Business Lessons Learned in a Kayak


Managing Yourself – the First Challenge!

Recently my husband and I took a trip to the East Coast…this is a trip we’ve been planning for a couple of years.  It was going to include everything; all the exciting stuff!  The itinerary started north and worked its way down the coast to Washington D.C.; first Maine with its gorgeous uber articulated coastline.  It’s a kayaker’s dream… then on to New York City for some culture shock, glitz, high fashion, architecture and art treasures.  Finally to arrive in Washington D.C. and get to see the Capitol Mall, visit the treasured monuments and documents of our democracy and feel the vibrations of our government in action.  Actually when the time came, we were even lucky enough to sit in on a few minutes of the Supreme Court in session.  “We the People…”

But I digress… this post is about business lessons noted in the cockpit of a kayak while paddling off the coast of Maine.

Allow me to set the stage.  Imagine a rolling green landscape dotted with classic New England style big old homes, a powerful blue-gray ocean, brisk winds and a cloud scattered sky.  Forecasts of rain and gale force winds threatened each of our four days on the water.  Yet each morning began calmly enough and beckoned us to load up our kayak and give it a try.  Would we make it to our next stop?  I sure as heck hoped so!  Bear in mind that I’m not a thrill seeker, just an ordinary semi-athletic middle aged woman, so this really felt like living on the edge!

What I met on the water was, of course, myself… my own fear, fight or flight urges and intolerance with uncertainty.  Sound familiar?  Funny how a threatening situation can make you feel powerless and then can help you to find the only real power any of us has…our own determination.  So my first business lesson learned while paddling along in unfamiliar waters and being jostled by currents and swells was about tolerating discomfort; living with tumult.

Think about this.  Just because conditions feel uncomfortable, marginally out of your control, does that mean something is “wrong”?  Or is this simply the present status quo, the current set of challenges you are facing?  In Part Two of Business Lessons Learned in a Kayak, I’ll ponder the value of planning and preparation.  However, when you are facing escalating seas ( or a tough economy ) it calls for you to meet those challenges face on with all the strength and courage you possess.  It’s a “grrrrrr” moment!

I secretly admire and crave experiences where there is no place to go but forward, no room for retreat.  ….times when I will be yanked out of my comfortable life and will be challenged to claim success, not because it is pretty but because it is necessary.  What is the gritty, determined, no-holds-barred stance you need to take for a fruitful thriving fulfilling business?  What is the fear you face moment by moment and how do you want to meet it?!

As we made our way across bays and around points of land, at times I wasn’t sure if we were making any progress.  Lesson number two showed up when I recognized that I could see our progress with each landmark we passed!  I got just how essential it is to set small goals so I could actually SEE that our efforts were working.

You, small business owner, perhaps you’re wondering if you are getting anywhere.  If you’ve been at it, working hard for some months or years now, of course you want to know that your efforts are taking you somewhere.  What I have to say about this is as follows: first, you can miss signs of progress if you don’t name your goals and notice when you reach them. Imagine a business owner; head down, trudging along, failing to celebrate her achievements and missing out on the juicy encouragement of passing a “landmark” accomplishment for her business.  What you need to do is set those small goals, celebrate the heck out of your achievements and give yourself the transfusion of courage to carry on that follows even a modest success!

Finally, you know why we human beings are even here on this Earth?  It’s because of our ability to learn and adapt.  This isn’t easy to come up with when you are feeling threatened or burned out, but we both know that’s the critical moment.  That’s when you meet yourself in the cockpit of a kayak, determined to round the Point and get to a safe harbor or whatever your best business metaphor may be.

Mother Nature does a cool thing for us.  She lets you focus on what’s essential for survival.  Your job is to follow her lead to access those smarts and do what is necessary right now under the current conditions; notice, learn, adapt.

The next installment will expand on the left brained side of the journey; intelligent preparation, a well considered plan, good information…stay tuned.

And, for right now…as Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address to the nation, “we have nothing to fear but fear it self”.  Carry on my friends!


Prepare for a real adventure!

It became clear to me some years ago that a genuine heart thumping adventure requires an element of risk.  Actual or perceived it doesn’t matter, as long as you have the impression that something important to you is at risk.  Then you have a real adventure!

Tolerance for risk varies; some folks embrace it fully while others watch from a safe distance and think “that’s close enough!”.  When engaging in a risky enterprise, what most of us do to mitigate potential threats to our well being is to prepare ourselves, one way or another, in an effort to assure survival.

As you may know from reading Business Lessons – Part One, this is the second part of my reflections pulled from a fairly heart thumping four day kayaking junket recently taken off the coast of Maine by yours truly and my capable husband.  While running through the full gamut of emotions from “wow, this is so beautiful” to “we’re going to die” to “I hate my husband for talking me into this”, I found myself drawing comparisons to being a small business owner…go figure?!  There was plenty at risk; right up there with being in business!

So let’s talk about the mitigation of risk part… Good grief, for our kayaking adventure we were soooo prepared with maps, aerial photos, a deck mounted compass, cell phone (which came in handy more than once!), dry bags for our gear and so on.  All of this started to feel like over kill until we got on the water.  Then every bit of it proved useful…did I mention the flares??

That kind of preparation feels like a battle plan, a plan of attack designed to assure a successful campaign.  Think about your business.  Admittedly, being in business is more long term than a single scrimmage.  Perhaps it would be useful to think of it as a series of campaigns intended to take and hold market share!  What is your plan of attack?  What is the preparation that will assure your success?  What do you need to have on board?

I fear that many of us as small business owners may be short on preparation and foresight.  We find ourselves in the middle of things, our daily tasks, without certain essentials like a “compass” or even a clear sense of where we’re headed.

But don’t take this as insurmountable or a life sentence, not so!  Unlike on a kayak trip, you can bring in more necessary supplies and information as you go along.  You can evaluate your situation by drawing on hard earned experience and your best judgment to help you refine your game plan or “change course” as needed.  You can also draw on the resources and knowledge of others when you need help.  Sweet!!  Your big questions here are “what’s working for me right now, where I am?”, “where do I want to be?” and then “how do I get there?”.

The real moment of truth came on the fourth day of our trip, paddling in a dense fog and traveling sideways to the swell (thank goodness for sick sea pills).  We were navigating across John’s Bay with no land in sight, guided only by compass bearings.  Suddenly, my husband and navigator uttered the one word you never want to hear under such conditions.  He said “oops”.  Seems we were off course, significantly.  What to do?  That was our moment; again we were being tested, given the opportunity to draw on what we had learned about the ocean, the boat and ourselves in all our hours on the water.  As I see it, under such circumstances you have two choices.  You can freak out or you can embrace the adventure; accept the risk and give it your best! Way more fun when you decide to go for it…!

“Oops” moments come to all of us, challenging us to take a deep breath, get our bearings, correct course and maybe pick up some help.  It’s part of the adventure reminding you that you have some thing at risk; some thing precious that’s worth fighting for… calling for you to go at it with renewed purpose and energy.

So here’s the moral of the story: first, preparation for your journey is key!  Prepare yourself with thoughtful planning, anticipate the troubles you may face, identify essential resources.  This will feed your confidence, for today and tomorrow, as you move forward.  And then, preparation is not a one time thing.  It’s a continuing state of mind – planning, anticipating, spotting essential resources – life skills that will save the day in your business as well as in a kayak!

Contact me… I’d love to hear about your adventure!

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