Focus on the Next Handhold

I had a great conversation with Reece Pacheco recently about startups and entrepreneurship.  Reece made a point that many of the entrepreneurs he has met have a penchant for risk that seems to spill into their personal lives.  That got me thinking about my rock climbing habit and how my experiences climbing are relevant in the startup world.  

When my guide on Grand Teton told me I was going to be over 2000 feet in the air and responsible for cleaning the protective gear off the route (hopefully without dropping it), I started to get a little worried about my ability to maintain composure and focus in the face of what I expected to be extreme fear.  As we started the Owen-Spalding route, I had been hit pretty heavily by the effects of altitude and had wondered whether I would actually make it to the top of the mountain without taking a stop on the vomit train.  After focusing on one step at a time, we arrived at the Crawl, where only a few weeks earlier, a climber had fallen to his death in a storm. Though the weather was good and I was feeling a little better, I kept telling myself not to look down as I ascended the pitch.  

While I’m still in the safe haven of business school, I think often about how my time on Grand Teton (specifically on the Crawl) will serve me in the startup world when I graduate.  I remember being so focused on the next holds that I had little time to consider the vast expanse of unforgiving air beneath my feet. In the context of entrepreneurship, it’s great to think about the “big picture," strategy and avoiding failure. After all, most of the successful startups certainly aim big in terms of their vision.  But when it comes to execution, the quickest way to the top is to just focus on the next handhold.