How Entrepreneurship Is Like Hiking
I live in Hong Kong, but not the big city part of Hong Kong, the out in the country part of Hong Kong that nobody outside of Hong Kong knows about. I live 35 minutes from the downtown Hong Kong you associate with the city, but where I live we have mountains, forest, cows, water buffalo, old folks playing Mah Jong all day, beaches, roads with no cars, and lots of trails. I’m a trail runner. That is, I say that I run on the trails, but what I really do is hike slightly faster than a slow shuffle. That’s all my cardiovascular system can handle at the moment. I go out three times a week. I hike for 2-3 hours. I listen to audio books while I run/hike. I sometimes take short breaks to answer emails. To me, I’m working 100% of the time I’m hiking. I’m doing things I need to do for my business, while I’m also getting the exercise I need to stay physically well and mentally alert. But that’s a topic for another post.
The point is that when I hike, I have a problem. I have to keep my eyes on the ground. If I don’t, I’ll trip. There are rocks, tree roots, bumps in the ground, and even looking askance for a second can result in a trip, a fall, and on the trails I’m on, a fall could lead to a serious injury. I’ve had a few close calls, but thank goodness no actual falls just yet.
But keeping my eyes on the ground has created another problem. You see, where I live there are lots of spiders. And they’re not small spiders. They’re huge spiders. Man killers. Ok, maybe they’ve never killed anyone, but they look like they could kill a small child and eat him. These spiders aren’t just huge, they’re also evil looking. And they build webs across the trails. I can only assume this is because they’re trying to catch unwary hikers. Unfortunately for me, they build the webs at the same level as my head. But if I’m keeping my eyes on the ground so I don’t trip, that means I don’t see the webs. If I don’t want the webs wrapped around my face with huge spiders crawling on my head and back, then I have to keep my head up. What do I do?
This feels a lot like entrepreneurship. Many times I’ve talked to someone about a problem I have with my business, and they give me a solution. But applying that solution creates another problem, often because I don’t have time to apply the solution without ignoring something else. Yes, I would like to return the phone call I got from a big potential client today, but I already have meetings scheduled all day with existing clients. Yes, I would like to pay all my vendors on time, but I’d also like to pay all my employees on time. Yes, I would like to pay off the credit cards and not use debt financing, but my wife would also like me to bring home a paycheck this month. What do I do?
This is the reality of being an entrepreneur. Sometimes, almost all the time, there is more to be done than can possibly be done. So what do I do? What do you do when you find yourself in my shoes? You juggle. You look at the trail one second, and you look for spider webs the next. You call the big potential client back during the five minutes you have in between client meetings while you’re in the taxi or walking from one building to the next. You pay your vendors on time one month, and your employees on time the next. You pay off the credit cards one month, and pay yourself the next. Or you come up with 100 other possible solutions. This is what entrepreneurs do. They hack it. They get creative. They think of things nobody else would ever think of or at least not recommend. They do things that aren’t possible. At least things nobody else, nor yourself, thinks is possible. And yet somehow they still do it.
If you’re going to become an entrepreneur you’ll do impossible things. Occasionally you’ll trip. Sometimes you’ll end up with a giant spider on your face. But you’ll pick yourself up, you’ll brush the spider off (after screaming and flailing a bit and then quickly looking around to make sure nobody saw or heard you), and you’ll go on doing impossible things.
Are you an entrepreneur? What’s something impossible you’ve done, or seen done, that other entrepreneurs just starting out can learn from?