Lessons From the Trail

September 16, 2022

Lessons From the Trail: From Rocks and Roots to the Big Picture 

“Did you have a nice trip?”

If you were to go hiking with my spouse and me, you’d probably hear this punny phrase after one of our toes hits a root or a rock, sending us slightly airborne. That phrase never gets old—unless you’re the recipient of said pun. Usually, it’s me. And usually, it’s because I’m looking further up the trail rather than at what’s right in front of my feet.

But often, when I’m at my desk, I feel like the opposite is true. I’m sure you can relate. In our industry—and as marketers, business developers, and firm leaders—there’s no shortage of immediate tasks and pop-up issues to address. Over the past two-plus years, between the you-know-whatic, the abundance of professional opportunities, and the return of going places, it has been challenging to look too far ahead.

That’s why it’s so important to have a solid plan. Much like having a quality trail map, knowing your ultimate destination helps you decide where to take your next step.

From an SMPS perspective, the board of directors has been working with staff and a strategic planning consultant to develop a new plan for 2022–25. During Bernice Bako’s term, we had rich discussions about challenges, opportunities, what has been changing in our world, and what we anticipate in the years ahead. Those conversations—as well as the feedback provided in our survey and focus groups—are guiding our aspirations for the next three years.

As your 2022–23 Society president, I’m excited and grateful to move this work forward with the SMPS board and HQ staff. It has been great to hear from so many SMPS chapter leaders who have been developing or advancing their plans, too. At our firms, it’s the time of year when we start thinking about our objectives for the coming year (ideally, in line with our company’s strategic plan).

In addition to having a plan, here are a few other lessons from the trail that help me keep an eye on the bigger picture without tripping up on the details.

  • Adapt to trail conditions—and change course if necessary. Several years ago, my husband and I were trying to reach the summit of a 13,000-foot mountain, but strong winds kept knocking us over. For safety reasons, we reluctantly turned around. We all were reminded of this lesson in 2020, but a plan isn’t written in stone; it’s meant to be regularly revisited and updated. I write a personal plan each year and revisit and update it quarterly. And when presented with new information or experiences, I use that delete key, adjust, and move forward a different way.
  • Invite others to join. Hiking solo is gratifying and centering, but having a hiking buddy opens new opportunities, as well, like benefitting from someone else’s perspective and—when backcountry camping—sharing the weight of what you need to carry. As we set goals and implement them, engaging with others adds accountability and results in a better outcome than if we had gone it alone.
  • Timing is everything. Morning hikes are my favorite—the trails aren’t crowded, and the temperatures are lower. As a solopreneur, I’ve learned to be strategic with my time, scheduling high-stakes meetings and projects for the morning when I perform better and tackling more mundane items later.
  • Don’t try to do too much. As a people pleaser, I struggle with this on the regular. But it’s important to know your limits, set boundaries, and take care of yourself.
  • Appreciate your progress—and the view. Have you seen the shirt for the Sloth Hiking Team? Their motto is, “We’ll get there when we get there.” For me, it’s relatable. My pace is pretty slow. But instead of thinking about how far I have to go, I think about how far I’ve gone and focus on being grateful for the experience.

Unlike a hike, the journey to better is never-ending. I will always be a work in progress, as will our firms, our industry, and SMPS, because there’s always room to grow, and our world is ever-changing. How can SMPS continue to support you along every step of your career path? Drop me a line and let me know. I’m grateful to experience this journey alongside you.

Article written by SMPS President Holly Bolton, FSMPS, CPSM, who is owner of 3chord Marketing. She can be reached at holly@3chord-marketing.com.