A few years ago, just before COVID, I was going mountain biking in the Wicklow mountains. I’d parked and was getting things ready – finding gloves, adjusting helmets, pumping tyres – that sort of stuff. As I was doing that, a group of walkers pulled up and parked beside me. They were in two cars, and due to the shortage of spaces, had to park one car either side of me. So as I got ready, they too were getting ready and they were talking about their day ahead. I was right in the middle of them, and was central to their conversation. They were obviously members of a large walking club, and their conversation went something like this:

”Hey John, Where are we going today?”

“Up that mountain, its easy enough. We’ve done it before. It’ll take us an hour or two.”

“I was talking to Mary and Fred earlier. They are walking a much harder route today. Maybe we could try that?”

“Oh no, we wouldn’t be able to do that. It would be too hard for us.”

The conversation continued in that vein for a few minutes, discussing others that they knew in the club, the routes that they were planning to walk that day, and the challenges that those other routes would pose.

It struck me at the time, and I’ve thought about it ever since, that their conversation that day was a metaphor for our lives, the route we walk through life, and our way of looking at ourselves. Many of us walk the route we walked the last time, we are comfortable because we know were it goes, and we don’t feel challenged because we don’t want to step outside our comfort zone. That group of walkers were planning an easy route that day, but realised that there were harder routes they could walk, but were unprepared to take on the challenge. It struck me at the time that the difficulty they anticipated on another, harder, route was not just about physical hardship – the unspoken point was “We have our accepted status in the club, and it would be socially unacceptable to step above our position and try something more difficult.”

I would have chosen the harder route. Maybe I’d be unsure of where it would bring me, maybe I’d be unsure of how long it would  take, and maybe I’d have been apprehensive about the challenges that might lie ahead. It doesn’t matter – I might learn, I might see something I haven’t seen before, or I just might look back and be glad I did it. I’ve always been fascinated by challenges, and what those challenges can bring to our lives. And its not about ‘conquering’ the mountain – no one takes on a mountain and wins – but its about stepping outside our comfort zone, stretching our skills a little, and learning from the experience.

I see the world as being divided up into two types of people – those who like challenges, and those who try to avoid them. It’s a bit like the difference between mountaineers and those ramblers. Mountaineers focus on the challenge of the summit, look at route options and try to understand potential obstacles and pitfalls along the way. Ramblers – it’s in the name – have no particular destination in mind, tend to avoid challenges, and are not too concerned with which way they go. Those who like challenges have a very different world view from those who don’t. And because the world is full of challenges, if you like them, you are already part way to being successful.

Taking on challenges – win or lose – can change our view of ourselves and others’ view of us. I’ve seen that so often in adventure sport. Some challenges seem easy at first glance, and it’s only when we start looking at them in more detail that we realise the magnitude of what lies ahead. Some initially seem hard, but when we study the future and plan our route, we realise there is a clear path to our goal. But if we take on those challenges, we immediately earn the respect of others, and ultimately, win or lose, succeed or fail, if we put in our best effort, we’ll gain substantial long term recognition from others for trying. That respect from others changes our view of ourselves, and brings real self-respect. Self-respect breeds self-confidence, and confidence can be the one factor that makes the difference between success and failure in any business venture. Confidence sends a clear message to your customers, your suppliers and your peers – “We know what we are doing, we know where we are going, and we know how to get you there!”

I’ve been working with a client on a large project for the last couple of months. I’ve met her half a dozen times since the new year, and each time we meet I see the progress she has made. When she started, she just had some ideas, and I was able to help her highlight good ideas and discard bad ones. I was also able to help her begin to understand business practicalities such as time and resources needed, and the potential market for the sale of her product. I met her recently, and she expressed her concern that she wasn’t making enough progress. She was very immersed in the detail, but from my perspective, I could see that she was slowly beginning to define what she needed to do and the resources she’d need to gather around her. When we met recently her first words to me were “Peter, I don’t feel I’m making progress”. I assured her I could see progress, but more importantly, I could see a change in her demeanour, and I could see the sparks of new-found confidence as she rose to the challenge of dealing with issues that at first sight seemed insurmountable.

So taking on challenges in life can seem daunting, but taking on those challenges – win or lose – succeed or fail – can change your view of yourself and other’s view of you. Overcoming big challenges in life and business requires a sense of purpose, a sense of destination and an understanding of the obstacles that lie ahead. Anticipating the obstacles that lie ahead is not enough – we need to plan in advance how we’ll deal with them, and we need to anticipate and plan the choices we may need to make at the crossroads. Having a structured plan in place gives us the confidence to act on our chosen challenge.

Finally – think about this. The word ‘Success’ has a number of different meanings. One definition could be the attainment of wealth, fame or social status. The other is the achievement of an aim or purpose. Not all of us can attain great wealth or social status, but I firmly believe we can all find challenges, gain purpose and succeed at the one we choose. For me, the word SUCCESS doesn’t have a meaning without referring to the word CHALLENGE!