After being invited to attend a business conference in Australia awhile back, my wife and I took the opportunity to extend our stay and spend a little time exploring. We spent extra time on Hamilton Island, a stunning volcanic island in the Whitsunday Islands chain. As frequently happens when I have the chance to unplug and relax, I was able to get some thinking and writing done while there.
It didn’t take long for the majestic beauty of the island and the new and unfamiliar surroundings to find me making comparisons between an island holiday and the lifecycle of a business. There is always an education to be had.
The excitement of learning to drive on the side of the road opposite to what I am most familiar with was my first lesson. It took more than one alarmed shriek from my wife to remind me we were no longer in Ohio but, instead, in Oz.
Learning the rules of the road in business can also be an exciting experience. There are payrolls to meet and taxes to be paid. We are educated quite quickly that not all customers forgive our mistakes, and that we must drive by the rules. And it’s always better to learn these lessons intentionally than it is by accident.
Visiting the grocery store on the first day of our visit held another business lesson. We found our cart filled with enough food, snacks, and adult beverages to last us much longer than the short time we were staying. Examining our cart, we were shocked by the choices we had made, but it didn’t keep us from proceeding straight through the checkout. After all, we told ourselves, we’re on vacation!
The early years of a business can be the same way. We acquire things: equipment, staff, buildings, experiences, toys. Sometimes more than we’ll ever need or use, but we tell ourselves we’re acquiring them “just in case.”
Because we shared a common language and a similar culture with our Australian hosts it didn’t take long for my wife and me to navigate the island and to settle in, even speaking a little Australian by saying things like “g’day” and “cheers!”
The time on our island vacation passed quickly. We soon found ourselves reluctantly counting the days we had left to enjoy rather than all the time we had before us, as when we first arrived. Where did the time go? Books remained unread and a few of the trails we had looked forward to hiking remained unexplored, but now we’d have something to look forward to on our next visit, we promised.
But it wasn’t all melancholy. We had made friends with our neighbors and thoroughly enjoyed our time away. Best of all, my driving had improved enough that my wife no longer feared us colliding with oncoming cars.
Just as vacations experience their own version of middle age, businesses face a similar transition as they age and mature. At the outset, everything is exciting, and our opportunities are limitless. Soon enough, we realize just how much effort it takes to accomplish our goals, and how quickly time passes.
Whether we leave an island vacation with fond memories that will last a lifetime or leave our businesses with a lasting legacy, it’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile.