The waterfall effect
I love nature, I love exploring, I love finding metaphors for life’s struggles and triumphs, and recently while on a vacation in Moab, Utah, I found the intersection of all of these loves. Immediately, the parallels between so many of our TIGNUM clients' challenges, coaching sessions, and the evolution of our content and methodology were laid out right in front of me during one Moab evening.
While looking for a hike to end our day, we wandered into the adventure office to ask for a recommendation. We already had a few ideas, but these were the common touristy ones that you find on every map. We jostled back and forth with the guide when he looked up with a sheepish grin and said, “If you're up for it, I have the perfect hike. It’s not on the map; it’s not marked at the trailhead; it’s challenging, but it is epic. It takes you through some beautiful box canyons and ends at a waterfall. Are you up for it?”
The way he described this challenge reminded me immediately of so many clients who have to decide, "Do I want to launch another ho-hum product, go through another rotate-the-bald-tires reorganization, and start another same old same old company. Or, do I want to do something that is epic, unique, game-changing, highly impactful, and sustainable?"
As we drove up the dirt road to the trailhead, there were many times we weren’t 100% sure we were heading in the right direction. The instructions our guide gave us were close but in real life, didn’t feel exactly right. This felt just like the advice we often get from others when we are thinking about starting something epic - it might help guide us but no matter what, we'll still need to make our own critical decisions to get to our vision.
When we arrived at the unmarked trailhead, there were several directions we could head. Knowing we wanted to end at the waterfall, we followed our intuition to pick the one that paralleled, crossed, and re-crossed the stream. As we worked our way up the stream, we had to constantly choose which rocks to step on, where to take a leap, and which route would get us to our final destination. Over an hour into our hike, we ran into our first humans coming the other way. “How far are we from the end?” I asked. He smiled and replied, “You are probably a little bit less than one-third of the way there.” With only a few hours of daylight left and facing the hazards of being in a box canyon in the dark, we started to doubt our ability to make it to our destination. How often have you been at this exact same place in your business? Can we get this project to market in time? Can we pull this reorganization off before we go bankrupt? Can we really raise the money we need in our IPO road trip?
Pushing on, we started to feel the fatigue in our legs. The jumping from rock to rock, climbing above and then back down to the stream, and the winding trail all seemed to chip away at our energy, our resolve, and our belief of whether or not we should continue on. It was beautiful with moments of awe and excitement, yet each one seemed equally balanced with doubt and fatigue. When have you felt this seesaw-like flow of emotions?
About 2 hours into the hike, we ran into another group of hikers heading the opposite direction. These would be the last humans we would see on our hike. Almost Yoda-ish, the lead hiker grinned at us and said, “You are in the best part of the hike. You will face many twists and turns. You will think the waterfall is right there around the next bend, but it won’t be. Don’t give up. Just keep going, and you will be thankful.” We looked at our watch, looked up at the sun, looked down at the darkening trail and wondered, "Can we really make it in time?"
As we pushed on, we swore we heard the waterfall ahead only to be disappointed on the next bend along the trail. Our leaps from rock to rock started to feel more like carrying weighted feet through the mud. Our fears of getting stranded with our frequent disappointment of no end in sight were starting to wear on our mindset. I started thinking of how many coaching calls I have had where our clients felt this exact feeling. I even thought of our own evolution of TIGNUM - going through the recession, writing Sink, Float, or Swim, developing our many iterations of digital platforms, creating new partnerships, and constantly re-innovating our methodology and content - reminding me how challenging all of it was. This momentary “embrace the suck” moment made me smile, and I immediately knew there was no choice but to go forward.
Turn after turn, we pushed on. Our mindset shifted from what-if and self-doubt thoughts to we are on a mission and there is no turning back. We will sleep in this canyon, eat leaves, and suffer the freezing cold if we have to, but we will not turn back. These are my favorite moments in life and in coaching - when a client truly commits to where they want to end up. When they finally develop the mindset of belief, courage, commitment, and resilience. When they fully accept that doing epic stuff is hard, there are no guarantees, there are lonely moments, but there is no turning back. Have you ever committed to something so epic that it required this determination?
Finally, at exactly the moment we didn’t expect it, we turned the corner and there it was, the most beautiful waterfall I've ever seen. It was of course even more beautiful because we knew our mental and physical struggles to get there and we knew the risks we took and multitude of choices we had to make to see this view. Should we take this turn or that turn? Should we step on this rock or that rock? Should we turn back or push on? Oddly enough as I stepped into the freezing water and under the waterfall, there was no fatigue, there was no doubt about whether it was worth it, and there was a feeling of accomplishment I will always remember.
As I reflected, I thought of clients who have stopped before they got to this point. They gave up on the development of their culture, they were one bend short of finishing the integration of an acquisition they made, they never fully finished the product they wanted to take to market. They never felt this feeling of seeing your efforts pay off as you reach your destination. I was also saddened by the thought that so few clients, even when they make it to the waterfall, ever stop to enjoy the feeling of the water running over their heads or the pure exhilaration of standing in the frigid water.
Life has a way of providing these great lessons and examples that always inspire us at TIGNUM to continue on our journey of helping our clients Rule Their Impact. Where are you on your journey? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
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