Today, a story with a lesson, from my trip to Yellowstone…
You probably know Old Faithful, the geyser, as one of the most popular attractions at Yellowstone. Faithfully within a 2-hour window (usually about every 90 minutes), it shoots a jet of 200-degree water over 100 feet into the air.
It’s one of the prime attractions at Yellowstone, and a major tourist draw. The Old Faithful complex probably has the biggest parking lot at the park. About 300 feet from the geyser, there’s a boardwalk forming a crescent that goes nearly halfway around the geyser itself.
There’s a humorous observation at Old Faithful. You can tell how close it’s getting to eruption based on how full that boardwalk is. The rangers at the park are pretty accurate in predicting the next eruption, within about plus or minus 10 minutes. And in the time leading up to the next predicted eruption, the boardwalk fills… And fills… And fills…
We watched our first eruption from the boardwalk. While my two older sons were able to snake their way up to the first couple rows of people, I was about 5 rows back, behind people sitting on the front edge of the boardwalk, a couple rows of benches, and a couple standing rows.
It was interesting, because it’s a freaking hole in the ground that shoots boiling water into the sky. But finding myself in the middle of the crowd was less than appealing.
I was trying to get a nice video of the eruption, but the people next to me were arguing about which side of the road cars drove on around different parts of the world. And, in a comment I heard as really self-centered and arrogant, one of them was proclaiming that if your country didn’t drive on the right (direction) side of the road, you drove on the wrong side of the road.
In short, in the area most easily accessed by the teeming throngs of tour bus crowds and photographic consumerists (who go places just to get a picture of themselves going places), I wasn’t too impressed by the crowd.
Call me smug. Call me arrogant. Call me elitist. Call me what you will. Every place like this where there were mass crowds ticking off their visits to the “top 10” sites in Yellowstone, I felt myself out-of-place among the crowd.
About 90 minutes later, we had a very different experience of Old Faithful…
We’d been itching for a hike, and we hit the nearest trail away from the Old Faithful lodge, just looking for a walk up the hills and into the woods.
There was a sign about Observation Point, but I don’t think we really knew what it was about. We just followed the trail that took us into the woods. (After making sure our water bottles were full and my bear spray was on my belt — though as much for the kids’ comfort as any expected need.)
And we walked. Up. And up. And up. A lot of moans from the kids and a couple switchbacks later, we ended up at the top of the hill, in a mostly rocky clearing.
And instead of the hundreds gathered on the boardwalk, there were maybe 20 people sitting here, at the top of the hill.
We turned around, and looked. There, in front of us, was Old Faithful. About 150 feet beneath us, in the valley below.
And judging by that crowd growing on the boardwalk, we were there a little bit before the next eruption.
So we sat and hung out.
And while we waited for the eruption, we engaged in a few conversations with the folks around us.
All were nice, kind, considerate. There was a lot less arguing about how other people were wrong simply based on the side of the road that they drove on. In fact, the people at the top were way more interesting! (One later chased us down the trail quite a distance to give us our daughter’s doll, which she had dropped — something that likely would never have happened on the boardwalk.)
And, we neither had to stand in front of, nor behind anyone to get a good view of the geyser. It was way less crowded.
The eruption, though farther away, was also a lot cooler to watch when you weren’t trying to elbow someone out of the way just to get a peek or a good camera angle.
We sat, we watched, and we admired the beauty and power of an all-natural fire-hose of boiling water erupting from deep within the earth.
For the rest of our time in Yellowstone, the same pattern repeated itself.
We’d arrive at one of those “top 10” destinations, and want to see it because it was legitimately cool. But we’d quickly find ourselves overwhelmed with the throngs of tourists (literally unloaded off busses), and find the nearest unpaved, off-the-boardwalk trail we could take.
And as soon as we got around the corner, the experience got way more interesting. More nature. More happy, kind, warm people, but far fewer of them.
If you think this isn’t a business lesson, you’re not thinking it through…
This is a mirror of every part of life, including business.
Those who follow the well-worn, paved path and boardwalks tend to be conformists, close-minded, and often arrogant people who are married to the “done for you” life.
They make good customers, because you can package nature and sell it to them 10 feet away from the real thing, at a premium. They’ll drop hundreds at your gift shop, and not think twice. But they’re not very fun to hang out with (and frankly, I don’t like selling to them for that reason!).
There’s masses of them.
On the other hand, there are very few people who are willing to go off the beaten path, and actually put in that extra little effort to climb to the top (of whatever skillset, interest area, or profession).
But the people who are willing to put in the work of climbing to the top are far, far more interesting, compelling people to spend your time around.
And, they’re inspiring. They’re the ones who climb to the top of one hill, see a bigger mountain, and invite you to go there. They’re the ones who help everyone climb higher. Putting yourself around these people helps you become one of them. And it helps everybody do bigger, more interesting things.
The masses look at the hill, and the pain of the climb, and think, “Oh it won’t be worth it when I can see just fine down here with everyone else.”
The rebels and renegades who climb the mountains and change the world relish the pain of the climb, knowing it’ll pay off for that less crowded and way more stimulating view from the top.
Those who wish to stay on the boardwalk see an obstacle, and point to it as proof that they shouldn’t take the path. Those who embrace the climb see an obstacle and delight in how many people have turned back because of it.
I don’t care what your business or career path is, the path to the top is the path to Observation Point, and even higher heights. There will be uncomfortable climbs. There will be obstacles. There will be trees that have fallen across the path, and countless other reasons to turn back. Every time you choose to keep going, enjoy it. Knowing full well that where you’ve endured, others have met the obstacle with resignation and failure.
Until in the end, you’re able to look down from the top, with the small crowd of cool kids who endured, not because you were better able to climb or in some other way superior, but because you set an indissoluble intention to reach the top, and maintained your focus with relentless dedication. And you’ll find that though that view is rewarding, it was actually the journey and all it took to complete it that gives you the true satisfaction.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
PS — For those who know the park, we took the relatively simple trails! I can’t wait to go back when our kids are a bit older (our youngest is 3 and rode in a backpack for some of the hiking) and we can actually do back country hiking and camping where we’re truly off the beaten path…
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