In Pursuit of Profit
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Growing up I dreamed about experiencing Mt. Rainier up close and personal. So, it is no wonder that as I came to enjoy hiking in my adulthood the idea of conquering her crept into my mind. Summiting was something I thought about for several years. However, with a limited window to attempt the climb, a very small chance of summiting and the high cost, I ultimately put that dream away.
Then I remembered an article I read in 2008 about a group of friends who hiked around the mountain on one of the country’s most notable long-distance trails: The Wonderland Trail. This trail had stuck in my mind as a challenging way to experience Mt. Rainier that was far more feasible than summiting. So, early last year I decided to use the excuse of a milestone birthday to set out to hike the trail with three friends. Now, the Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile circumnavigation of the mountain that includes 46,000 feet of gross elevation gain/loss; a large undertaking!
With good planning, good fortune, and good friends I was able to complete this noteworthy endeavor and make memories that will last a lifetime.
A year later as I look back, I realize that I learned many lessons throughout the planning and training process that apply to the professional side of my life as well. As an accounting and finance recruiting leader, I am always looking for ways to use my personal growth to achieve professional growth as well. And, if I can help other business professionals learn something along the way, that is a huge bonus.
Here are the four most important leadership lessons that I learned hiking the Wonderland Trail:
Lesson 1: Choosing a Challenge
There are many adages that all say something to the effect of “You don’t grow unless you suffer.”
We chose to attempt the hike in 4 days, meaning an average of 23.25 miles and 11,500 feet up or down per day. I could bore you with why we decided on this timeframe, but basically, we wanted to challenge ourselves physically (and it was about as much time as we could all get away from our families).
Well, we completed the trail in 4 days as planned, and it was hard. We suffered. But we grew. We could have played it safe by going slower, but we wouldn’t have known if we could pull it off if we didn’t challenge ourselves.
The same is true in business. Playing it too safe never yields the best results. Risks must be taken to reap rewards. Launching new lines of service, setting stretch performance targets, or taking a chance on hiring someone are all examples of choosing a challenge. It’s only when you test your limits into the unknown that you can surprise yourself at the person you discover in the attempt to meet those goals.
Lesson 2: Time Spent Preparing is Time Well Spent
Planning a 4-day 93-mile hike is not easy. You cannot expect to show up on day 1 and start walking, there is an itinerary to craft, gear to research (and research, and research) and buy, and food planning.
Mt. Rainier National Park gives out a very limited number of permits to hike the Wonderland Trail every year. We were lucky enough to get one, but only because I enlisted multiple people to apply, increasing our chances. Without this simple step of preparation, the trip would not have become a reality.
Then, the Park requires those who won a lottery spot to build their itinerary (choose campsites) in a certain window. To add an additional level of complexity, the Park only allows hikers to reserve camp sites 17 miles apart from one another. With 25 potential camp sites and 2 hiking directions to choose from, we had to be prepared for our booking window. I was and I got exactly what we needed.
Once we had our itinerary locked down, we focused on gear. Hiking roughly a marathon with 11,500 feet of elevation per day means you want to always carry as little weight on your back as possible. I learned that this is called going ‘ultralight’. Going ultralight can be easy… if you have thousands of dollars. Otherwise, it takes lots of research to buy what you need at an affordable price. Thanks to weeks of preparation, my bag fully packed (without food) weighed less than 10 pounds.
And then there was food, the most important and most frustrating part to prepare for. Because weight was a factor, we researched the densest caloric foods that would provide us the most energy. We then had to plan for 2 food drops along the way which required planning out every meal and snack along with capacity in our bags. This preparation ensured our bodies would have the required fuel to get us to the end.
Preparing for the hike took six months and we were still preparing up until 12 hours before setting foot on the trail, but every minute spent preparing directly correlated to our success: completing the trail in 4 days with a solid itinerary, perfect gear, and enough food.
Thinking ahead and around corners is critical in business, too. Preparing for what’s ahead might not earn your business the incremental dollar, but it can help save time, energy, and money down the road. Things like investing in creating Standard Operating Procedures, ensuring the proper culture is maintained, and giving budgeting the appropriate attention are all examples of time well spent preparing.
Lesson 3: Use Tools to Help with the Hard Things
Training for this hike required a LOT of time on my feet to get my body ready. At first, I was lost on how to best prepare. I was used to training for much shorter distances and I knew I wasn’t training enough weeks after I should have already started. I ended up purchasing a tool called Training Peaks that had a training plan for a 3-day ultra-running circumnavigation of Mt. Rainier – perfect! I modified it a bit for 4 days and I was off. I purchased a treadmill and spent hours on steep incline walking. I got up at 3am and walked around my neighborhood for 4 hours. As a result, my body held up wonderfully.
Buying gear and “going ultralight” was another huge blind spot for me. I had no idea how light I should go or even how to go about keeping track of all the stuff I needed (there ended up being about 35 items in my bag). I heard about a website called Lighterpack.com that ended up being my saving grace. I spent hours on the site crafting my perfect bag and I don’t think I would have been able to get my bag to under 10 lbs. without that tool.
Recognizing an area of weakness and leaning on a tool to help is a must these days in business, especially in the areas of finance and accounting. There are a wide range of tools that you can use to expand your financial capabilities, help your accounting team automate, supplement your in-house skillsets, and keep everyone on the same page. I would not have completed this trip without the use of these two tools. One was free and one was paid, but both required accepting the need for help and seeking the tool itself. There are an incredible number of accounting tools out there these days to help businesses with any of their accounting functions. You just need to take the time to figure out where you need help and then look for a tool that will assist in that area.
Lesson 4: When Things Get Hard, Press On
There’s no doubt about it, even after all the pre-hike preparation, hiking the trail was difficult. My body started hurting at some point on Day 1 in ways I could not predict, and it kept changing throughout the journey. Managing hydration was a challenge. Knowing how much and how often I needed to drink was something I had to learn along the way. I became very in tune with how I needed to feed my body to keep energy levels up and to stave off cramping and other effects of long, strenuous exercise. Pop Tarts and Snickers bars were my saving grace! The long days (up at 4am and logging 12-14 hours hiking with very little rest) added to the stress on my body.
But even through the pain and the uncertainty, there was no option to quit in the middle of the wilderness. I had to find a way to press on. Each small challenge was an opportunity to gain insight into my body – to learn, adapt, and keep going one step after another. I learned huge lessons about resilience, grit, determination and how a little bit of luck can help.
These traits are important in business as well. Things will get hard whether you expect them to or not. Deadlines will pile on, market conditions will shift, situations with employees will happen, and challenges will arise in ways you cannot predict. But I promise that if you imagine you’re in the middle of the wilderness with no option but to press on no matter what, that you’ll come out the other end stronger and better for it.
It’s been a year since I returned from hiking the Wonderland Trail. I think about the lessons it taught me and apply them on a weekly basis:
In a way, the central theme of all four lessons is doing the things that are hard and using what you learn from them. These are all lessons business leaders are likely familiar with, but I believe we can all use a refresher course in life.
The ways in which I’m applying them continue to surprise me. Most of all found that my thirst for another challenge is growing. While difficult and time-consuming, the 7-month journey to hike the Wonderland Trail has taught me to continue to push the envelope and challenge myself in new ways because you never know what lessons are waiting to be found next.
About the Author
Recruiting Services Leader, The ASP Team
Quinn is a native Washingtonian, born and raised in Tacoma and Lakewood. Having lived and traveled all over the world with stints in Portland, OR, Salzburg, Austria and Maui, HI, he returned to his roots in 2008 and now lives with his wife and two children in Issaquah. A proud alumnus of The University of Portland, Quinn received his undergraduate degree in accounting and began his career at Deloitte in the audit practice. Later he worked in corporate accounting and finance working for the Seattle Seahawks and Amazon. In 2015 Quinn actively sought out the Accounting and Finance recruiting industry and has been serving Puget Sound based middle market companies ever since.