This is the third in a four-part series from Guest Blogger and UpLync CEO Mike Bristol sharing his six-month epic experience running a VoIP phone business as a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
I’m a big-picture thinker. It seems like most entrepreneurs and business owners have that trait in common. We have a vision that fuels our passion and don’t typically worry about all the steps we have to take along the way to achieve our dreams. Well, at least in the beginning.
Early in my research about the Appalachian Trail (A.T.), I came across a big, hairy, audacious number – 5 million. That’s about how many steps it takes to thru-hike the A.T.’s almost 2,200 miles.
In our 10,000-steps-per-day world of fitness trackers, 5 million may sound impossible to most people. I saw it as just a number. It didn’t scare me. No, the details and minutia – some of which I hadn’t identified yet – kept me up at night while planning my hike and made me reconsider my decision.
Isn’t this often the point where most big dreams go to die? We panic or freeze when we focus on all the incremental steps necessary to achieve a goal. We second-guess our abilities. We might even start rationalizing all the reasons why we should even try. The longer we wait to take that first step, the more likely we will never begin.
Starting is the Hardest Part
I faced this challenge every day during my A.T. hike. During my three years of preparation, being a thru-hiker always lived in that “big picture” part of my brain. Still, after about three days on the trail, the honeymoon stage was over. Reality set in, and I needed to embrace all the minutia that would get me to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.
I struggled every morning for a while to take the first step. Getting out of my hammock on time was hard on any typical day, but it was infinitely more difficult when I woke up to steady rain and temperatures in the mid-30s or when I knew I had 5,000 feet of elevation gain to tackle. The first mile of the day was torture. But, I soon realized that starting was the hard part. Once I was up and going, I could walk all day. And that’s when I realized that finding a way to make starting each day easy would be critical to my long-term success.
Routine to the Rescue
I’ve never been good with self-imposed structure. I’ll dutifully comply if someone else lays out a schedule for me. But, it’s not my nature to plan my days and weeks. It’s not lost on me that this is a weakness, especially in entrepreneurial pursuits. Yet, I seem to have always made things work. Yes, I’ve built a company and raised children almost entirely by the seat of my pants. Fake it till you make it, right!?!
Sadly, that approach wasn’t working on the A.T. I needed to develop a daily plan. A routine. Something easily repeatable that didn’t require much mental energy to follow. Because when things went wrong, I’d needed to rely on my plan to get through.
I’m not sure how much of this happened on purpose or by accident, but I fell into a routine. I woke up at roughly the same time every morning. I did my morning chores, like fetching water and breaking down camp, in the same order every day. I ate the same food for breakfast. I packed my belongings into my backpack in precisely the same way. It wasn’t long before I could make that first step onto the trail each morning without a second thought. I was on cruise control.
The Obstacle is the Way
In retrospect, taking each morning’s first step was a simple problem with a simple solution. But, I can’t begin to explain how many days I agonized over doing just that. Having a predictable routine helped me keep my sanity in the ever-unpredictable world of thru-hiking. It’s what got me through.
When I felt challenged on the trail, I often remembered a quote from the great stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” The mountain in front of me was the way. The wet and partially frozen tennis shoes were the way. The pain in my feet and knees was the way. While I didn’t have to enjoy all these things, they were part of the big picture – my journey – and getting through them was the only way to success.
More to Come!
Next month, I’ll share more stories from the trail and how being a thru-hiker is similar to owning a business.