive others crazy when you start to notice that screws on the top row are a slightly different color than the ones below and you feel compelled to point it out.

    Noticing details in business is important. For instance, if you work in retail and see the same person coming in always dressed in jeans and casual tops, chances are you will need to give them a lot more attention than normal if they come in asking about suits. You will have to pay attention to the words they use to describe things, their gestures and expressions, and their demeanor. People are more likely to display subtle signs that indicate they are out of their element, so you need to make yourself aware of them and how you can counteract them. Also, since you have seen this person many times before, your attentiveness to the styles and colors, etc. that they typically wear can help you from making some suggestions that will turn them off. If they come in wearing neutrals, don’t jump to suggest the electric blue denim.

    Another important thing it taught me? You have to love what you do to be a success at it. If you do not care, you will get sloppy and put as much minimal effort into helping people see the value in what you are offering. And what’s worse, they will notice. Spanish was great and all, but I learned it wasn’t complex enough to keep my attention. I got bored with it, because it came too easy for me. It was convenient for me that about the time this happened, I was going to Japan and needed to learn the language. You definitely do not have enough time when studying Japanese to be bored.

    • See? There are always lessons to learn from the things about which we are most passionate. Life teaches us lessons in ways little and big each day, as long as we’re receptive to learning. And yes, I have, and likely will always be, a city boy! 😉

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