Just a few days ago, I was part of a trekking expedition, which involved going through the Khumbu Valley in Nepal, all the way to the Everest Base Camp and back. For a city chump like me, the experience was surreal. My first ever “real” trek, which lasted for about 12 days, was tiresome, difficult yet breathtaking all at the same time!
Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all teary-eyed and tell you how I discovered my true calling or how I overcame the blizzard and battled my life to make it to the summit. I’m not going to get up my own butt with false self-Importance. And I’m certainly not going to claim it was “life changing” or something.
But I will say this: picking up my backpack and trekking through the Himalayas was both one of the most challenging and rewarding decisions I’ve ever made. And I wouldn’t take it back. Because you do learn a lot! About yourself, about Mother Nature and about the invincible spirit of the human will.
Trekking challenges every cell and bone in your body, but more than anything it tests your grit. It makes you take one step at a time in the blistering cold, when your feet feel like rubber and refuse to move... just when you think you can't breathe anymore. And the best part being, you don't even know if you'll hold up till the end.
While I marched on, one step at a time with the help of my hiking pole, and often gasping for breath as the altitude increased; I couldn't help but think that my journey as an entrepreneur and as a trekker are pretty much the same. Both are as hard and long, as they are adventurous and uncertain.
But regardless of the hurdles, they make you grow. These are some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way:
1. Need for Preparation- Get fit before you start
Treks can go on for days or weeks till you reach the summit. This takes a lot of preparation - physical and mental. You have to build stamina by exercising months in advance; you have to not only watch your diet but also strengthen your will power. What helps more than your calf muscles' resistance to pain is the faith that you will make it. Add to this the research you do, the books you read and the movies you watch to understand the struggles of the trekkers who have lived through the same experience before.
As an entrepreneur: Before you plunge in, you need to have your plan and your resources in check – financials, equipment, team, market research etc. Besides anything else, the belief to keep going on and on. I remember the obsession I had during the first few months when we started up. I used to eat, sleep, drink, my work, 24/7. That did get me through the arduous initial startup woes.
2. Have Small Goals – Plan one day at a time
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Standing at the foot of the valley, the peaks seemed far off into the clouds. It seemed almost impossible to make it there. But what we did is focus on the task at hand and take one day at a time. Every night before sinking into our sleeping bags, we used to reflect on the day that went by, check our oxygen levels and plan the next day accordingly.
Breaking the journey into pieces made the daunting journey goals look achievable. And thus, we did not realize how and when we actually ended up walking so much, all the way to the top!
As an entrepreneur: Focusing on the end result or your 5-year plan may scare you off even before you begin the journey. When we started off, there was a long list of things to be done – hiring a team, setting up our studio, making marketing materials etc. The list seemed never ending. But, as the saying goes, we did it step by step and had our ducks in place, ready to lay eggs.
3. Stop to admire the view - Celebrate small wins
Every now and then, we stopped and admired the breathtaking views of the mountains. I remember looking at the stunning peaks, and with every difficult gasp of breath realizing why I am going through so much pain and effort. It is to see what I have never seen before and to feel something I have never felt before. In this way we celebrated our small daily goals, inhaled a few clean breaths and soldiered on. This is what kept the faith in us alive. This is what kept us going.
As an entrepreneur: Do I take out time and enjoy our small wins? No. I am usually too harsh on myself and by the time one project ends; I am neck deep into the next one. What I failed to understand was that, by doing this I was also being harsh to my team.
They need an occasional pat on their back for every small or big job they do and cherish each win as you would when you reach the summit. Recently, when we were neck deep in a project, I decided to take the team out for a round of drinks. It worked a breather for them, and we came back raring to go.
4. Choosing your Trek Group – Building a Team
Trekking solo can get boring. You need a team of like-minded people wanting to explore with the same zest as yours. Not only does it make the journey fun but also very easy. Especially when you start to give up or when there is a tough climb up, someone will extend a hand.
I clearly remember this particular instance at 18,000 feet, when my lungs had given up and I was contemplating my choices- to continue or give up. I heard a voice from the top; it was my Danish buddy pushing me to go a little more, one last time. And it was all that was needed. I slowly picked my self up and turned back and started ascending.
As an entrepreneur: The journey of an entrepreneur can get lonely at times. Often there are times when you feel like giving up. These are the times when you need your team – employees, partners, friends and family to lend you that helping hand. That one little push that makes you get up again and start moving.
I am grateful to my parents for financially covering me when the chips were down; or my co-founder for pushing me across the line when I run out of gas or my team for putting in those extra hours even when there was no end in sight. Besides, there were entrepreneur groups and communities, mentors and guides who were out there to help me. Thus, you should not hesitate to ask for help when you need someone to lean on.
5. Go Slow – It's not a race
The Mountains are a harsh environment and Altitude Sickness can hit anyone, no matter how experienced trekker you are. During our trek, we saw a rescue helicopter flying over us every 30 minutes, evacuating someone due to Altitude sickness. It was the end of their trip. And every time the chopper crossed over, it reminded us to go slow and stay steady.
Going Slow – is the mantra every successful trekker follows. Especially during such high altitudes when your body takes time to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. Even though it means you are the last to reach the camp. On one of the stretches, a friend and I were the last ones to reach the camp and I remember thinking it’s more important to make it rather than trying to be the first and not making it at all.
As an entrepreneur: Early on in business, I made this mistake of going faster than I should have. With wanting to see quick results, I over-promised to my clients without making sure if I had adequate resources. Luckily, somehow, with a lot of stress and heartache we made it. But not without burning our hands. And in that, there was a lesson to be learnt.
Running your business is not a race; it’s not about getting there first. Always remember why you ventured out on your own. It is a process that you have to go through to evolve. You go faster and you won’t be able to acclimatize to the harsh world outside and go bust faster than you realize. And unlike the mountains, there is no helicopter here to evacuate you. You go straight down hill!
So after 12 days, 157 kilometers and 2,66,334 steps I came to the end of my trek. Looking out from the window of my jet plane I caught the final glimpse of the peaks that were home to me during the past two weeks. Would I ever do it again? This trip, probably not. Been there, done that. But will I do something similar or rather scarier? Hell yes!
I read somewhere – Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. It is in our nature to wrap ourselves within the comfort and trappings of our life. It requires a lot of courage, risk, and vulnerability to sometimes step out and discover who you really are and what you really are capable of doing. You don't have to go to Mt. Everest to step out of your comfort zone. You really have to look at where you are and where you want to be. What is the one step, just that one little step, you need to take to start moving in that direction.
And the road there will always be unknown. There is magic in discovering the unknown, accepting and embracing it. I have felt it. I have felt it in every single breath of this journey. And this, my friend is what I call the Entrepreneurship Trek.