Get Vertical — The Hiker Mindset

John Andrews

I’m not sure why, but the Appalachian Trail has always intrigued me. The very idea of it is merely audacious, a footpath that travels almost the entire distance of the American East’s ancient mountain range. After 480 million years, the Appalachians have mellowed out to a smoothness that rivals some of the whiskeys produced in its arms. I’ve always thought I’d hike the trail, kind of a given for some reason. Last week, I finally began, giving the path a 51-year head start to get ready.

My first 56.5-mile effort reinforced some of the rare basic wisdom I’ve been able to collect over my first five decades, mostly, never under-estimate any situation, especially if it can kick you in the ass. Thanks to excellent fitness training from F45 in Raleigh, I was physically prepared for the trip and I had done a few prep hikes in Umstead Forest carrying ‘some’ weight. I also had the confidence of hiking to Everest Base Camp a couple of years ago so my mindset was good as well, or so I thought. When I first put my fully loaded pack on with water, I knew I was in for something different and that my frame of mind would drive my overall experience.

I’ve been reading and thinking about Mindset for about year now and seeking to understand better how my mindset affects my relationships, work, physical fitness, etc. At the beginning of the year I was doing my annual goal-setting around the new year and came across this quote:

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” — Epictetus

No kidding, how much of our lives do we focus externally on what others demand from us? Why not flip the script and demand the best from ourselves versus worrying about what anyone else thinks or does. I built my entire 2019 mindset around the simple idea that if I demand the best for my physical, mental and emotional health, everything else will take care of itself. If I require the best for myself in my work, it will help me focus on what matters most and not chasing things that don’t add value. By demanding the best for my family, they will benefit from my time and attention. This simple direction has already paid many benefits as I’ve worked to change my lifestyle to better reflect this mantra.

I find hiking to be one of the best activities for deep thinking. Once your body is engaged in the repetition of the hike, your mind opens up to so many possibilities and you can quickly dip into wrapping your thoughts around all kinds of ideas and challenges. The entire 5-day trip became an excellent opportunity to spend some quality time thinking about our business at Photofy and similar to our activity, where we’re headed. Here are some mindset insights gained from the journey.

Scott checks the map as we cross through the Walisi-Yi Center at Neels Gap
  1. Understand Your Geography — As many people know, you can learn to do almost anything from YouTube. I use the video platform to get a grounding of places I’m going to hike, sail or visit. You can see different perspectives from real people who have taken the trip and a great understanding of what to expect. Far beyond the slick promo reels from tourism boards or outdoor brands, the actual insights of people who have done what you’re about to do is invaluable and will give you an understanding of what’s to come. This approach works with almost any business issue. Someone has taken the journey that you are own. Competitors, customers and partners are all creating content and for the most part, it’s easily accessible. Slide Share alone has thousands of ‘maps’ of almost any type of business like this presentation on AI startups. Visualize your hike and it will help you have confidence in your journey.
  2. Flexibility is Key to EVERY Plan — Our initial travel plans to Springer Mountain were disrupted as we were headed out. We planned to stay the first night in Atlanta after we flew in and then head to the mountain early the next morning to have a full day to shake down over a few miles and get used to the trail. Our ride had a last minute conflict and couldn’t take us so we improvised, using the Marta train from the airport to get us north of the city and beyond some of the Friday afternoon traffic and then we had a Lyft driver take us to our lodging near the mountain which was also arranged on the fly. Checking in we inquired about transport to Springer, and they had some business cards of locals that provided that service. (we knew this existed because of some of the videos we had watched). No matter how good your plan is, it will always be affected by outside forces. Being mentally prepared to adapt as the environment changes will help keep the goal in plain sight.

3. Stay Organized — I’m mildly OCD and typically repack and refold my clothes in my suitcase when I travel. I’ve found that this simple task just helps me stay focused on the day ahead. When hiking long distance and carrying everything on my back, the pack organization is critical for maintaining harmony. By taking some extra dedicated time each day to repack all of my gear which also had stuff sacks for internal pack organization, I knew where everything was and could strategically place it for use. Our first two days were frigid and laced with on and off rain so having easy access to my rain gear was comforting should it be needed. I find that having a daily plan that ladders to my overall week, month, quarter and year help me stay focused and create efficiency for my time.

4. Set Goals Jointly With Your Team — My hiking companion Scott Steele and have worked together on projects for several years now. We know how to work with each other and this came to be very helpful to get through our days. Each day we would review the route together and discuss potential camping and water opportunities along the way. We both then knew what to expect and could share our relative progress throughout the day. We knew how each other were doing physically, checked in with each other on hydration and nutrition and planned stops accordingly. At Photofy, we collectively build our quarterly goals including hard measurements as an entire team. Every person knows what we are trying to accomplish and what specific areas of focus we all need to achieve to be prosperous.

Frosty Morning on Cowrock Mountain

While we are a small team of 10 currently, this process has become a crucial part of our growth efforts. Keeping this approach as part of our culture won’t be easy as we scale, but I believe it is critical to our success. Communication is a two-way activity. If I were setting goals and pushing this down into the organization, it wouldn’t be as effective.

5. Think and BE Positive! — We knew that each day would bring significant physical and mental challenges. It was cold, and there was vertical, tons of vertical, there wasn’t always water, etc. We could have stayed in our sleeping bags and prolonged the dread but we faced each day with the mindset of reaching our daily mileage objective and worked backward to plan our approach. Again, focusing on the eventual goal versus the problems in getting there helped us move forward and take the initial steps each day. Whether hiking a trail or building a company, nothing will ever happen unless someone takes those steps. The reward of a positive mindset is often the pure pleasure of those first steps. As those initial actions turn into miles traveled, this positivity reinforces itself.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. — Lao Tzu

A vertical mindset will help accomplish almost any goal, no matter the size.

John Andrews

Written by

Mary Catherine’s Dad, Mary Shannon’s Husband, Photofy CEO, Duke Fan, SV2Marys Sailor, Collective Bias Co-Founder, Walmart Elevenmoms maker

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