I went mountain biking with my son the other weekend. It was exhilarating, exhausting and worth every turn of the pedals. By the end we were dirty, sweaty, out of breath and utterly fulfilled. It’s a no-brainer that mountain biking on a back country trail is nothing like the highway driving we did to get to the trail. But it seems we often operate in business (and in life) with expectations as if we’re on a super highway.
On a highway it’s pretty predictable. Speed limits are posted, lanes marked, and obstacles clearly identified. There are exits with familiar destinations like gas stations and coffee shops. Everyone is going the same way as you, and at around the same speed. You can set your cruise control and ease back. While highways may not be exhilarating, they are predictable and efficient.
However, running your own business (and much of life) is more like trail riding on a mountain bike than it is like driving on a highway. Highway rules don’t apply here.
Mountain bike trails (like life!) are so exciting because they provide such diverse terrain and views. You’ll ride through flat wooded routes, by sandy lakes, over rocky ridges and traverse steep hillsides. Each change of terrain requires different skills and attention.
Some terrain you’ll fly over, hollering with the excitement as adrenaline goes coursing through you. Sand requires powering through to keep up speed as tires try to maintain traction, leaving you breathing hard, heart pounding. Rocky surfaces require extra attention, carefully choosing your path to avoid wedging the wheel or choosing a route that will force you off-trail. Flat terrain allows you to enjoy the trip: catch your breath, enjoy the view, re-hydrate and stretch your limbs. Ridges are especially challenging, as you try to both enjoy the incredible vistas and make sure you didn’t ride right off the trail! Steep sections require you to slow down, gear down and take your time. Sometimes it’s appropriate to dismount and walk when conditions are too steep or technical to safely traverse.
Assuming that highway rules apply to work is an invitation to frustration, exhaustion, unrealistic expectations and suffering. Your work terrain changes regularly, and it’s critical that you recognize shifting circumstances and adjust accordingly. Is it time to speed up and take advantage of an opening or opportunity? Is it time to power through, knowing that a new learning curve, process or path will get easier if you can get through the opening stages? Is it time to proceed with caution and intentionality, knowing that the wrong choice might take you off our path? Is it time to gear down and take it slow as you grow, expand, change approach or pivot that will take both time and attention? Or is it time to stop, take a breath and look around to take in current conditions and give yourself the chance to identify if the way you’re working is appropriate to the current conditions?
Enjoy your ride, and all the variety it provides.