What I learned about business on a mountain bike

Darla Fortner
Darla Fortner

We’re so fortunate to live in Western Colorado, where we have world-renowned mountain biking just out the back door. Recently presented with the opportunity to ride the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, I just had to go.

So I did what anyone my age would do. I bought my first mountain bike and began training for the 100-mile ride. While I initially believed I was merely buying a bike and learning a new sport, I quickly discovered I was in for so much more.

First, I had to conduct research and obtain information about purchasing a bike. I connected with wonderful people willing to share their knowledge and enthusiasm. In business, I’m enriched when I network with subject matter experts and inspired by their enthusiasm.

Once I procured my ride, I discovered I didn’t even know how to shift gears for the terrain. In mountain biking, as in life, there are hills to climb, slopes to ride down and obstacles to get over. Being in the right gear is crucial for forward progress. The wrong gear can result in overexertion or the inability to clear an obstacle. In business, we must adjust to the circumstances to thrive. The ever changing landscape of employment law, for example, requires constant adjustments if we are to maneuver them successfully.

I also learned that how I’m positioned on the bike affects my ability to descend a hill. If I’m going to bomb down a hill or at least ride down a hill without crashing and flying over the handlebars, I need to shift my weight back over my seat, relax my arms and make sure not to apply too much pressure on my brakes. I’m not sure what’s the hardest for me, relaxing my grip or not slamming on the front brake when fear creeps in. It’s a matter of letting go and letting the bike do its thing —  not using a death grip and trying to control everything. The same rules apply in business. When a task appears daunting, it’s best not to attempt to try to control every detail. I find I’m more successful when I relax and let the process flow. Seneca said in Oedipus, 992: “Many are harmed by fear itself, and many may have come to their own fate while dreading fear.”

Riding uphill presents its own challenges. I thought if I just look right in front of me I won’t have to face the daunting ascent. What I learned, however, is that I need to look at the top of the hill. My mind will draw me to the top. I also assumed I should go as fast as I can to quickly reach the top. Wrong, again. I need to keep the bike in the lowest gear available and ride slow and steady with my chest to the handle bars. This conserves the energy needed for a long uphill ride. I find in my work life there are times I want to power through things just to get them done. By doing so, I miss the details and end up having to back track. There’s value in looking at the desired goal and carefully working through the details to reach the end. This approach can also save time in the long run. Pushing a bike uphill is no fun.

I think one of the most important takeaways from mountain biking has been to remain teachable. Each day there’s something new to learn, a challenge to face or fear to overcome. Epictetus, Discourses, 2.17.1 sums it up best: “Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

Meanwhile, the joy is found not in the destination, but the ride. Enjoy the journey.