Monday, September 23, 2013

Peddling Forward

I’m a firm believer that sometimes you have to do something that scares you – something that gets you out of your comfort zone, challenges you, and evolves you into something new.  Whether it’s buying or starting a business or challenging yourself physically or mentally, a personal breakthrough is almost always on the horizon when you take on something, pass or fail, you weren’t sure you could do.

In six years of business ownership, I’ve faced a number of challenges, some that I anticipated and others that just snuck up alongside me the way things do in life.  And each time, I’ve found ways to accept the challenge, work through it, and learn more about my business and myself.  I have had close calls with calamity.  And, I have had help from complete strangers in difficult times that seemed like gifts from the Karma bank.

Recently, I took on a personal challenge that had a surprising number of parallels to my work world, which compelled me to reflect on the last six years.

Early this year, I was invited to join a bike team and ride the Bike MS event in Columbia,MO.  Bike MS is a two-day event set up by the Multiple Sclerosis Society that attracts about 4,000 riders, who tackle various courses up to 200 miles in all over country roads, state highways and service roads through busy stretches and quiet Amish country.

I eventually warmed up to the invitation to join the team.  A friend gave me a road bike, and for the first time in 20 years, I started riding and training getting used to all the new gadgetry and a riding stance that is completely different than the off road riding I am used to.

Here are a few things I learned or realized that weekend that might be worth sharing with budding entrepreneurs and business owners.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Team
You may have an incredible idea for your business, but no matter how amazing you are, you need a team to get you to where you want to go.  Be open to following your team through certain parts of the course.  Draft behind them when they know more about the subject than you do.  Their ways may be different than yours, but that’s okay.

In the early stages of the Bike MS race, the peloton was a couple thousand strong.  While teams generally rode together, there were plenty of strangers and competitors riding ahead or alongside, and they were all looking out for each other for the common goal of safety.  Shout outs of “car up”, or “car back” signaled traffic nearing and a variety of sign language warned of problems on or near the road.  Sometimes, your team will need outside advisors concerned about your overall success.  Take their counsel.  Listen to their advice.  They could be seeing things in the road that aren’t visible to you.

Avoid Flat Tires
In the first ten miles of the first day of riding, there were dozens, if not hundreds of flat tires.  Typically, the things that threaten tires collect near the edge of the road.  In addition to the usual glass, rocks, sticks and debris there was a large area of tacks on the course as if someone had thrown them out deliberately to spite this charitable event.  Steering clear of the problems that were all bunched together was key, even though that shifted the potential danger of riding closer to traffic.

Business problems tend to attract each other and hide in groups.  Steer clear of them whenever possible.  Don’t tempt them.  And, if you have problems, deal with them head on and plan on them (be ready to fix and go.)

Some People Get Their Kicks Stomping on a Dream
If the tacks in the road were deliberate, it reminded me of another lesson I learned years ago.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, someone you trust, or at least don’t fear, does something to knock you down.  It’s inexplicable, really, but it happens to everyone.  The thing to remember is to fix your tire and move on.  Holding a grudge or vowing retribution drags you down.  One man in the ride suffered four separate flat tires that morning.  He fixed one and had another, and another and another.  We heard him talking about it later, while he was having a bike mechanic line his tires with Kevlar sleeves.  He was fixing the problem and letting it go.

In business this is the case too, so many times people you work with or look towards for support may not see the same vision or share the same dream. Don’t let this hold you back – if you feel strong enough about an idea then push on through.

Meet New People Along the Way
My team mates are way more accomplished road riders than I will ever be.  As they hit their strides, they gradually pulled away.  Eventually, I lost sight of them and settled into my new reality, meeting new people in the journey, pulling alongside each other, chatting a bit and pulling away more enriched, like the best networking you can imagine.

If you don’t look beyond yourself, you may never see new possibilities for you or your business.  Look around and see the person pedaling a recumbent bike with his hands, because his legs no longer can.  Or, the man riding a unicycle carrying a large American flag for the 40 miles he road.  (Remember, there’s no coasting on a unicycle.)  Or, the retired track coach, whose team mates in their 30’s bailed out ten miles in, and he’s riding 40 miles against wind and rain.  Or, the sixth grade teacher who encouraged absolutely everyone she encountered as she passed them.  She is the sixth grade teacher we all wanted as we left fifth grade, and she’s making an impression on people of all ages.

Things Get Difficult and Boring
On Saturday morning at the start, there were about 1,000 riders ahead of us and another 3,000 behind us.  The start was a huge adrenaline rush, much like launching the start-up companies I’ve been involved with.  As the miles and rural scenes rolled past, the peloton spread out, and the energy of the start was behind us.  Then, it became the journey of a thousand miles, or in this case, 100 miles accomplished one pedal crank after another.  Routine takes over, and monotony sets in.  For anyone addicted to an adrenaline rush, there are few things worse.  But, steady work and a routine are important in accomplishing most things.  Stick with it.  Keep pedaling.  Bring in people who thrive on routine, and keep the encouragement level high.

Take Advantage of Every Rest Stop
After opting for an additional 25 miles on day one, I passed up the first rest stop of the extra miles, anticipating there would be another one in just 10 miles.  The next one was actually 22 miles later, putting me close to a 30 mile leg between rests in 96 degree heat.  When you’re working hard, you need a break.  Take time to refresh and energize, whatever that means for you.

John Schwent On A Great Ride!
There were other experiences along the ride that restored my belief in humanity, like strangers stopping to help stranded bikers, or my team mate who rode out Sunday barely ahead of a two-hour thunderstorm because he promised his donors he would ride two, 100-mile rides back to back, or the Amish family who opened their property and served up a delicious assortment of baked goods, or the paramedics who helped those in need.

It was more than a bike race.  It was a way to give back and recalibrate my thinking going forward.  And, all that while challenging me to do something I was afraid to do.  It just might be time for you to accept a challenge for yourself and peddle forward!

Guest Blog Post:
Owner & President, Profit Recovery Systems
Contact John at:

John Schwent is a close friend and a great business partner over the years. We have worked together at Maritz, American Express, Affinity Center International and much, much more. I was very inspired by his recent decision to join this long distance bike race for charity. Just like in life, business requires us to pull inspiration from everywhere and anyone we can. John is an inspiration to me and I he did what many want to do, start their own business. 

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