Thoughts From the Trail

Author: Nate Majors

I’ve recently taken up trail running as a great way to carve out time for enjoying a little peace, quiet and reflection. It offers a chance for getting out of my digital life and getting enveloped in the natural. Covering more and more miles I began noticing striking correlations between the trail running experience and my business, life, and this journey we’re all on. The rugged terrain, long periods of strenuous output, refueling, necessary equipment, etc. all leant themselves to great metaphors and writing topics. So, for a while, I thought we could explore one together with my hope being it will provide you with your own moment to stop, reflect, and adjust for accelerated personal and professional growth (if needed…some reflection leads to confirmation of previous decisions.) #trailrunningislife

Who could benefit from this? While I typically work with entrepreneurs, small business owners and leaders of growing companies, I’m anticipating anyone (i.e. a division manager, a CEO, a college student, etc.) could find an equally beneficial application. The goal is, through analogy and metaphor, to generate thoughts taking you outside your current situation while helping you think more strategically. #workingonthebusinessnotinthebusiness

Deciding Requires A Goal

First observation: Before I even decided on a trail, I needed to know my goals. And, for me, goals are time-constrained, concrete progressions moving me toward fulfilling a bigger mission. They need to be really big and challenging. They need to have a sense of urgency. They need to really stretch me to become better and move me in a positive direction.

Sure, my goal with running is the standard “to get healthy”. But I can get healthy a hundred different ways. And anyways, it seems like a moving target. How do I know when I’m “healthy”? So, “getting healthy” isn’t really a helpful goal.

Maybe a big enough goal is wanting to live to see my grand-kids. But “Living to see my grand-kids”, while big and admirable, is still too vague and, therefore, isn’t necessarily a goal either.

I also knew, given my family history, I needed to start a regular exercise plan which, in addition to strength training, needed to include a large running component for increased cardiovascular endurance. But “running for endurance” still isn’t a goal.

Deciding to loose 40 lbs, trail-run 10 miles, and complete a Tough Mudder by my next birthday: now THAT’s a goal. It’s simple, measurable, ambitious but attainable, and time constrained. I know exactly what’s expected and when I’ve attained it. Does it automatically make me “healthy”? No, but when I’ve attained this goal, I’m physically better than I was before and have a great platform from which to launch after another goal taking me in the same direction.

Deciding Has Power

The next observation hitting me during my run was the numbers. Yes, I said numbers. And I don’t mean the complicated coefficients of the angle of trajectory multiplied by an object’s mass divided by friction times gravity squared. I mean the simplest of simple numbers. The very first number learned extending your index finger toward the sky: One.

For example, every time I hit the trail I have one trail I’m running. Just one. Sure, there are lots of trails in the area I could be running. Those trails could be less challenging: flatter, shorter, safer. They could be more challenging: rockier,  hillier, overgrown. But, for today and for whatever reason, I choose this one. #todayIchoose

And, by choosing this trail, I’ve automatically eliminated the countless other trails available to me. It does me no good to wish I was on another trail. In fact, having another trail in mind while running this one only hinders my progress and could be down-right dangerous!  Running when I should have walked, zigging when a zag was necessary could land me flat on my face with new road rash to show for it. On the next run (and the run after that) I can always choose a different trail. But for right now, this is the one trail I’ve chosen. #eyesontheprize  #opportunitycosts

You might interject, “But, even though you’ve chosen a trail doesn’t mean you can’t deviate?” And you’d be correct. I’m all for improvisation and disruptive innovation. The trail nearest my house branches multiple times along the way. And while the posted signage says “Trail Length: 2 Miles”, I could easily repeat the same path or choose endless side trails (i.e. improvisation) extending the overall length of my run well beyond the posted 2 miles. Likewise, I could start my own trail (i.e. disruptive innovation) running through brush and backyards. My main point being; from the time I put the first foot on the trail to the time I take the last step off, no matter how many twists and turns it took, I’ve still only run one trail. One continuous, unbroken trail. #onetrail

Deciding Establishes A Framework

So, I have a goal and I’ve chosen a trail. Next, an overarching question, based on my trail choice, naturally emerges: Did I prepare for this particular trail?

Did I learn the start/end points and optional trails, plot a course, then calculate a total length? Does it match my goals? Am I starting a two hour run 20 minutes before the sun goes down? Did I consume and store enough energy to finish well? Am I wearing cleats when I should be wearing trail running shoes? Am I appropriately dressed for the environment? Should I take a buddy? Can I undertake this challenge given my current physical fitness? Should I work up to the challenge? #whatsmyframework

Recap

I hope the analogies and metaphors jumped out at you along the way like they did me. And, I’ll confess, they’re a little superficial; easily breaking down if over-extended. Conversely, we’ve only scratched the surface with some of the metaphors. There’s also many moreI didn’t mention. But, they’re some of the same foundational concepts I cover with each new client engagement:

  • Has a clear goal been determined? Does your company want to reach 20% market share by 2020? Do you want to make $100K a year for the next 5 years? Maybe you want to build a company worth $10M by the time you’re 30. Or, maybe you’ve accomplished an initial goal and need a new one. Are you at the stage of life where you just want to build your nest-egg before you close your doors and retire? Whatever the current situation: Rather than have the future decided for you, has a goal been decided by you?
  • Has this client decided on their trail? Your goal is what you’re aiming for, your trail is what gets you there. For some entrepreneurs they knew what they loved doing from a young age and economic forces have allowed them to do it ever since. For others, forces have changed and they’re trying to figure out their next move. Do you want to slightly alter your course by starting a totally new business in the same industry? Do you want to become more efficient in your current business so you can add an adjacent product line? Do you feel a draw to switch to a new industry? Do you have a disruptive idea you want to introduce?
  • Do they understand their inherent framework? Non-conformist love to argue with the words “inherent” and “framework” picking it apart with obscure examples based on disruptive innovation. But on a macro-level, if you’re going to produce railroad cars, your best customers are limited to those still using rails. Innovation, no matter how disruptive, augments the framework but doesn’t negate its existence. While the iPhone changed the game for mobile phones, it did so within the already existing telecommunications framework.

These sound fundamental and obvious, right? But I wonder if we don’t ignore them sometimes. How many of us know people who got married but continued making decisions with the single-person’s mindset? How many businesses claim to be one type of company but continue to support unfocused product lines dragging them down? How many of us want to lose weight but continue consuming calories like we’re preparing for winter hibernation?

Wherever you are in the process: stay focused, stay alert, and, if we ever cross paths on a trail in the woods of North Georgia, feel free to stop me and tell me about your progress. Happy trails.

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