What Do Backpacking and Entrepreneurship Have in Common?

By Jeff Kinsey

I awoke at the crack of dawn, deep in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, to find six-inches of fresh snow blanketing … everything. We had specifically planned a fall trip to avoid such weather but, like they say, any day can be a Snow Day in Colorado. My client Todd and I were attempting to complete the famous Four Pass hiking loop and were due to cross Buckskin Pass at 12,500 ft, reaching my truck on the other side that afternoon. Todd’s priority was to call his wife by 3 o’clock to let her know he was alive. 

He was still sleeping, so I quickly reconciled the current scenario with our trip plan: we were camping at 10,000 ft, 13 miles from the nearest trailhead on the north side of an infamously dangerous 12,500 ft pass which was now covered in several feet of snow. This deep in the Colorado Rockies, there aren't many amenities, like trails or signs. We would be navigating through unknown forest in a whiteout to get to a parking lot on the other side. Not ideal with large packs and no ice gear. 

I got up and walked over to shake Todd awake. 

"We may need to accept the fact that you might not be calling your wife on time today,” I said. “Our priority now is getting out of here alive."

The trip plan we had labored over for hours was out the window. We could no longer count on it to get us through. We would have to come up with something new on the fly, and the stakes were high. 

We knew our best bet was to get below the snow line and find any semblance of civilization. We pulled out the map, took it all in, and found only one way that looked to be heading out: a 13-mile hike to a trailhead with a 'P' for parking, some 30 miles from our car. With a lot of luck and an open-minded ‘spirit for adventure,’ we found our way out. 

And by hike, hitch, cab, credit card, and truck, we made it to civilization just in time to call Todd’s wife. Mission accomplished.

Snow on the Maroon Bells. Photo by JBColorado

One learns very quickly that there’s no ‘controlling’ the wilderness. It doesn’t care about our plans or whether or not our spouses know we’re alive. It does its thing and that’s how life shows up for us in the moment. All we can do is respond. Being closely attuned to yourself and your place within your environment is the key to survival in the backcountry. It’s not all that different from running a business. 

The wilderness is a fantastic laboratory where none of the typical systems and social constructs exist to fall back on. You're forced to operate on your own, under very simple terms, and find solutions within that simplicity which can then be applied to fix whatever challenges you face. As an organizational consultant, executive coach, and wilderness guide, I spend a lot of time in the outdoors with my clients, helping them find a different source from which to address their problems. 

It might take a little help from someone like me, but that source of wisdom exists outside of your intellect – outside of your head – and with awareness and understanding, we can all tap into it on demand. Like dialing up the 'human' channel on your radio. We've all felt it at one time or another: you're walking the dog, driving to work, or in the shower and – BOOM – the answer to that lingering problem pops in, seemingly out of nowhere.

You may have driven yourself batty trying to work through it for days and then suddenly there it is! Most people don’t understand that this is our default setting. We have access to this wisdom all the time. Through coaching and guiding, I show people how to live in that space – in consciousness – where all the beauty of life shows up before us and we get to decide how to engage with it.

As an entrepreneur, or an entrepreneurial-leader in any setting, it can be very important to recognize when to throw the plan out the window and go with your gut. It’s just like having to change your hiking route when weather, bears, or yetis make your original plan unattainable. 

What does this really boil down to? The situation has changed and following the plan could now end poorly. It’s time to take a deep breath to reset and open your mind to fresh thinking. Keep the faith, it will come.

The cool part about this approach is that it’s showing up in current leadership trends. The ‘directive’ leader of the past – the (typically white) guy who figures out what everyone else should do and then can’t understand why turnover is so high – is out. The new leader walks into the room and sits down with the team. They start by asking how people are doing – no, really, how are you doing? And then they listen. The agenda grows organically. Problems surface and get addressed through the lens of the equity, diversity, and inclusion you’ve come to appreciate – and hired to represent – in the decision-making process.

You are the new leader: you create a plan to set direction via goals and then stay far enough away from your ego to follow your heart. Your team will appreciate you so much they’ll never want to leave. It’s only natural.

Jeff Kinsey created The Logos Group to apply his extensive experience building sales, service and operations teams in the banking industry to help passionate leaders create sustainable organizations from a place of calm and clarity. Through culture-based strategic planning and mindful-based executive coaching, Jeff aligns business models to purpose and supports leadership development within an innate culture predicated on growth.
Jeff spent 20 years working for J.P. Morgan, Citi, State Street, The Bank of New York, Bankers Trust Company and Huntington Bank. He holds an MBA in Strategic Leadership from the Dominican University of California as well as an undergraduate degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance and entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California. He lives with his family high in the Rockies west of Boulder where he spends as much time in the Colorado backcountry as possible.

*Cover image by Casey Reynolds

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