Updated: Jul 23
Over the past three days, I rode my motorcycle with a small group of friends 800 miles through God's most beautiful landscapes of the Smokey Mountains. Beyond the incredible scenery, we noticed something – the main street is resilient, adaptable, and undeterred.
They fear God, pay their taxes, work hard every day to provide for their families, and only know one way: the constant search for a path forward. In small diners in cities like Hot Springs, North Carolina, or Kingsport, TN, we spoke with everyday people at breakfast and lunch, wearing masks, socially distancing themselves, and getting by the best they know-how.
I came to this country as an immigrant almost 40 years ago, and I've only begun to really see it in the past few years since I took up long-distance motorcycle riding. You don't see our amazing country when you fly over it – I was on the road 208 days for work in 2019. Even when you drive it, because we all take highways, we pass by most of it. Only when you take back road, state roads, and ride through small towns will you see this great land's real fabric.
You feel the country's texture, ride by many American flags, and feel the patriotism by so many who are grateful for all that we have. You hear of local concerns; certainty see a fair share of boarded-up storefronts of a bygone hustle and bustle main street era. Incredibly noticeable was how devastating this global pandemic has been to small businesses – from the sign on a small-town theater that read, "Closed until further notice – dated March 12, 2020," to restaurants that can only serve on the front or the back porch to stay socially distant. But you also see young families walking and eating together. We saw the local sheriff walking around talking to people, small groups fishing by the river, multi-generation families on the lake, and plenty of people of all ethnicity hiking with their dogs and cycling through the hillsides. The common thread was their path forward.
In the fabric of the last three days, here are some observations:
Covid is not a sprint or a marathon; it's a grueling triathlon. Most intellectually understand that you would think about, prepare your body, and endure a sprint very differently than you do a marathon. Add additional complexities of the swim, cycling, and triathlon distance, and it's a different field altogether. Beyond our personal health, as we think about our livelihoods and the incredibly intertwined nature of our economy, we have to find the resilience, adaptability, and the resolution to keep searching for a path forward. We received emails from both Georgia Tech, where my daughter will be a freshman this fall, and our high school where my son will be a Junior, that they're moving forward with a hybrid in-person/online format. As organizations draft a game plan to safely return to the office, cautiously, with a great deal of agility, we begin to see a path forward. When we get back to sporting events without the fans, we create a path forward. Many who compete in a triathlon describe it as transformative. They believe the grueling parts made them stronger, more resilient, and creative in overcoming the pains and the setbacks of the journey, only to find a path forward.
Worries are contextual. What were you concerned about a year ago? Many leaders I coach struggled with the accelerated pace of technology and its impact on business outcomes, the competitive landscape by both known legacy and unknown new players creating a plethora of options, geopolitics, and the fickle and everchanging customer demands and trends. When I speak to the same leaders today, the context has dramatically shifted to ensuring the safety and security of their people, going beyond talk to implementing real change in their diversity, equity, and inclusion, and using Covid-19 as an impetus to rethink, reimagine, if not reinvent key parts of their business. We've all seen the funny memes about 2020 as a painful year. I would submit a transformative year of learning, growth, adaptation, and accelerated adoption of a few great ideas to long-lasting challenges and opportunities.
Our lives need more nuance. One of the riders on our bike trip was European, and she elegantly described how multiple political parties abroad lead to forced collaboration amongst divergent views. Similarly, when I returned home last night and watched a recorded CBS Sunday Morning show, I saw an interview with Trevor Noah. He described how our two political party system only creates conversations between red and blue. Where in reality, there are nuances. In those nuances, you create conversations, civil discourse, different perspectives, you listen, agree, debate, and you seek to understand. Friction gives way to inquiry, and a deeper understanding of how you were raised, what you believe, why you believe it, and are you open to a different lens. None of us have all the answers, and only when we become open to nuance, will we create space for inquiry, exploration, and experimentation.
Those who don't ride will never understand why a dog sticks his head out the car window! I could have the worst day and two miles down the road on a motorcycle, and it all fades away. One of my favorite signs is the one that read, "Motorcycling alone is not inherently dangerous. It is, however, incredibly unforgiving to inattention, carelessness, and stupidity." When you're riding through a twisty up a mountain, pretty much everything else in life feels small. You're focused on the task at hand. With earplugs in and that helmet on, no one is calling, texting, or wants to have a Zoom meeting. For that moment, you let go of the stress, the projects, the aggravations, the uncertainties, the conflicts, the hurt, what I could've, should've, said, done, or be. The joy of the moment takes over, and you notice the gently rolling stream, the sounds of the birds, the canapé of the trees, and the majesty of the scenery. And after riding for 5-6 hours in the saddle each day, none of us had a problem going to sleep at night! I don't know what that happy place is for you. What I do know is that none of us can burn the candle at both ends for long. Go proactively find your happy place. You, your family, your colleagues, and your soul will thank you for it. Have you ever noticed that you don't see a motorcycle outside of a shrink's office?
Here is to your path forward,