These are six lessons that I learned along the way:
1. Every journey begins with a decision and the first step.
This lesson gives me the strength and forbearance as an entrepreneur to keep moving forward in my journey towards running a successful emerging markets business expansion consultancy. Just as I did not have to pack everything that I might need - which would have just slowed me down and rendered me incapable of completing the journey - I did not have to have all of the details in place about my business before starting it. The journey will provide me with the lessons I need along the way.
You do not always have to know how the journey to a destination will unfold, or even that you will get there. You only have to make the decision to undertake the journey, and then take it step by step from there. I am continually reminding clients that they can and should have big dreams, but need to put in place viable, intermediary steps to accomplish them. A lot of our strategic work for clients involves sketching out concrete steps towards emerging markets expansion success.
2. Walk in someone else’s shoes – all journeys have something to teach
This route is traditionally a Catholic pilgrimage. While I am not of the Catholic faith, I embraced the spiritual dimension of the journey because I believe that we can learn important lessons from those who are different from us. Walking in each other’s shoes leads to greater compassion, which in turn leads to greater understanding, peace, and prosperity. This includes economic security!
3. Sometimes to move forwards, you have to go back.
I would occasionally get lost, which was frustrating and added miles to my journey. At these times it was not helpful to keep going down the same path hoping that it would become the right one. I would have to instead turn around, find the path that I had deviated from, and only then move forward.
In what ways are you following the same path even though you know that it is leading further in the wrong direction? For instance, are you afraid to change your company’s global growth strategy because you want to continue to invest where you have already invested extensively, even though it is not bearing fruit?
Walking through long stretches of farmland, I spent a lot of time simply observing people and animal behavior. I noticed how someone who was rude to me was often rude with others as well, and it hit home how much of interpersonal behavior is far from personal.
One day, I was walking down the path and came across a gruesome looking German Shepherd dog. Its fur was matted, its eyes were angry, and it barked at me ferociously and blocked the path. Instead of hoping that its bark was worse than its bite, I left the prescribed path and scrambled down the neighboring bank towards the highway, to go around the dog.
Sometimes, we are in denial of people’s true nature. We see glimpses of it and willfully ignore the signs. This is especially true when we are in a work environment, and do not have much of a choice if we want to keep our jobs. However, finding concrete techniques to work around a particular flaw can often be more productive than hoping a person will change or pretending that their flaw does not exist.
5. It is ok to be the tortoise – everyone has their own gifts
While I walked slower than 95% of others around me, I walked two to three times longer. What I lacked in strength, I made up for in stamina and determination. I ended up getting to the end of the route faster than a few people who made fun of how slowly I was going. I learned that it was okay to follow my own pace.
I also found that with my language skills, I had the distinct advantage of being able to talk to nearly everyone I met along the way. I had a much profounder appreciation of the need to incorporate this gift deeper into my career path.
Have the self-awareness to know your own strengths, and lean upon them. What are your gifts and how have you put them at the center of your personal and professional development?
6. Take care of yourself, physically and mentally.
While I had started this journey because I wanted to gain physical strength, walking is the most accessible form of therapy. During these weeks spent walking 15-26 miles a day, I had plenty of time to think. I found myself taken aback by the amount of unprocessed sorrow and loss that I was carrying from losing my greatest mentor and best friend – my grandmother – several months earlier. In the daily grind, it is all too easy to push aside uncomfortable feelings that get in the way of our performance. You do not need to walk such long distances to benefit physically or mentally from walking- I still try to walk three miles a day and see many of the same benefits.
I did not, over the 450 miles, find answers to all of my life’s questions. I came back still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew much more about myself and what was important to me. I wanted a career that incorporated my language talents and emerging markets business acumen, compensated me according to performance instead of hours, was global in nature, and focused on relationships.
When a mentor offered me a couple of months later a consulting contract identifying mergers and acquisitions targets for a 3.4 billion dollar emerging markets alternative investment group, SH International was born! Thus began another epic journey. This time, I am sharing notes with you along the way.
What did you learn from a physical or figurative journey?
Make sure to sign up for SH International's monthly briefing, which includes links to my posts.