As soon as I opened my laptop at 5am that morning, the mountain of emails received overnight shook my resolution to take some time away from work and climb the Great Wall of China.
On a business trip to Beijing, I had been working “double shifts”, holding extended business hours in Beijing before shifting to GMT and moving on to another 6 to 8 hours of conference calls and emails. Needless to say, I was struggling to stay on top of things; as I contemplated all the outstanding items on my computer screen, my resolve to take the trip started fraying. Which mountain to climb? The mountain of emails or the Great Wall of China?
I could not help but wonder whether it was duty that urged me to stay in the hotel or fear? That thought took me by surprise. Fear? What fear? I tried to remember last time I did something as adventurous as climbing the Great Wall of China on my own; I always thought of myself as someone adventurous, someone who goes off the beaten track and will always choose the path less travelled by. Was this perception of me still an accurate reflection of the “real” me? A couple of days ago, as I planned my excursion, I had been quite certain that not only did I not want to take this trip as part of a tour, but moreover I genuinely wanted to avoid the crowds, hence setting out as early as 6am. Nevertheless, as the car departed from the hotel, I was debating whether being alone in a car with a driver whom I had never met and with whom I could not communicate, was a better choice than enjoying the safety of an international guided group? I wanted the adventure not the security. I wanted the individual exploration rather than the mass invasion. I wanted the silence and the quiet not the noise. I wanted to make my own path and not be guided.
As the car drew closer to Mutianyu, I remembered other adventures, other explorations, other discoveries that I had made previously. I remembered the exhilaration, the sense of achievement, the fun and the strain. They seemed to belong in a different life where every minute did not have to be accounted for and diarised, where itineraries were not set step by step, hour by hour, where going off the beaten path was the only option, where time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. This previous life was my life as an entrepreneur, before I became an intrapreneur.
Being an intrapreneur has many advantages, the main one in my opinion is that the impact of an individual is amplified by the convening power of the organisation they work for; the trade-off, often times, consists of having to bridle one’s creativity and focus on balancing world impact and organisation’s objectives.
The next few hours were to take this reflection further, being so far away, in a different time zone, with no emails or text messages chiming in, giving me the headspace to have an away day with myself (a real luxury!) and triggered retrospection and introspection. I could not help but compare that journey with the journey of an entrepreneur as various themes emerged: being on your own vs building a team; incentives; mentoring; coaching; mentor backlash; pivoting; risk taking; roadmaps; the meaning of success.
My 5am choice of climbing the Great Wall of China rather than the mount of emails proved to be the right one. I came back with a renewed sense of purpose, focus and achievement. It lifted my writer’s block and found me writing a series of blogs inspired from my experience. Most importantly, it gave me a chance to look at the person I had become vs the person I want to be.
Take a moment to remember who you are and look ahead at where the path you are on leads; pausing and reflecting oftentimes will let you travel further than pressing blindly ahead.