I spend a lot of time on trails. Between hiking, trail running, and backpacking, I spend as much time on trails as I can. I love the restorative aspect of being in nature and my body appreciates walking on dirt instead of concrete.
During a recent hike I was struck by how much hiking on a trail is like navigating life and work. Often, especially as leaders, we want to know what’s ahead. We want to see how everything is going to pan out and we want to be able to see way down the road. Unfortunately, however, life doesn’t work this way.
As Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford University commencement speech, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward.”
While I quote that line often and find tremendous value in the sentiment, I think in a certain context it’s only almost right. I think you can see the next dot, and connect to it, but you can’t see and connect all the dots.
Just like hiking on the trail, you can only see the next 1 or 2 blazes, and all you can do is get yourself to that next marker...then the next step is revealed, and so on.
Similarly, in life and work, we can’t see and connect all the dots, we can’t see the final destination or outcome, but we can take the next right action.
We can have a big picture or end goal in mind (like hiking the entire Appalachian Trail) and we may even have a map to help guide us, but we can’t really see it until we are in the thick of it; until we are in the woods and navigating from blaze to blaze, dot to dot.
Just to draw this analogy out a little more, we also don’t expect to hike the entire AT in one day or even one week. And unless you are superhuman like Karel Sabbe or Jennifer Pharr-Davis, not even in less than two months. We must break it down into manageable segments. We take each section one step at a time and slowly we accumulate progress. And we may, at times, take a slight detour or a side trip - and that’s ok!
Just keep taking that next right step and moving toward your goal - the path will be revealed.