Not every boarding pass gets us on a plane. We take for granted that a rectangular piece of paper with an airline logo printed in the corner allows us to board. What assumptions once re-examined might be transformative? How often do we pause in the middle of everyday activities to consider all that operate smoothly for us to advance without complication? One warning light can delay a flight for hours, even when the non-cooperating part appears to be less than vital. What is essential for your journey? Who have we taken for granted?
Thirty degrees at 7 PM and snow appears on the roadside as I near Bogus Basin Ski Area. I have been riding uphill for 14 miles and not spied another cyclist, which is remarkable because there is always another velo enthusiast on this route. A vest, rain jacket, long fingered gloves, and cycling cap rest in my jersey pocket, ready to add micro-layers of protection during the thirty-minute descent. There is no official turn-around point on this ride. Temperature and road conditions are the guiding parameters. Finally, I encounter sheets of water running across the road and decide I do not need to be wet and cold, and the ascent stops and the return to the valley floor begins.
I have traveled this route over one hundred times by bike. Tonight’s effort stood out because I was alone and the temperature. It joined hallmark memories, like the thunderstorm that pounced so quickly that I turned around one-minute from the summit, afraid for my safety and without disappointment that I had not reached the top. Or, the time I loaned my jacket to a freezing cyclist from Arizona who rode up the mountain unprepared for Idaho’s fall weather. Then there was the cow that stood in the road on a blind corner. On the descent, I missed striking this oblivious bovine because I decided to try a different high-speed line around the corner.
The moments on edge are the ones that stand out. The ascents and descents that fall somewhere in the range of normal are forgotten, even when recorded in a training log. Our own edge provides a conduit into an inner conversation about what we value and believe.
Today, what opportunities do we have to visit our edge?
If the plan were certain then there is no need for the journey. Every round of golf starts with a scripted course of action. The prefered route is laid out on a map. Yet most rounds of golf do not go as planned. We must adapt and find our own route. Afterward, what gives the stories we tell character and color is the way we overcame those obstacles. If a round of golf cannot follow the script, why do we think our three and five-year plans are going to stay on course? Planning is powerful. Wayfinding, once we begin, is essential otherwise the plan does not match reality.
What if we followed-up with those who contacted us about supporting our mission? Even if we are oversubscribed, overworked, and under deadline. It does not take much to keep people who care involved with our enterprise. Equally, it is just as easy to lock them out and wonder why they drift away.
If the goal is clear, the route remains flexible. The goal, gain 1,000 meters of elevation. The first day it took 50 kilometers of cross-country skate skiing. The next morning the milestone arrived in 4 kilometers using backcountry skis to ascend to the top of a ski resort. If we see one option to achieve our goals, then we miss the adventure. Wayfinding is how we solve big questions and reach big goals.
The meeting is wrapping up. Agendas and handouts are re-organized, laptops shut, bags and coats grabbed. The Board Chair states, ‘I want to go around the room and check-in with each person.’ She looks to her left and makes eye contact with the board member seated next to her. The board member replies, ‘good meeting.’ The next board member nods and then adds, ‘I would like to know more about how we select the firm that performs our audit.’ The third person to the left of the Board Chair states, ‘I still have questions about the draft contract we reviewed to engage the marketing firm.’ A few heads nod. The Executive Director starts to respond but the Board Chair assures everyone more details will be forthcoming. And the process continues as each attendee is given the opportunity to share. Some provide a thumbs up to signal all is well. Others reflect on the momentum of the organization’s growth. One individual alerts the group that they will be traveling next month an unable to attend the next meeting. The check-in takes just a few minutes. The meeting is adjourned and everyone scatters to their next commitment.
The act of the check-in, a moment of reflection, community catch-up or whichever term you choose is powerful. It provides a platform for each individual to share that which is most pressing, concerning, or might be helpful for the good of the order. Facilitators often use this technique when working with groups. What would it look like if a check-in was the final act of your next board or committee meeting? What would it feel like as a board member to share a final reflection or acknowledge an uncertainty?
Bold endeavors involve degrees of uncertainty. Athletic competitions are on my list. Viewing in-race photos afterward is always surreal. I know how the event turned out and yet at the moment of the picture (unless it is at the finish line) there is often uncertainty swirling in my mind. Uncertain thoughts include:
- Can I sustain this pace?
- Have I taken enough feeds at the aid station to avoid ‘bonking’?
- How can I overcome ______ (mechanical issue) and still finish?
- I should have worn a different layer.
- Will I make it?
- Am I still on-course?
The more ambitious the challenge, the deeper the uncertainty dip or, the longer it endures. Formidable quests are similar to swimming in breaking waves. The deepest troughs offer no visibility of the horizon and the anxiety of an approaching swell. The highest crests provide the sensation of weightlessness and a crow’s nest scan of the surrounding landscape but the reality that we will recede into the next trough. The constant ebb and flow create a dynamic environment. If we become complacent, the waves will wash us ashore or drag us out-to-sea.
The signature moments for many individuals is when we overcome the moments of uncertainty. When we sign-up for a heroic journey and intently venture into the uncertain world, only to return with a new perspective about the world we inhabit and ourselves, we have achieved the remarkable.