Here’s What Happens When You Leave Everything Behind

Entrepreneurship doesn’t just describe business owners, it can describe adventure travelers as well.  As I read AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller (link to book here), I couldn’t help but think his thru-hike from Georgia to Maine was a true entrepreneurial endeavor.

Most dictionaries define entrepreneur as one who “by risk and initiative manages a business for a profit.”  My definition is a little broader:  I believe an entrepreneur is anybody who confronts challenges, perseveres, takes risks, has unbridle optimism that is clouded by realism, and is willing to surmount obstacles and self-doubts.  Miller embodies all these adjectives as recounted in his book.

He decided to go on a thru-hike because his life was “precariously normal”, and because his father had bypass surgery and mom was fighting cancer.  These life-awakening events are also often the reason why people leave their careers and strike out on an entrepreneurial journey of their own.  They see that life is short and they want to seek a true adventure.

Like all business entrepreneurs, Miller also has second doubts along his journey, this is especially true when he has periodic phone calls with his wife who does not understand why he struck out on this journey (a similar account I hear from many entrepreneurs).  These doubts are also confronted while nursing a sprained ankle, when he fears he is lost on the trial, while sleeping in the rain, and even when he has a shortage of food.

He also talks about the rewards of the hike with wonderful views of mountain vistas, being able to pick berries and eat them in the wild, building camaraderie with other thru-hikers , deciding what time he will awake and how far he will hike, and walking into town where he is cheerfully greeted, given a hot meal and a free overnight stay.
And like most entrepreneurs, there is often a loneliness and solitude of the journey.  Miller often hikes for hours and even days without seeing another person.  He wonders aloud whether his journey is worth the effort, whether his family members realize the sacrifices and arduous task he has undertaken, and whether along the trail other hikers will help him and guide him.  All characteristics of entrepreneurialism.

Miller encapsulates his journey with eloquent, but admittedly trite, statements at the beginning and end of the book.  He  writes that anything worth accomplishing takes effort, of the need to take big risks in order to achieve something big, and that most gratifying experiences in life are the ones that are the most demanding.  But most saliently for me, was the confidence he exuded as he finished his hike and realized what he had accomplished, and how regrettable it would have been had he not done this at this particular time in his life.

Whether you’re a business owner or adventure traveler, I think we can all agree that entrepreneurship is a journey and adventure that is unforgettable.

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