Virtues of getting outdoors
Of things that bother me as an entrepreneur, what I often worry about is the risk of steering away from risks, of staying cocooned in predictable situations, of avoiding discomfort (physical or otherwise) and of running behind the dog tail of banal pursuits. Trekking outdoors somehow seems to shake me, wake me up and make me re-examine my life indoors.
I just recovered from a mini trek in Ladakh, a region in the Trans-Himalayas – living in a remote village of 22 homes six hours away from the nearest road, living in a monastery high up close to the Siachen glacier and living next to a frozen lake in a transitory village of nomads. The trip was exhilarating, silent and was the best form of training that I could ask for.
Why It’s Important To Get Out
1) Realizing that it’s a bigger world out there. Lost inside our laptops and trapped in our siloed offices, we somehow assume that that’s all there is to the world. Getting outdoors reminds me that it’s a big, big world out there – with lots of people and lots of space. While peeing on one Ladakh night, I recall gaping at our Milky Way stretching across thousands and thousands of stars that are often tucked away from city dwellers. We are surely not alone. All we have to do is open our eyes and see.
One day, I saw hundreds of Kiangs (Tibetan wild asses) trotting on a surreal landscape of snow and ice – I never knew that these animals even existed. And here they were doing their thing, oblivious to my existence. One of the villages had only three inhabitants – really old women who spoke only Ladakhi – I wondered if they knew or even cared about the travails of our modern-day lives.
Seeing the difficulties of others tends to make our own tribulations small. We tend to respect people more and have gratitude for what we already have.
2) Learning to let others develop. We sometimes believe that our workplaces cannot run without us. They do. They must. It’s important to build systems that function and run like engines regardless of who is driving. In fact, I noticed thatbeing away allows teams to develop, to make decisions independently and to embrace the risk of making those decisions. This results in growth and expansion of what as a team we are normally capable of.
3) Learning to need less. Not just our body but our brain also adapts to extreme conditions. We quickly learn to make do with less. We innovate better. We would consider hot noodles as gourmet food in -30 degrees centigrade and a cup of warm water a blessing. We would even find the WC a highly sophisticated luxury. All this is absolutely fantastic when we get back indoors because we wouldrealize that what we need is actually very little. When we are back, we tend to whine less, accept things more as they are and simply get on with making things happen regardless of externalities.
4) Learning about our own body. We usually don’t get to utilize our body fully and test its abilities. In the outdoors, particularly under harsh weather conditions, we realize that the body is far more capable than we think. Our mind invariably takes over and instructs the body to do things that it’s not used to. For example, to simply focus on putting one more step forward when you simply cannot.
Trekking outdoors provides one of the best medical reports ever. It dynamically points to the muscles that are weak and knees that work. The level of panting tells me about my cardio fitness and I kick myself every time for the alcohol I’ve consumed and for the times I skipped a workout. As a patient of chronic hypertension for all my adult life, trekking has helped me become more confident of my body’s capacity and has made me want to live healthier.
5) Learning to manage risk better. Trekking outdoors makes me realize that I can plan but cannot foresee every risk. When risk manifests (think hypothermia), my mind either succumbs to it or develops an ability to rise above it. More often than not it’s through discipline and training that our minds winand manage risk.
I remember getting lost on one of my treks (it was on the way to the Everest Base Camp). I somehow trailed away from my group and before long I had no clue where I was. My immediate tendency was to panic. After collecting my thoughts and taking a chocolate break, I slowly found and followed cow flops that eventually led to a hut and finally to my exasperated group. At another time, while descending from Kilimanjaro I suffered from a bout of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Visibility was poor and we were out of water and food. Descending required an extremely controlled mind over body.
It’s experiences like these that make entrepreneurial risks easier to handle. We tend to develop an innate sense that instructs and assures us that this situation can also be figured out.
But the greatest virtue of the outdoors has to be the silence it creates. It questions the noise that we have taken for granted in our lives – the phones, the emails, the Whatsapp messages, the meetings, the networking and other tails that wag the dog. Creativity rises from silence when the din of this busy-ness pauses. Turning it all off and getting out would help the discovery within.
Do you have experiences of getting out and learning?
Image: Kiangs near Tso Kar Lake, Ladakh