This summer I had some nice conversations about entrepreneurship and the daily struggle of “not fitting in a classical working environment” with my dear friend Minola, who writes a weekly blog about what daily activities tell her about change management. Also this summer I took quite some trips on my bike. Most of the trips took several hours, so that means you have quite some time to think about stuff. As an entrepreneur, I am not bound to a 9-to-5 schedule. So I can get in my saddle whenever I feel like it. For this article, I will copy her approach and tell you some of the thoughts that I had about what riding my bike told me about entrepreneurship.
First: brace yourselves
Biking, despite what we usually think of, is actually quite exhausting for the body. We just don’t notice it. The exhaustion normally doesn’t pick in very quickly. We ride with a bit of wind heading our way to cool us down or being in our back to help us forward. But put your bike on a home trainer and ride for an hour and you will see how exhausting it really is when the supporting factor – the wind – is missing.
Second: Know the territory
The territory that I mostly drove in the summer is not flat at all. Exploring the beautiful Atlantic coastline of Western France is quite a bit of work, that coastline is pretty hilly. It has more to do with Cornwall than with the Baltic Sea. After passing that terrain for several hours a day your legs will tell you what you’ve done the day after. I was close to giving up several times. But I went through with the goal in mind. What helps to persist is a general idea of what the guide posts are. Prepare the route, know the territory, and be prepared with water and snacks. Also, know what you’re capable of, but be honest to yourself and put a bit of a challenge in there!
Third: Know your energy levels
Going for several hours on a bike asks you to operate on a sustainable energy level. If you put all your energy into making the first big hill at your best time you will probably not last for the rest of your planned route. Sometimes it can be useful to save your energy – that you normally have at the beginning of a tour – and not turn your pedals too hard because that is what enables you to be in it for the long game.
Fourth: Keep a constant rhythm
Most of the secret to maintaining your energy levels comes from keeping a constant rhythm when pedalling. The constant rhythm is the best feedback loop for the territory you’re biking in. It tells you everything you need to know about the current elevation, the quality of the road etc. No matter what all the elaborate apps and GPS computers tell you about those parameters, those numbers are meaningless. We humans are really bad at interpreting numbers! Once you’re in it, the elevation is always higher or longer than expected. You’re constantly fighting to get up that little hill because you miscalculated.
Keeping a constant rhythm doesn’t necessarily mean putting more or less energy into your work to master the road. You have a little help here: your Gearbox! Changing gears is the most sustainable way to deal with those differences. So instead of putting more energy into it and risking losing your constant rhythm, you can simply switch gears, make the effort more bearable, and through that sustain your energy for a longer period.
Fifth: Be flexible
Even with the best preparation, even with the best training, even with the best circumstances there might come a time when you just can’t. Or where continuing might even still be possible, but at what costs? If you don’t take breaks when you need them you are risking serious injuries to your body parts. When you have really passed your limits stopping might be the smarter – healthier – solution. You should always ask yourself: Is it worth it? And stopping if the answer is no is not a shameful thing but a clever and considerate decision.
So what does all of that have to do with entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship, like biking those roads, is not an easy ride in the park, but quite the opposite. And not just sometimes, but most of the time. As an entrepreneur, you work and work and work for that one little result. You strive towards that one little goal that will then bear all the joy in the world for you. But the wind will not always blow in your favour!
Most of us are in it for the long game. We didn’t become entrepreneurs because the idea of leading a business feels so good to us. We became entrepreneurs because the idea of bringing an idea to life, caring for it, nurturing it, see it grow appealed so much to us and we are willing to give up on certain things, such as financial security or our comfort zone.
And the road to bringing that idea to a growth phase is quite the journey. We are ready and prepared to invest some blood, sweat, and tears. But if we set foot on the playing field without knowing the terrain, we make it so much harder for us. We have to be aware of our energy levels to be able to play the long game. There’s no shame in taking time to get your idea out there if that means you don’t burn out right after the start. If we don’t give ourselves a break every once in a while, we will make it so much more destructive for our bodies. And if we are not flexible enough we will run into So! Many! Dead! Ends!
Also, it doesn’t always have to be a fight. There’s nothing wrong if you don’t achieve everything yourself, but you get help which allows you to switch the gears. Consider very well what you put your energy into and what your support system can deliver.