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Is being an entrepreneur a bit like a 1000-mile paddle across Alaska?
Your immediate response to this proposition is probably ‘No’ – and ‘what the hell is he talking about’. Let me explain.
Our small coffee company Jones Brothers Coffee in Amsterdam is currently supporting a friend of ours Alex de Saint (or ‘Alex The Insane’ as we call him!) to do just this. He is part of this year’s Yukon 1000 race across a huge lake from Canada to Alaska – take a look here http://www.yukon1000.org/ – and he is doing it on a standup paddle (SUP). Yeah, crazy right?
This Yukon 1000 race is unique for its requirement for ultimate self-reliance and the remote and dangerous adventure experience. Their website even has suggestions on how to deal with bears en route – after all, this is the salmon season or, as we might know it, the “bear feeding-frenzy season”! And the best bit of advice: “bring bear spray”! Whaaat?
People from all over the world are taking part and Alex is proudly representing The Netherlands.
Now, we not only want Alex to survive this amazing challenge, we also want to support him and help him get across the finish line. It’s just him, his paddle, a few bits of equipment…and some additional ‘fuel’ in the form of Jones Brothers Coffee to keep him focused and energized. As well as tracking Alex’s progress via GPS over the 6 to 8 days it will take him, it also got me to thinking. Er…not about entering next year’s race! More about what makes us want to push our limits of endurance and resilience, to summon up the mental fortitude to battle our physical and emotional selves, a determination to face the deep well of our fears and to seek achievement through sometimes unbelievable adversity (or at least the prospect of it). I couldn’t do what Alex is doing. I don’t have the physical strength or the training.
And while there is no specific training that can prepare you for the experience of entrepreneurship, I have some sense of the personal challenge, the emotional ups and downs, the fear, resilience and the energy, focus and commitment that it takes to plough a successful path. And perhaps the sense of adventure that Alex must be feeling right now. I started this coffee company 5 years ago next month with a real sense of purpose, a desire to create and build something again from the ground up, something different from before and of doing it my own way with my own resources. And while we are nowhere near a summit yet, we can at last start to see that there is a more reachable goal. We are moving on from a mere ‘survival mode’ into a stable company, with the right mix of people and a greater sense of what’s possible. The physical demands may not be as great compared to Alex, but I do think the depth of my resilience and capabilities have been tested a few times! Of course, I have had help along the way – family, friends, mentors, inspirers and some great clients and customers who believe in us – people who care enough to want to support us. We haven’t encountered too many bears so far, but we all need help and a bit of luck along the way I think.
“Push Past The Impossible” is the calling card for the Yukon race and while there are no physical mountains to climb, the sense of pushing towards a summit must be immense for Alex. He’s no armchair warrior, he is out there doing it, pushing his limits, wondering how far he can go. Of course, he wants to win the race, but I suspect that whatever position he finishes in, he will realise that just getting to the finish line will be a hell of an achievement.
I guess a bit like Alex, I will keep looking to the horizon, keep paddling day and night and while there is not exactly a finishing line for me to cross, the sense of achieving something and, as much as possible, enjoying the journey is how I keep going. And, this life as an entrepreneur is one I have chosen. So, I wouldn’t change it or where we are right now; and I wouldn’t change places with Alex either. Go on Alex! Keep pushing!
Want to know more about Alex’s fantastic journey, click here!
Want to know more about Jones Brothers and our coffee, click here!
I get asked a lot about my tips for being a successful entrepreneur by youngsters trying to figure out what to do with their lives. And by those mid-way through a corporate career desperate to try something else but unsure whether to jump. I am not Richard Branson, but here’s a couple of things I have learned:
When you are so deep into the everyday detail (and worry!), you forget the goals that you set out to achieve, they were the motivators back then, they should still be the motivators now. Keep heading in that direction.
Much easier said than done. Especially when things are tough or feel scary. There will always be moments (days and weeks sometimes!) that test your resolve or your bank balance. Take a breath, look around you for help or support if you need it and check that you are doing everything you should be doing. Things will work out.
You will be taking on some element of risk and it can be scary. But being vulnerable is part and parcel of being an entrepreneur. Recognizing your fear and channeling it into forward motion is how most of us get through. Just don’t let it paralyze you into inaction. Stop staring at your navel and get out there and do something!
Are you and your business ready to take advantage of opportunities that might come your way, even if you hadn’t planned for it or imagined it. An honest assessment of your ability and perhaps flexibility to jump on to something is key. If it can be done and will bring something positive, don’t hesitate!
You will push yourself further than you ever thought possible. But ultimately, you will need people around you, inside and outside of the business that you can turn to, that you can rely on, that you can trust. It’s not easy to let go of some things, but to grow you will need to do this. Finding and building the right mix of people that give you confidence to let go a little is a skill and takes time, but it’s worth it.
If your eyes are open, there are little successes every day. Having a positive environment for you and others to work in breeds success, so make a big deal over small things. Congratulate others as well as yourself. A forward step gets you closer to your own horizons!
You are not the only one on this journey. And there will be plenty of bumps on the road along the way. Your family especially need to stay connected to you so that they can give you the support and sometimes the space you need to keep going. Do not neglect them or forget about the love they feel and the love they need. As for your mates, they’ll never refuse a beer or a catch-up phone call. You don’t have to exist in your world on your own. Bring others with you!
The Bean Team