Front Line Heroes – Chapter Thirteen/Go Live with the Whales, Part One

“We tend to be blind to our own assumptions when we are locked inside them.”    – Richard Tanner Pascale and Anthony G. Athos, Warner Books

Go climb Mount Rainier.

Go organize an expedition to the North Pole.

Go build a house for Haitian refugees living in New Orleans.

Go have a big adventure.

It is not an option or a good idea.  It is a must. Your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being is critical to growing your business.  This business growth game is not for sissies.  In fact, for me, growing and developing an organization is like racing in the Olympics:  it is the ultimate business challenge, and it attracts the best of the best.

As the source of your business career, recognize that you are an instrument that needs tuning and care. You are the center.  View yourself as a tree with roots that needs water and nutrients, as a baby bird in the nest that needs worms brought to it, or as a colt in a beautiful pasture – do I need to continue in this vein?

The message here is that getting away – really getting away – is good for you and good for your business.  If you understand this point and are actively getting away in your life, rock on.  If you are doing this intellectually, but not physically (or if you are not doing this in any sense), read on.  You might learn a few things.

Who knew Chile had Earthquakes?

When I went to Chile via hiking in Patagonia, I never even imagined that an earthquake or tsunami was a possibility.  But I would be forced to learn and adapt…

Now, by the term, “getting away”, I am not talking about just a vacation.  Vacations are good.  I recommend them.  But to achieve the experience I’m talking about, you must completely remove yourself from familiar surroundings and land in genuinely unfamiliar territory.  The goal is to get you stimulated and fully engaged, not just rested and relaxed.

Who knew a third of Chileans live in Santiago?

Everyone else in the country is either from, or related to, people in Santiago.

Three personal example of this type of “getting away” come to mind:  a trip I took to the Caribbean on a sailing yacht and a 12-day hiking and 10-day hiking, biking, and rafting expedition through the lakes and mountains of Patagonia.  These are examples of total immersion adventures.

Who knew Chilean Penguins live in holes?

To get to their holes, the penguins march in lines mile after mile.  The Magellan penguins swim and live in the ocean, having nothing to do with land, for months at a time.

What does not fit this category of experience is the week I spent at a resort in the American Virgin Islands for my 25th wedding anniversary or the time I spent hiking in the Cascades during summer vacation.  Those were fun, relaxing, and rejuvenating experiences, but they were designed to be comfortable and real vacations.

Who knew the First Floor is called the Zero Floor in Argentina?

The first floor is what we think of as the second floor.  The basement is referred to as the minus one (-1) floor.  This is all represented in the elevators.  What kind of country is that?

In an adventure, there is an aspect of breaking yourself up.  You need to challenge your physical and psychological boundaries in some way, forcing yourself to go beyond who you know yourself to be.

Who knew coffee in Argentina would be lousy?

They drink weak coffee that is made from instant – no Starbucks or Caribou to be found.

There’s a business opportunity for someone who is reading this, and that is exactly what I am talking about.  By getting away, you get business ideas.  Open Starbucks up in Argentina and call it Estrella Pesos.  Hey, that was funny – only if you know Spanish, though, and even then not so much…

The Caribbean sailing adventure affected my sensibilities by completely surrounding me with aqua-blue water day after day.  Seeing whales, boats, and island in the distance, the vastness of the ocean in the day, and the stars at night was striking.  Living with people I did not know beforehand gave me insights into how I deal with strangers.  I noticed the parameters and barriers that I put up when it comes to people I do not know.  If I do not focus, it is easier for me to stay distant than to be curious about these strangers.  Curiosity about others is something I can cultivate in myself; I can make it a discipline and focus.

These are things you bring back to work.  Being in a different environment gave me a new perspective on my everyday life.  I recognized that there are different environments beyond the one I live in, and I brought them back with me to Oak Park, Illinois.  I recall the glimmer of boats in the middle of the ocean as I walk down my urban street to the shoe repair guy called Viejo.  I am in line waiting for a teller and in my mind’s eye seeing a rhea – an ostrich-like bird that lives in southern Patagonia.  The world is more than what I am seeing before me, and that knowledge empowers me.  I’m more appreciative of what I have and of my life as a whole.

Who knew that all roofs are metal in Patagonia?

Okay, maybe not all, but there are a lot, and I mean a whole lot, of metal roofs in Southern Patagonia.

During the Patagonia trip, Jonathan, the CEO of a company that makes metal roofs, saw several things his business could be doing.  This primarily centered on how his $250 million dollar company made and attached the roofs. He also discovered that he could sell his company’s ideas on the subject to the Chilean and Argentinean metal roof industry.  These were illuminating moments he likely would not have had if he had stayed at his desk in Alabama.

Who knew the lakes in Patagonia are aqua?

Not only are the lakes in Patagonia majestically beautiful, but their amazing aqua tint is due to glacier segmentation.

The Patagonian adventure took me out of my comfort zone, and this concept is the essence of “getting away”.  We hiked for days, doing 8 to 10 mile hikes that took between 7 and 9 hours each.  At the beginning of the trip, I saw myself as being “in shape” and a good hiker.  Yikes!  It is all so relative.  Given the group I was in, I was at the back of the line.  Me?  Brucie?  I tripped.  I fell.  I was the last to arrive.  This, in itself, was character building.  I am a consultant, after all, and I am seen as an expert.  But here, I was not the star or even particularly knowledgeable.  This challenged my head and my body.  When I returned home, I found that I was more compassionate to my clients who are uncomfortable and challenged by the work we do together.

Who knew Puentas Arenas, Chile, is the southern-most city in the world?

I was actually in Puentas Arenas.

The group I was with was mostly composed of people from the American West Coast, predominantly Seattle and Alaska.  These guys were outdoor enthusiasts and experienced hikers and campers.  For sure, I was the Rip Van Winkle of the trip.  It had been 30 years since I’d last slept in a tent and 20 since I’d last curled up in a sleeping bag.  The last time I’d hiked was July of the previous year, and this trip was in the middle of February.

During the hike, I learned that headlamps are useful camping equipment.  There are such things as “stuff sacks”, which are high-tech nylon bags with straps that compress your sleeping bag – and which require an advanced degree, in my opinion, to use.  There were more lessons:  wearing cotton can give you hypothermia in the damp or cold rain, wearing synthetics can save your life.

It was challenging to see that there are areas of life in which I am not an expert.  There was nothing theoretical about this experience.  It was action-in-the-moment.  My body ached in places I had no idea I even had a body.  I was dependent on others to help me – once, guides had to physically assist me down from a live volcano.  I needed to get my ego out of the way and accept the help.  I brought that powerful experience home with me.

To be continued….