Fifty years ago, when I was six, I had the opportunity to ride a pony at a church picnic in Winnipeg. Within just a few minutes my eyes swelled shut, my nose ran continuously and I sneezed over and over again. I guess you only discover you’re allergic to horses when you sit on one, and from that day forward I’ve avoided riding. Now, this hasn’t been easy since both my wife and daughter are expert riders and I’ve attended many horse shows – always with a breathing mask, allergy medicine and careful positioning so as not to get too close.
To be honest, not only am I allergic to horses, but I also ﬁnd them a bit intimidating given how many times I’ve seen them spook and throw their rider. I’ve helped both my wife and daughter out of the dirt and back on the horse multiple times. Thankfully there were only minor injuries along the way. Over the years, I always felt kind of okay that riding was “out” for me.
So when my wife and I planned a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee just a few weeks ago I certainly didn’t have riding a horse on my personal agenda. In fact, I stowed my golf clubs in the trunk and planned at least a couple of games.
When we arrived at the resort it was clear that horseback riding on their many trails – over 4,200 stunning acres – was very popular. Our ﬁrst morning, as I sat outside sipping my coffee and watching the fog burn off to a beautiful sunrise, I noticed the horses in the paddock.
The wheels began to turn. Why not? It would be an experience, it would make my traveling partner incredibly happy, and who knows? Maybe I’ll only sneeze a few times!
As I floated the idea, my wife smiled from ear to ear and we headed for the barn. I was given the steadiest horse, named Bill, from the folks at the barn, and most importantly some expert instruction from my knowledgeable wife. This was a bit more than a trail ride. We were heading through a fast-moving creek (twice), up a couple of steep slopes and then back down a narrow trail through the bush. Wow, that wasn’t in the brochure!
Long story short? It was loads of fun, I experienced no allergic reaction (apparently you can grow out of allergies), I arrived back at the barn still in the saddle (facing the right direction), and most importantly shared a really fun time with my best friend.
As I reflected on the experience while we continued our vacation it became very clear that it’s worthwhile to try new things, not only in our personal lives but in our career and business pursuits too. Testing the boundaries of our assumptions can lead to breakthroughs and new opportunities. A couple of clear-cut examples came to mind.
Recently a business acquaintance of mine launched a new business that required a signiﬁcant number of speaking engagements. As we all know, this can be very intimidating, and my friend had had a couple of bad experiences years earlier and consequently avoided public speaking ever since.
But because he was determined to achieve his goal he enrolled in a course with an expert public speaking teacher, practiced diligently and has now done numerous effective presentations that are contributing to his business growth.
Another friend of mine has spent all of her career running a successful interior design business. Recently she got the bug to start something new and launched a sister company in the rental collection and services business, targeted at weddings and other special events. It required her to become an expert in purchasing, inventory management, logistics and perhaps most importantly, marketing via social media to an entirely different clientele.
Finally, another friend who had not been in university for nearly 30 years, and whose academic record was middling at best, decided it was time for an MBA, a plan that was not only costly but educationally challenging to him personally. He quickly became cognizant of the time commitment, the many years since he’d been focused on an academic pursuit and, quite frankly, the doubt in himself. Along the way, it was great to check in with him. And today he is celebrating the successful completion of his degree.
From a relatively simple act like getting on a horse, to a venture as complicated as starting a new business, focused energy, combined with some expert advice can produce outstanding results. Yes, in this situation we’re forced to face our fears, but the reward in the end makes it all worthwhile.