You probably know "The Panic." It hits anyone who has signed up to do something incredibly hard and completely unfamiliar. Like starting a business. Or having a child. Or (as I am about to do) cycling in the Dolomites when you're 15 pounds too heavy, 20 years too old and six to eight months shy of adequate training time. What ever it is, you start out deciding to do a huge thing, confident you'll eventually be ready. Then, as the days tick by, you start to see the shape of the monster that you're supposed to wrestle. That's when The Panic starts.
The Panic I am currently experiencing is not the hysterical, clawing-at-the-curtains, hunting-for-a-weapon kind of panic. That I could handle. This is more an insidious low-grade type of panic that permeates everything you do and turns you into a crazy person. You can't hold a thought for longer than five minutes. You can't make a decision about anything that is not directly related to the thing causing The Panic - but you can't make any decisions about that either. When sleeping, eating, showering, whatever-ing - it is there, gnawing on your sense of well-being, constantly reminding you that something big is coming and YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE READY.
Founders must deal with The Panic on a daily basis. Your business is your life and it is in constant jeopardy from the moment you launch it until the minute you sell it (or one of you expires). Most entrepreneurs I've met have no idea about this when they first start out. They launch a business because they are passionate, driven and, truthfully, unaware of what awaits them. They deal with the threats and challenges as they come, figuring it out as they go along. Some succeed and some fail, but none of them have a roadmap, which is good, because if they knew what was coming, they would not have started. Some of the top entrepreneurs I've interviewed swear by this "ignorance is bliss" approach.
This is the approach I tried to take in preparing for my cycling trip, which starts on June 4th and is hosted by Gary Erickson, founder of Clif Bar. He's bringing together a great group of people to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary with an epic bike tour in the Dolomites. My fellow cyclists include Gary's wife and partner, Kit Crawford; professional extreme mountain bike legend Hans Rey; Olympic skier Stacey Cook; former pro cyclist, award-winning author and journalist Tom Vanderbilt; and a bunch of other physically perfect specimens, most former or current athletes, selected from the media community. (I'm still not entirely sure why I got invited.)
I hired a coach and started training my butt off (literally). But life has thrown some hand grenades into my training plan (illness, a big move) and with each passing day, I get one day closer to what I'm sure will be one of the more excruciating weeks of my life. Did I mention there will be two world-famous professional cycling photographers, Jered and Ashley Gruber, on the trip to capture each ignominious moment?
So, try though I might to embrace this challenge and figure it out as I go along without a roadmap, the problem is that my challenge has a roadmap - three of them- which I received recently. Here are the three routes we will be riding in Italy. Read them and weep, as I did:
Is a 23 percent grade on an auto road even possible? Wouldn't a car just slide backward on a hill that steep? Or flip over, hood over trunk, pitchpoled like a boat climbing the face of a massive wave? The physics astound and confuse me. Who BUILDS these roads? The Marquis De Sade Club? I'm not even sure I could hike up something that steep. But I'm supposed to ride it. On a bike. Thus, The Panic.
What is the purpose, exactly, of the The Panic? To show you for a fool for attempting something so audacious? Is it a self-preservation mechanism issuing you a dire warning? Is it telling you to run, call the whole thing off? And how the hell do you make The Panic go away? Cause it sucks.
Then yesterday, like a bright blessing, I had a text conversation with one of my fellow travelers on this trip. It is someone who shall remain nameless so that his or her badass cycling reputation will be unblemished. Here's what he or she had to say when I mentioned how consumed I had become with my lack of readiness and my general state of Panic:
When cycling, "everyone says you can never walk ... but I have."
There it is - a seriously accomplished and very badass cyclist sometimes walks up really hard hills.
And just like that, with one magic text message, The Panic is gone.
I know what caused it now. I thought I could be completely ready. But no one is ever completely ready for anything. You can try to prepare, but in the end, you're winging it. This is true for everything - biking, business, parenting, work, life. Get ready as best you can, learn what you must, then let go and brace for impact.
The Panic has now been replaced by realism. This trip is going to be hard for everyone - some (me) more than others. We will all finish this trip together, however we need to. And what's more important, we'll have fun. I'll experience something that not many humans get to. I will have amazing stories to tell my friends (or readers, if any still care what happens after reading all this whining.) And I'll get stronger, one way or another.
Turns out, The Panic was trying to tell me something -- that it's OK to go into something without complete confidence that you can do it. It's OK to be scared or confused, as long as it doesn't paralyze you. It's OK to swear out loud when that 23 percent grade rears up at you - whether that grade is a section of high mountain road, or a customer backing out of the biggest deal you ever had. When you're done swearing, put your head down and keep going until you hit the finish line by whatever means necessary ---even if you have to walk.