Take a hike!

Or at Least watch the Movie ‘The Way’.

I took a suggestion to watch this movie and I was quite happy I did.  I love a good long walk in the wilderness but it also had me thinking about entrepreneurs. This is the story of people who meet on the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile journey that has been the route of religious pilgrims since the middle ages starting in France and winding through the Pyrenees Mountains ending in Northwest Spain.  Before you get concerned, consider the words of the gypsy Ishmael who in the movie declares emphatically “the Camino has nothing to do with religion, nothing at all”.

The story begins with Martin Sheen, a successful Ophthalmologist who gets a call while on the golf course from a police captain in France, informing him that his son, Daniel (and son in real life Emilio Estevez) has died in an accident on his first day on the Camino.  After making the journey to identify his son’s body, he has it cremated and impulsively decides to make the 500 mile journey.  Anyone who knows anything about backpacking knows this is a very, very bad idea.  Although he can use the equipment his son died with, the likelihood of a man of his age and physical condition being able to complete such a journey is remote.  Sound familiar?  Anyone ever questioned the wisdom of your start up?

Along the way he meets up with several people, all on the walks, and all for reasons different than they initially proclaim.  What starts us down a path is rarely what sustains us for the remainder of the journey.  So too entrepreneurs, they have both private and public reasons for doing it.  As backpackers know, a great deal of self revelation occurs on the trail and wise hikers choose their companions carefully.   If you want to be an entrepreneur you will do the same.   You had better be comfortable showing your ass because you will be doing it a lot.   Brené Brown argues that the soul of innovation, creativity and change lies in vulnerability.  It would be wise to embrace it.

Entrepreneurs, like the characters in ‘The Way’, ended up on the journey for a lot of different reasons but all were looking for a different way to… well everything.  Like the Camino, starting and running your business is harder than it looks.  Our ignorance and arrogance (um… pull up your pants) got us on the trail but it will not get us to the end of the trail.  What the characters in this film are forced to learn quickly, successful entrepreneurs know cold.  Success is not possible alone.  You are going to get in some spectacular jams that will kill you if you don’t have a support system.   As Martin Sheen’s character found out swimming fully clothed in a very cold river to rescue his escaping backpack, materials are crucial, but it takes more than equipment to get you through this.  Resources are limited (you cannot take everything you might possibly need on the trail).   It requires clear, careful but creative use of these resources (you had better know how to use the equipment you chose to take on the trail and you will likely have to adapt the use of some of it or even sacrifice it to survive.

ImageIf the end of the journey is your focus you might want to re-think taking the journey. I can point you to plenty of miserable one time backpackers who made the end of the trip their focus. Such a ‘future state’ focus will keep you from paying attention to the important things right in front of you right now.  A lot of people end up stranded, lost or in the company of angry mother bears on hikes because they are not paying attention to their immediate surroundings.  Both will kill you with breathtaking speed.  I will admit that a hot shower after 10+ days on the trail has me singing like Madelyn Kahn in ‘Young Frankenstein’, but it is not the reason I backpack.  The payoff at the end ought not to be the reason you start or operate a business.

Perhaps the most important thing it invites us to learn is that work is not linear.  I suspect that many of us got off the corporate train because it became clear that we were being expected to work in a ‘linear progress’ fantasy.  Tempting as it might be to believe that such a world can be “created” we all know it is not possible.  Work will not move in one endless, seamless, and errorless upward arc.   A backpacking trip reminds us quickly of something fundamental and important. We are not (and will never be) masters of the universe.  Stuff is going to happen that we cannot control.  Stressing (and stressing about) perfection is a waste of time energy and focus.  Being in the wilderness makes this clear because you are sleeping outside on the cold hard ground and you smell pretty bad. There are no delusions about perfection on the trail.   Uncomfortable as it might sound, it has a way of making you focus on what is important.

So take a real backpacking trip.   A trip where you have to carry on your back everything you are going to need for a 7+ day trip into a place out of your comfort zone.   Although the movie skims over what would have been real difficulties for a guy impulsively deciding to take a 500 mile hike, the message is still an accurate one.  It changes you. It makes you see reality more clearly.  Maybe your own trip will change the way you live and approach your work.

Not sure how to do it? Let me know.  I will totally help you.

P.S.  if you are hoping to hear me sing “Oh, Sweet Mystery of Life at Last I Found You!”  it’ll  cost ya. and… it don’t mean we’re datin’

1 Response to “Take a hike!”

  1. 1 Belinda Waggoner September 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Nice job Sir.

    Typos brought to you courtesy of iPad.

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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