When I started cycling to and from the train every day, it was pretty challenging. The entire three kilometers was hills, so there were a lot of ups and downs. At the same time, I was just starting to build my teaching schedule here in Sydney, plus get my photography portfolio up and running. Each time I got on my bike was a struggle, as was figuring out how to get a solid income. I started wishing I’d done things differently.
One day, as I was coasting down a hill, I started thinking about how much my commute and my fledgling business had in common. Once I made that connection, every time I started pedaling, the same thought popped into my head. Slowly, I started realizing what lessons I could take back to my entrepreneurial life from my daily bicycle battle with the hills.
Each day that I get on my bike, I’m learning more.
Lesson One: Get the necessary gear.
I’m not saying it’s crucial to go all out with tons of expensive gear, but at the same time, there are certainly some critical basics. For example, in some places around the world, you can ride safely without a helmet; Sydney, however, is not one of them. If I don’t want my bike to get stolen, it’s important for me to have a reasonably good bike lock. I also ride at night, and as I’m not keen on being invisible to drivers, I have lights for the front and back of my bike. (And to be honest, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to have two more than I do.)
Those are the items that I need to get to and from my destinations safely; they’re the things that any rider should probably own. Someday, I’d like to have a pannier rack and fenders, but I can live without those for now. Along similar lines, when it comes to my business, I need certain tools: website hosting, photo editing software, and so on. Without those basics, it would make it a lot harder to get anything done. Sure, there are other things that I’d love to have, but they’ll come in time. The absolute necessities come first.
Lesson Two: The weather changes daily.
Some days, the sun is shining, and as I’m coasting down a long hill on my way home, I feel like I’m on top of the world. Other days, it’s pouring down rain, I don’t own waterproof pants, and I can feel water dripping off my backpack into my jeans. It’s easy to call the sunny days “good” and the rainy days “bad”.
The important thing that I aim to remember is that each day is different. It won’t always be sunny, and there won’t always be torrential downpours. Everything won’t always go the way that I want when I’m trying to run my business, and people aren’t always going to say no, either. There’s give and take with everything, ebb and flow.
Just because I got home soaking wet one night doesn’t mean the rain won’t stop while I’m sleeping. Just because only a few students showed up for one class doesn’t mean the next day will be the same.
Lesson Three: It’s okay to shift gears.
This one could also be called “don’t make things harder than they need to be”.
There are times when I’m riding up a hill, and I won’t shift into an easier gear. I tell myself that I’m building up my leg muscles or some other ridiculous story. I usually make it about halfway up the hill – that’s the point where I glance down at the road and see a slug moving faster – and then I shift into an easier gear. My quads are thankful, and, more importantly, I don’t feel so defeated.
In the same way, sometimes when I’m struggling to write, or I feel like my eyes are going buggy from looking at WordPress, it can help to move on to something else for a little bit. That time that I spend finding a little ease – whether it’s putting together a playlist for an upcoming yoga class or taking a few photos – can make all the difference.
Lesson Four: When you’re not sure how to fix something, ask for help.
I bought a used road bike when I arrived in Australia, and I rode it for a month with one of the gear shifts sans cable, so I couldn’t use all of my gears. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so going to a bike shop for a repair like that was out of the question. Finally, I asked my now-boyfriend if he would be willing to help me out in exchange for dinner.
He’s a bike guy, you see, and he tuned things up in no time. Seriously, he made it look so easy. If I’d tried to figure all of that out myself, I would have ended up with a bicycle that I couldn’t ride – or it would have taken me days to repair something that took him an hour.
The same goes for business. I’m becoming more comfortable asking code-savvy friends to help with WordPress tweaks, designer friends to assist with logos, and more. I figure that if I can afford their rates, I’ll pay up, and if not, we might be able to come to an agreement for a trade – or if it’s something really small, sometimes people have helped me out free of charge.
Some things are worth learning to me; others, at least at certain points in time, are best left to the experts in my life.
Lesson Five: Build up your mileage slowly.
There was a point recently a few weeks ago when I went from not riding at all to riding around 40 kilometers per week. It felt good while I was on my bike, though a lack of proper stretching after cycling and going from nothing to near daily riding, was a bit of a shock to my system. My back and right psoas have grown increasingly cranky, and I’ve had to take some time off to let my body recuperate.
When I get back on my bike, I’ll start with one or two days a week, and being building up from there. That will make things more sustainable in the long-term, and since I have an alternate mode of transportation I can easily do that. It also means that I’m taking proper care of myself!
In the same way, it’s important to grow a business slowly. As I have 100 ideas a day racing through my head, I write them all down and file them away. I’m aiming to focus on fewer things, and in time, the rest will come. If I tried to launch seven products right now without laying the groundwork first, would any of them be successful? Probably not. For now, my photography is getting the limelight, but there’s a lot more on its way.
Lesson Six: Take a day off.
With any kind of workout, it’s necessary to give your muscles time off to allow them to recover fully, which will improve your performance over time. Commuting by bicycle is still a workout, so my body needs time off to recuperate. Of course, as seen in Lesson Five, I could have done a better job of that, but hey, it’s all a learning process.
It’s so critical to take days off in business, too. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to get into the mode of going through endless photos or reading yoga-related books or fiddling around with web design and copywriting. The thing is, though, if I don’t allow myself a break, my brain starts to shut down after a while, eventually making me substantially less productive for a few days in a row. By taking a day off, I reboot my creativity and get myself in a better place to keep going for the long haul.
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Stay tuned next Wednesday for six more lessons learned from bicycle commuting!