In mid-November, seven of my friends and I threw 45lbs (20kg) on our backs and walked down into the Grand Canyon for seven days.
It was grueling, it was uncomfortable, we smelled terrible … and it was WONDERFUL.
This was my first backpacking trip and starting with a week in the Grand Canyon felt a bit like going from zero to seventy. I’ve gone camping plenty of times, but there’s a huge difference between having backup gear and plenty of food options stored conveniently in your car and carrying literally everything you need on your back for a week.
I was nervous to say the least.
Can I Do This?
Day one of the trip begins at the rim of the Canyon and 7,300ft (2225m) above sea level.
We ended the day 7 miles in and 4,600ft lower on the banks of the Colorado River.
That’s uh … that’s a big walk under any circumstance, never mind the actual weight on my back and the weight I was carrying in my head: “How is this going to go? Can I do actually this?”
I don’t exactly have to force the metaphor here do I?! 😂
I know I’m talking to a bunch of founders and product leaders hoisting the weight of competing priorities and high-stakes decisions on your backs on a daily basis.
Total Constraints and No Optionality
You know what helped? Knowing that there was nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other.
Step after step. Mile after mile.
Until finally, at the end of a very long day, we made it to camp and had the utter privilege of doing something very few people have done: soaking our aching feet in the cold, crisp water running through the bottom of one of the Earth’s greatest natural wonders, looking up at cliffs exposing billions of years of geological history.
It was breath-taking and I’ll never forget it.
Having no choice but to keep moving forward made the hard things easier.
Launching is Simple
Elated as we were, we also knew we were only one day in, with six to go … oh, and by the way, all that elevation we just dropped, yeah, we’re gonna to have walk right back up every bit of it!
In other words, all we had done was launched.
The walk down to the river was the Product Hunt announcement. Maybe a brief showing on the Hacker News front page or a mention from someone with a big audience.
Launching your product or walking down the Grand Canyon – hard as it is – is relatively simple compared to the journey ahead. You launch with a full head of steam. With stores of energy and a lot of heart!
More and different tests are in store for you now.
Waking Up and Doing It Again and Again
We never slept in the same camp twice. Every morning we would wake up, break camp, throw on our packs, and hike to our next campground.
And this is the part of the trip and of my journey in entrepreneurship that I am still processing, y’all.
Because it’d be easy to imagine those middle days being the most difficult. Your body should be sore from the shock of the descent of day one and you don’t have the elation of the climb out on the final day to feed you.
But those days were my favorite. The simple rhythm and routine that came from having no options and no distractions was profoundly refreshing.
That’s in complete contrast to my day-to-day life – and I would guess, yours as well.
We all desire to work in a flow state and we do our best work when we’re in flow, but virtually every feature of the modern world directly conflicts with making it possible.
In the bottom of the Grand Canyon, there’s simply nothing to be distracted by. You’re just there. Walking.
Flow State and The Flywheel
Far from getting more difficult or fatigued as the days went along, I felt stronger, refreshed, mentally sharper.
Each day building on itself with a momentum I’ve experienced and witnessed at companies where the direction is clear, the goals are achievable, and everyone on the team knows what they need to do.
Nevermind the ever-present discomforts, unknowns, and burdens. “I am stronger than I realized and we are stronger than we thought we were” is one of the most empowering experiences a person or a team can have.
Once you get that flywheel spinning, intimidating tasks – like hiking in and out of the Grand Canyon or starting a new business from scratch – stop looking scary and start to be attractive.
What’s in the Way?
On the day we climbed out, I’ve rarely felt better. It was pure elation and I wanted to carry that feeling home with me and protect it from Twitter, the news, and deadlines.
I know that’s impossible, but what I am working toward is identifying the primary differences between my day-to-day work and my backpacking trip. It’s unrealistic and impractical to think that the average day can mirror a day in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but they can certainly resemble one another a bit more than they currently do.
If I’m struggling to experience flow on a regular basis, what’s in the way?
If your team can’t seem to get a flywheel in motion, why is that?
The answer is almost always that we are trying to do much. Switching from one priority to the other so that nothing gets our full attention.
By trying to do more, we do less and we do it less proficiently.
This is certainly true for me, I wonder if you’ve found it to be true for yourself.
As for me, I’m remembering the feel of my footfalls on those dirt trails, the sound of total silence, and the simple objective of putting one foot in front of the other; allowing myself to discover the flow that awaits in the discomfort and routine of the in-between.