The Rules of the Road: Career lessons I learned on My Motorcycle


Read Greg Powell’s First Article “Zen and the Art of Career Advancement” here.

When I took my 10 month trip on my motorcycle I have to confess that I wasn’t thinking a lot about how my experiences would transfer to my career.  Mostly I was focused on the weather, on the moment and my next good meal.  It was a freeing time.  But when I returned home and the exhilaration of seeing everyone passed into the moments of daily living, I realized that there were a lot of things that I had learned that would bring clarity to my career. Metaphorically, for example, you can run your career on bald tires for only so long. When you are doing this, the focus is on slowing down, keeping yourself upright and pressing on. It’s exhausting on a motorcycle and it’s draining on your career. So I learned to buy tires in advance and carry them with me. I learned to be prepared, so that I could focus more on the moment and less on the fact that I was worried about what was around the next corner. “Be prepared” became my mantra.  And yet each day brought new challenges which offered new life lessons. This blog details the 3 key lessons I learned on my 10 month trip. To me, they are the lessons that brought clarity to my career and focus to my daily life.

Ask for help. (People are often better than a GPS). The kindness of strangers is something that I have a hard time articulating. I became more trusting out of necessity and you realize that when you are alone on the road that you can’t do everything yourself. You ask for help in a humble way (being Canadian) and then when people are so generous you realize that this is a natural way of doing things. I made it a mission to repay that kindness and although I was only able to help someone once on the trip, I made sure that everyone I met knew that the countries I visited were helpful.  This lesson of asking for help, transferred to my everyday working life in the most direct way.  In the past I would try to do everything on my own. After this trip I allowed myself to ask people for help if I needed it.  It improved my communication style, brought clarity to other people’s motivation and helped me to understand different points of view.

You make real friends when you are vulnerable.  I met incredible people at the times that I needed help and there was a real bond formed.  You realize in these moments that you have more in common with people than you have differences and it creates a real connection. Sometimes our egos get in our way.  We always try to appear strong and ‘in the know.’  I realized that when I allowed myself to be vulnerable, and to admit that I was seeking input into a decision, that I was coming from a place of strength because I had set my ego aside.  I started to see the commonalities that I shared with people. This was the most valuable lesson I learned on my 10 month trip.

Sometimes you need to pick a direction and go. Don’t think too much. I realized that on my way to the most southern city in the world that it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. I was travelling through very rough terrain at times. I knew, however, that as long as I was further south at the end of each day that I was closer to my goal. People always ask me if I had a detailed plan that I followed and the truth is that I did not. What I had was a goal and I realized that there were a number of different ways to get to that goal.  Sometimes we just have to pick a direction and go for it. We can get caught up analyzing the potential repercussions of a decision for so long that we miss our opportunity.  Decide what you want to do and then go for it.

I would love to tell you that at each stage of my trip I would ponder the experience and wax philosophical about what I had learned. The reality was that sometimes I was terrified. Driving through a mountain pass on bald tires, in a whiteout will do that to a person.  At the same time the trip made me stronger, more present in the moment and a lot more willing to ask for help and to extend my hand to another who needed it.  The 3 things that I learned on my trip are things that shifted my perspective,  and I hope that they have shifted yours just a little bit.

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