Is there a connection between business and the wild?
Consider that the wilderness environment – like business – can be unforgiving, challenging, dynamic, unpredictable, perplexing, and vast. In the wild, just as in business, we must be able to conserve our energy and state of mind, take the lead from the rising and falling conditions, strategize for our safety, and make rapid-fire decisions in the face of threats.
And if we were to consider leadership as it relates to the wilderness, we might consider how we might map out and execute trips, delegate decision-making responsibilities to our strongest teammates, and protect all group members from what might come. In connection to leadership, we might think of how we might become guides, brighter lights for our teammates, if ever in the face of anything as uncertain as an endless, merciless land.
But when I interviewed my friend and founder of Blue Mountain Wild School, Jeff Barrett, and he spoke of his experiences guiding expeditions through the intimidating terrains of the Arctic and Antarctica, I had a profound lightbulb moment.
“When I’m thinking about the wilderness as a teacher,” he shared, “what’s cool about it is that it’s not personal. “Sure, go to Wild School with no boots on. Knock yourself out. But the wilderness… (if) it has a bad day, or because it’s gray outside or because it’s windy and rainy, it isn’t because it’s personally attacking you.” “It’s just… that’s the reality.”
How incredibly, beautifully profound. How magnificently, eloquently said. And how very true.
In the wild, where we are wholly responsible for every step, every action – and yes, every misstep and every misdeed – we don’t lay blame on the wind, or the rain, or the rocky pathways. We recognize that our own preparation, or lack thereof, has brought us to wherever and however we’ve landed. The fault, or success, lies squarely in our hands, and how we have navigated our own roads. There’s such magic to this.
In workplaces where blame culture is alive and well, talented and capable employees shrink and shrivel. And I’m not even talking about toxic bosses who are unkind and thankless, ready to lay the blame game on everyone but themselves. I’m talking about the blame so many of us lay on ourselves. I’m talking about the taking-it-personally song we sing only too often and too well.
What happens when we unburden ourselves from self-criticism, defensiveness, and contempt? What happens when we can take personal accountability without blame? What happens when we stop believing that what we do is a reflection of who we are?
Here’s the Big Whipp: In the wild, the experience of navigating the ambiguous and the terrifying is never personal. The mindset of resilience that comes when we don’t perceive our individual struggles with an imagined vendetta results in greater speed in problem-solving; we move forward smarter, faster, and more effectively. In whipping winds, under the sweltering sun, in the deepest of icy winters, it is never personal. The wild offers us lessons, from which we must learn and move on, and keep going, without blame, and without looking back. Because, after all, in the great outdoors, it’s never personal. In business, it shouldn’t be either.