Finding the Col: A cliched analogy for the business life.
In business it’s often hard to see what’s up ahead.
I appreciate that the analogy of climbing a mountain is one of the biggest motivational clichés out there. But I did actually recently climb a mountain (or near enough), so I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.
I recently went on a camping trip to Scotland with a good friend. It was super fun overall and a quality time spent away from work, taking in the gorgeous scenery and catching up with said friend. The awe inspiring nature of the surroundings more than make up for the challenge.
But there were a couple times early on when I was wondering why I had agreed to do it.
My mate, on the one hand, is annoyingly optimistic about challenges and is suitably free spirited that he’s pretty unfazed by the outdoors, and therefore lacks sympathy for the rest of us normal folk who can find it all a little overwhelming.
On the other hand, there are few people I’d rather spend a few days in the highlands of Scotland with. I was reminded of a few things in those challenging moments of the trip. Here’s one of them:
Life lesson no.1 – when starting out in business, find people who know roughly what they’re doing, challenge you, are committed to finishing the race and who you like/get on with (because otherwise it could all be a bit miserable).
The plan for the trip was to drive to a point near Loch Mullardoch and walk north in a big circle, past a Munro and back around to where the car was, camping at various points along the way.
The first proper day of walking started off fairly comfortably. We walked along the road from our first campsite not far from the car, to one end of the Loch.
The sun was out, the surroundings were magnificent and we were feeling pretty chirpy. There’s a big dam which we walked past on a track for a little way. Then the road ended.
From this point until the last day on Tuesday we would pretty much be off road the whole time. Unfortunately, the terrain wasn’t the most forgiving. A lot of it was bumpy and uneven and the length of the grass meant you didn’t really know what you were putting your feet on.
Oh and the ground was wet. Very wet.
A lot of the walking involved dodging small streams that had formed on the waterlogged ground. Not to mention the proper streams that actually required more of a leap of faith to get across.
On a few occasions I misplaced my foot and stepped in a big ol’ puddle. Foot and boot fully submerged. Soggy feet. Nightmare.
I can’t see the summit, but I know it’s there.
The aim for the first big day of walking was to move away from the loch, cross a ridge and arrive in a group of trees on the other side.
We considered actually going over the Munro and up to the highest peak in the area (Sgùrr na Lapaich) but we decided this was probably biting off more than we could chew. So instead we aimed for the col instead.
The col is the lowest point on a ridge between two peaks. So, it is lower and easier to pass over.
It was still pretty flipping high though.
When we eventually reached the col, I realised it was a pretty good metaphor for the business life and probably life in general.
When you start out in business/self-employment you can rarely see where it’s all heading. In fact, to begin with, the summit is so far off and seemingly out of sight that you kind of can’t comprehend it.
You cheerily and often naively set off on your adventure, not fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead.
As we continued over the rough terrain, the mountainside opening out in front of us, the scale of the challenge started to reveal itself.
As a freelancer, it quickly becomes apparent that you need to earn money. Like actually earn money. And more of it than you perhaps first thought.
It dawns on you that you still have quite a long way to go and also importantly that, you can’t back out now. I mean you can. But you’ve committed to it. It’s far too early to quit.
And think where you could get to.
Life lesson no. 2 - No matter how daunting the road ahead seems, it’s rarely a good reason to quit. I might not be able to see the summit, but I know it’s there.
Bring me the horizon
As we got further and further up, we’re obviously thinking that it can’t be far now. The horizon is in full view. There’s a point where the two peaks either side meet in the middle and beyond that; sky. This has got to be it.
As we get closer though, the truth is revealed. This isn’t the col we were looking for.
Beyond this horizon is another. This hump of earth was sneakily hiding the continuing ascent on the other side. We weren’t there yet and we faced yet more of a climb over the increasingly arduous terrain.
Even in the short time I’ve been in business, I’ve experienced this feeling. Setbacks and added challenges that we don’t see coming and that just don’t seem fair. The disappointment when what we thought was the next big win, is a damp squib and there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Maybe a win we were expecting to come, doesn’t turn up at all. A potential job falls through. A client relationship breaks down or a job doesn’t go the way you planned.
And then it starts raining.
It had been dry up until this point but the heavy clouds that we had been outrunning finally caught up with us and let rip. It wasn’t torrential but it was still pretty miserable and didn’t really let up until we got to camp later.
Eventually we got to the col which was really just a brief moment of respite. We then had to get down the other side where the terrain was just as bad if not worse. But we kept going and we got there.
And you know what, that was as bad as it got. Each day’s walk was gradually shorter, the weather was generally fine and we just accepted that are feet were going to get wet and embraced it, drying them out on the fire at the end of the day.
Life lesson no. 3 - Just when you thought stuff couldn’t get tougher, life sometimes throws another curveball at you. RKO outta nowhere. All you can do is persevere. It will probably be alright in the end.
The mountain climbing metaphor doesn’t follow completely of course, because in business you might not want there to be a summit. That implies you’ve reached the peak of what you can do and that it’s only downhill from there. And for a lot of entrepreneurs and business people the fun is in the climb.
But that’s not quite what I’m getting at.
The point is, we can’t always see where life is taking us and it can be a pretty tough slog to get to where we want to be. We’ll encounter difficulties and sometimes feel like giving up.
But I have it on pretty good authority, that if you keep pushing, you’ll get there eventually. Whatever ‘there’ is.
I’m yet to find out.