On a recent hike, I had quite a bit of time to reflect on the similarities of lessons learned on the trail and lessons learned in the dealership. When you’re all in, and you don’t have any other choice but to keep going, you’ll find a way to reach the top. - IMAGE: KieferPix via Getty Images

On a recent hike, I had quite a bit of time to reflect on the similarities of lessons learned on the trail and lessons learned in the dealership. When you’re all in, and you don’t have any other choice but to keep going, you’ll find a way to reach the top.

IMAGE: KieferPix via Getty Images

Recently, I took some time off to hike the John Muir Trail in California — 10.5 days to be exact. For the first five days, I hiked essentially by myself. The last five and half days I hiked with a group of friends that I met up with. Our group started out as four, but unfortunately became three before the end of the hike. 

When you’re all in, and you don’t have any other choice but to keep going, you’ll find a way to reach the top.     

While I was on the trail, I had quite a bit of time to reflect on the similarities of lessons learned on the trail and lessons learned in the dealership. I decided to try and collect a few of my thoughts and put them on paper.

1. Plan Ahead

When deciding to hike 120 miles in 10 days, with no cell phone signal, you don't start planning the night before. I used checklists to go over, and re-go over, my gear to make sure I had everything I needed. 

Our jobs are much like this. We have to plan ahead, and most of us know this. But do we start a year ahead of time? Maybe we should. What if you planned out your 2021? Not just your forecast, but what you need to do to hit it and exceed it? What stores will you target and plan ahead to prospect? What areas? I challenge you to map out your year. Then break it down to month-by-month, and then week-by-week. It will make Sunday night planning easier and more meaningful. 

Time to start hiking. You have 15 miles to go and 3,500 feet of elevation gain. At an average of two miles per hour, that means you'll be hiking for about seven to eight hours. With an hour for lunch and a few breaks along the way, you plan on getting to your next campsite by 4 p.m. 

You check your progress along the way. Once an hour at minimum. Where am I? What time is it? How much distance do I have left to go? Am I on track to make my goal today?

Do we map out our day? Sure, we're going to call on these four stores, but what are the tasks that we want to complete? What are we trying to accomplish? And, more importantly, in what time frame? If it is 10:00 a.m., what do you need to accomplish by 11, and then what will you begin working on next? I would challenge you to map out not just your week, but also your day and even your hour.

2. Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

In my case, literally. I spent the first four days hiking in smoke. At the time that I hit the trail, the Sierras had about four major fires burning. Every day I would wake up in a haze of smoke that I could smell, see, and even taste. I would hike in it most of the day, but making enough miles to outrun it by dinner. I would go to bed that night thinking, “Well, at least I hiked far enough to get out of the smoke.” And then by morning it would roll in again, and I was back hiking in smoke. This provides for a lot of additional challenges in an environment that is already plenty challenging. 

We all see smoke in our stores from time to time. Read the signs. Find the fire. No one else is going to put it out but you — at least that's the way you have to approach it. 

3. Remember to Pick Your Head Up and Look Around

Often times on the trail you find yourself walking along watching your feet pound the dirt. Now, in all fairness, that's somewhat with good cause. There can be obstacles on the trail that you do need to be aware of. 

But then it hits you, "I should look up and see what's around me." You lift your head up, look out across the valley, and that's when you see it … that 9,000-foot wall of sheer granite. The dirt that covers your legs seem to disappear, the blisters on your feet quit hurting, and you don't even notice the 30-pound pack on your back anymore. And you remember … Yeah, that's why I'm here. 

Our jobs can be like that. Sometimes we get busy watching our feet. Just taking the necessary steps and going through the motions. But you need to pick your head up and look at the big picture. American Financial’s Arden Hetland always says it best: "Put the dealer first." If you dig into that, what it means is help the dealer and his company be more profitable and successful. And the way our industry works, if the dealer is more successful, then the staff will be more successful. 

Several years ago I had this business manager that worked on one of my new accounts. He wanted to go to lunch and I agreed, but I told him that I would buy lunch this time and he could buy the next time we went. The next time I was in the store he was quick to insist on returning the offer and we went to lunch again. After the meal he went to pay and his credit card was declined. He pulled out a second credit card, and it was declined too. I quickly handed some cash to the girl and paid for lunch. When we got outside he thanked me for lunch and apologized for the incident. I tried to make light of it and said, “Oh you know these credit card machines. I’m sure the connection was messed up or something.” He said “No, that’s not it. I’m in a pretty bad spot right now. I’m behind on both cars and the mortgage. I just can’t seem to make enough to keep up.”

I told him, “Well, that’s why I’m here. We’re gonna fix that.”

4. Celebrate the Top — No Matter How High It Is

The John Muir Trail is located in the High Sierras of California and when traveling this route, you get to end your trip by summiting Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet. 

Half Dome is probably the most recognizable mountain in the country. It is in fact the image that Yosemite National Park uses in its logo. But the summit is only at 8,842 feet, far below that of Mount Whitney. However, I have climbed both, and I can tell you without hesitation that Half Dome is much more difficult.

So should those that hike Half Dome celebrate less because their summit isn’t as high? Of course not. Neither should be celebrated less than the other, because both are a great accomplishment. Celebrate your mountaintop, no matter how high it is. Nobody knows how hard you worked to get there but you. Even if it doesn’t seem like your summit is as high as someone else’s, give yourself the chance to celebrate what you have accomplished. You have earned it, and you deserve it.

But Half Dome and Whitney are just the anchors on either end of the trail. What about all of the other summits along the way? The John Muir Trail crosses over six mountain passes higher than 11,000 feet. The point is, you have to celebrate the little mountaintops along the way. If you only allow yourself to celebrate Whitney or Half Dome, you’ll never make it to either. 

We all know our jobs are just like this. We want to reach the mountaintop. We want to celebrate the close. And really, we want to reach the highest mountaintop. But if you don’t let yourself celebrate the passes along the way, the day-to-day grind that you put in, the obstacles that you face and overcome — no matter how small they may seem — you will never reach Mount Whitney.

5. All In

When you are planning to go hiking, there are basically two types of hikes: an out and back, and a thru hike. 

An out and back trail is when you start and finish at the same point. You might park your car at a trailhead for instance, hike out for a few days, and return to that same trailhead. If you are planning on spending four or five days out in the backcountry, but something goes wrong on day two, you can simply return to your car and cancel the rest of the trip.

A thru hike, however, is a little different. That is when you start at one trailhead, and you finish at another. That means once you have started hiking in one direction, you really don’t have any choice but to finish, you’re all in.

A few years ago, I hiked the High Sierra Trail with a buddy of mine named Colin. The entire trail takes anywhere from about six to seven days to complete. It’s a thru hike though, so you start at one trailhead and finish at a different trailhead.

The first day of the hike was pretty hard on Colin. We had about 10 miles to go to get to our first campsite, and Colin started feeling it at about mile nine. Right after a creek crossing, Colin began throwing up, probably from the altitude. Then his legs gave out on him, and he collapsed right there next to the water. He was exhausted, and was suffering from altitude sickness. I decided we were done for the day. We would make camp right there close to the creek in hopes that he would feel better the next day. I started getting camp set up, and Colin began trying to help. I told him that I really wanted him to rest and I would get everything set up. He was being a trooper though and really wanted to help. After he insisted several times, I finally said “Ok, tell you what, why don’t you go filter some water for us.” I figured that was a pretty easy thing for him to do that wouldn’t require much energy. 

A short time later, Colin came back holding my water filter – in two pieces. He had broken it while trying to filter water. It took everything I had in me to stay calm at that moment and not go ballistic on him. We had just lost our water filter and we were on Day 1 … we had five more days to go. 

Our situation was not looking good. Colin looked at me with a look of desperation and said, “What do we do now”? I looked at my watch. My 10 minutes that I had been waiting had passed. I picked up the bag of Beef Stroganoff that I had been waiting on to finish cooking and said “We eat dinner. That’s what we do”.

Dinner passed by without much conversation. Both of us contemplating our situation I’m sure. Finally, Colin said “Maybe we should just turn back. I’m not sure I can make it”. But we were all in. We had nothing to turn back to. Our ride to our rental car was on the other side of the Great Western Divide, 66 miles away.

And that is what “all in” really means. All in gets thrown around a lot, but do people really mean it? When you are all in, you have nothing to turn back to. You don’t have a backup plan. You have this plan, and that is it. This is the plan that you will make work. You will it to work through sheer determination, effort, and hard work. So I’ll ask you: Are you all in? Are you all in every week, and even every day? Do you do all of the tasks that you are supposed to complete each and every day that will help you be successful? None of us like doing all the little things that we are required to do. But doing those things each and every day is being all in. That’s what “all in” is. Not just “Do you want it?” But will you put in the work and the effort that it takes to reach it?

I looked back at Colin and said, “Colin, we don’t have anything to turn back to. Not making it was never an option on this trip. We’re going to make it to Whitney — both of us — together. I’ll help you make it”. 

As luck would have it, the next day we met the lady that ran a campground at Bear Paw Meadow, and I was explaining our filter situation to her. She gave us an old filter of hers that was less broken than ours. Now we had filtered water for our trip and I am grateful of the help she gave us. Colin felt better the next day and he got stronger every day on the trail.

Five days later, as I approached the summit of Mount Whitney, I looked back and Colin was right behind me. I stopped and waited for him to catch up to me, and we both summited together. When you’re all in, and you don’t have any other choice but to keep going, you’ll find a way to reach the top.     

Thanks for reading. Now, go climb a rock and close a deal. 

M. Ritchey Wheeler is vice president of training at American Financial & Automotive Services, Inc.

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