Business wisdom from the Grand Canyon: doing, being, and business

canyon-1.jpg“Is it too early to go to bed yet?” we asked each other, collapsed in our chairs on the warm sand of a Grand Canyon river beach, with dinner complete, the kitchen battened down for the night, and the lingering glow of the day still lighting up the sky to the west.

It had become a ritual evening question, asked as the exhaustion of the day finally claimed each of us. If the sun is still glowing on the canyon walls, it’s too early for bed. If you can see the first stars, it’s late enough to be bedtime.

Sometimes I’d grab a few minutes to myself at this exquisite edge of the day to meander down the beach and commune with the river, before falling into the tent and sleeping nine hours through the night in a way I never do at home.

But those moments of quiet reverence were too few and far between, given the extensive amount of work it took each day to cook breakfast, break down camp in the morning, rig everything securely into the rafts, travel 15 or so miles downstream, navigate the rapids we encountered along the way, set up the entire (very heavy) camp again in a new location, and prepare a robust dinner – day after day, for our little group of eight.

The morning of day four I remember getting up in the dark, grabbing my headlamp, and heading up Buck Farm Gulch, the side canyon where we were camped. Because my husband and I were on kitchen duty for that camp, it was the only time we had for the hike.

buck-farm-cyn.jpgAnd what a wonder it was! A meander of cool clear water flowing through curvaceous rock. A profusion of verdant ferns tumbling from unlikely crevices. Wild flowers perfuming the morning air with their intoxicating scent. Frogs singing to each other in search of a mate.

I yearned to spend at least half the day exploring that magical place, but only had half an hour before it was time to hurry back and start cooking the eggs, bacon, and hash browns that were for breakfast that day. (No, I don’t eat like this at home but it’s normal on a river trip.)

Honestly, I would have traded that substantial meal for a handful of dry granola if it gave me the time to truly be with the majesty of that exquisite little canyon.

Some days later, we arrived at Blacktail Canyon, a deep, dark, swirling slot canyon where you can place two fingers of one hand on a particular seam on the rock wall and be spanning a gap of 1.5 billion years. Life takes on a very different perspective when you can hold such expanses of time in your hand.

Swooping overhead, the canyon wrens were singing their lilting song that brings tears to my eyes. I pressed my body against the cool rock, sighed deeply, and allowed my own salty stream to run down my cheeks, wishing I could stay in that magical place for hours.

But dinner needed to be made, some crazy elaborate feast with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. While I was immensely grateful to be rafting the Grand Canyon for three weeks, preparing Thanksgiving dinner for eight seemed like a totally unnecessary way to express that gratitude!

And so it went, day after day, the challenging and time-consuming work of too much that needed doing, eclipsing so much beauty that wanted to be experienced. Doing in lieu of being. My nervous system was perpetually overwhelmed.

susanna-raft.jpgI did my best with that not-balance, eking out moments of tranquil transcendence whenever I could, slowly came to terms with it.

Yet when we got home and I looked through the collection of photographs we took during the trip, I felt a surprising sadness well up.

I had waited practically forever for this trip (it took 19 patient years to get this permit!) and while it was wonderful in many ways, I felt I’d missed a lot of it. Because of the sheer physicality of it, so much of my energy and attention went to “doing stuff” and I really wasn’t able to be fully present with the experience in the way I yearned to be.

Now it might be tempting to argue on my behalf, claiming that I couldn’t not put in my fair share of the work each day, nor leave all the meal preparation and clean-up to everyone else. This is true.

But the real choice point wasn’t to be made on the river because at that point it was too late. This was something we could have been more aware of when making decisions about how we structured the trip and the whole task of feeding ourselves while on a physically demanding, 3-week expedition.

Yet we didn’t, in part because my husband and I were too busy with work (i.e. doing) when we were planning the trip. So we defaulted into an old structure – elaborate meals and a crazy, over-sized, ridiculously heavy camp kitchen that’s “the way you do it” on river trips.

And in doing so, I ended up feeling that I diminished the joy of the experience in order to do what was expected, within an old framework that no longer fit and that I even came to resent at times.

If I’m willing to be really honest, my life had become a version of this for the last five or so years as I bootstrapped my business from a passionate idea into a thriving reality.

sled-dog.jpgBeing the primary income producer while my husband was in graduate school, I felt there was a lot of pressure on me to make a good chunk of money. So I chose a business model I felt would serve me while allowing me to serve others, and I worked like a sled dog to make it happen.

As things got more complex in my business, with more moving parts, I worked longer and harder, always believing on some level that if I stopped to just be, things would fall apart and we’d starve. I was perpetually overwhelmed, sometimes intensely but mostly simmering at a low ongoing level.

For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine any other way, even as I felt a growing angst with so much doing and a deep yearning to exhale and create spaciousness to be fully present in my life. And yet it was surprisingly easy to ignore on a day-to-day basis, in part because we humans are so adept at numbing out to what isn’t working that we don’t know how to change.

So off I went on a 3-week trip into the sublime beauty of the Grand Canyon and I promptly slammed into the beliefs and identity of an old framework of meaning that’s ready to be released.

I/We chose a structure for the trip that wasn’t destined to give us the experience we yearned for, that filled our days with way too much doing, just like the rest of my life had become. Different situation, same pattern.

Only this pattern got viscerally highlighted the further we descended into that canyon carved through time, and I became crystal clear that it’s not how I’m willing to live my life.

At its core, an addiction to doing is a survival mindset steeped in scarcity and the fear that there won’t be enough. When we’re afraid for our survival, we become armored and our frameworks have a life-death energy to them.

For all the ways I’ve evolved beyond the scarcity mindset I grew up in, there are deeper layers where it’s certainly still present.

Modern culture is inherently based on scarcity and survival. Most of us are raised in small pockets of isolation, apart from nature, lacking what should be a natural sense of belonging to a living, intelligent, abundant cosmos.

This lack of a true sense of membership in something much larger than ourselves is terrifying to the isolated ego, so it falls into fear and perpetually struggles to find/take what it thinks it needs to survive, even if it means doing, doing, doing.

It takes courage to buck the norm and be willing to shift this paradigm in one’s own life and business, to go from seeing the world through the inherited lens of scarcity to embracing the natural abundance that Life embodies and reflects back to us.

canyon-2.jpgIt takes courage to go from surviving to thriving and this isn’t a quick fix. It’s a shift in consciousness that ripples out, first into your own life and then into the collective culture.

That shift happens over time, in part because our limbic attunements (i.e. fear) strongly reinforce the status quo belief around scarcity and survival.

Without my realizing it, fear is what had me work, work, work. And a growing awareness of the deep and ever-present abundance of Life is what’s having me consciously chose something else instead.

But my current business model, while it’s served me well in getting me here, can’t get there. It just keeps asking more and more of me, and I’m not infinite in that way.

So it’s time to redesign my business model and restructure my business to support less doing and more being! I don’t yet know exactly what it will look like, but the process is already underway between the hikes and the naps in the hammock and the significantly slower pace.

This yearning for less doing and more being – more time to play, connect, love, be creative, engage in deep self-care – is something I hear so many entrepreneurs say they yearn for. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that lament, I wouldn’t need to work!

And yet despite this deep longing, many imagine it’s something they can only shift once they complete everything on their to-do list, or make more money, or reach some future milestone.

Others see it as a time management issue, hoping that all will be well if they can just learn how to do more in less time. While learning to be more productive is definitely useful, there are usually deeper forces at play.

caged-woman.jpgBusiness models. Marketing strategies. Living inside of a scarcity mindset. Being oriented toward surviving, not thriving. These frameworks of meaning can lock you into a way of doing business that doesn’t truly support you. And it’s no fun smashing into those ill-fitting structures!

So if any of this is ringing close to home for you, I invite you to look closer at the underlying structures and frameworks of meaning that form the scaffolding for your business.

While the following questions can help you with that inquiry, they can also be challenging ones to ask of yourself. Yet doing so can ultimately open a gateway to a business that’s a truer, more joyful expression of who you are – as well as more easily profitable.

  • What is your current business model and is it serving you and the way you want to be in the world? If not, what needs to change? And how can you initiate that change now?
  • How do you currently market your services? If your current strategy feels perpetually onerous, there are other options. What innovative new way to market (not just a clever new tactic) would feed your soul while supporting your business?
  • If you’re truly honest with yourself, are you still caught in the clutches of an orientation to scarcity and surviving when thriving is what’s really available to you? If so, how do you want to uncage yourself? How might you give yourself experiences of deep belonging to Life that will liberate your being to abundance?

(If you need a thinking partner or a sage guide to help you with any of this, I’ll soon be testing a new offer of a one-on-one day with me focused on what you most want help with. Plus the energetic stuff to support you and your thriving! Stay tuned for that.

 And there’s more practical wisdom and insight relevant to life and business to come forth over the coming weeks as a gift from the glory of the Grand Canyon! Keep a lookout for it.)

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