I was out for a morning run in Wyoming. It was rainy and low clouds hung in the valley. I decided to deviate from the main gravel road to a 4×4 track that led into the hills. After four strides on the muddy surface, I noticed animal prints. Quickly I assessed it was a grizzly bear, the claw marks at the top being the most evident. I decided I did not need to run into the woods, charging up behind a grizzly that was out for a morning forage. So I changed directions.
Further out the main gravel road, I encountered a bull elk standing on a high point just off the road. He eyed me as I progressed towards his elevated position. The elk turned and faced me, still a reasonable distance away. After a loud haunting bugle, he started trotting in my direction. I quickly recognized that I was a threat and decided to change directions again. I ceased the unintended battle for the high ground without thought and retraced my steps.
We do not always know what we will encounter on our adventures, and we can possess enough clarity about the work that matters to decide when to proceed and when to find another path. Changing directions is not defeat; it is the reality of navigating, and it does not always take bear tracks and aggressive elk to shape our new path.
If given ten seconds, could you articulate the work that matters for your cause? Would you use your mission statement, vision for the future, core beliefs, purpose statement, best story, or some hybrid? Is it accessible to those who ask why you do what you do?
Apple and Steve Jobs talked about making a dent in the universe. Most of the products and services that followed changed the paradigm of how we communicate and connect. Dent made (for better or worse).
Making a finished product visible is a challenge for any work in progress. It might be easier with a brick-and-mortar project versus creating something entirely new. If we can attach an anchor point, others can join us on the belay ledge and watch us try to solve the next pitch as we climb upwards. If we leave our audience too far below or out of sight, our progress is anecdotal, and it is harder to sustain momentum. How might we bring our fans along on the journey? How might we offer a glimpse into what we are creating and how it will allow us to make a difference?
Our best guess of what to build may not suit the needs of those that follow. How might we prepare that the work and equity we invested will evolve before a better version can be constructed? How might we embrace progress, even when our contribution is no longer visible?
Is there a difference between working on versus working towards? Working on feels like I am engaged in the work that matters. Working towards provides a sense that there is ground between me and the work that matters.
Is it similar to a river viewed in different seasons? We are working on the river when it is flowing. We are working towards when we travel on its frozen surface.
Both journeys matter but the terrain we have to navigate is different.
If we are doing the work that matters then we should start with the human connection. Otherwise, we are building transactions. I believe we are in search of more than a checklist of items completed.
Big, loud, jolting, climatic events get noticed. They demand attention by overloading the senses. Less noticed are endings that require no crescendos; experiences defined by what we encounter on the trail, not the arrival at the corral. Sometimes being lost in the wilderness is prologue to a silent arrival. The work that matters takes place out of sight but forever impacts our stories.
It is easy to stare at a screen and say, ‘I could do that.’ Very few of us either attempt the action or have the opportunity to try. We see coverage of hurricane and think we would survive the storm surge. We watch winter olympians and think we could replicate their talents. We see entrepreneurs succeed and think they just beat us to identifying of a good idea that was easy to scale. We see nonprofit organizations and think anyone can give away a service for free.
So here is a chance to try. Navigate a cargo ship through the Suez Canal and see if you have what is takes to become the ship’s captain.
We do not need more trouble. Walking into a trap after ignoring warning signs is a problem of our creation. Learning from others’ mistakes is a far more valuable use of our time. The value of an affinity group is to share successes and failures. To be a voyeur, not the voyager who paddles over the known waterfall after numerous parties navigated the same waterway. If we come to collect you because you got caught in the bear trap, it is a waste of everyone’s resources. If you got caught in a sticky situation because you were the first person down the trail, then we are ready to assist. If we share what we learned, the benefit is not only better decision-making, but it allows all of us to focus on the work that matters.