How a motorcycle made me a better businessperson

Last weekend was my birthday. (I won’t tell you how old I turned, but I am now officially starting to feel old. If you’re really interested, I’m sure a quick Google search will turn up something that’s not yet a lie.) As a present, my boyfriend took me on what can best be described as a “whirlwind trip”: we rode his motorcycle 3000 kilometers to New York City, and back, in four days.

It wasn’t until we’d hit Bangor, Maine on the second day that I realized just how insane of an idea that was.

For starters, when I say “motorcycle”, I don’t mean a cushy touring bike with backrests, stereo speakers, massive windshields, luggage racks, and padded seats. This was a beast of a superbike, with a tiny little triangular seat on the back that looks like a miniature rocket. I jammed all of our vital belongings–two computers, several pairs of shoes (Excessive maybe, but it can’t come as a surprise), my flat-iron, three books, clothing–into my giant orange backpack and strapped it to my back. The effect was as though I’d gained a 30lb hunchback, and my balance was thrown so out of whack that climbing up on the bike was roughly akin to mounting a nine-foot tall horse with a broken leg. After an hour, my bum ached like I’d never felt before, and my feet would keep going numb. By the end of the trip, I had friction burns on my thighs and back pain that lasted for days—along with a giant smile on my face.

It was most assuredly one of the most insane, intense, incredible things I’d ever done.

Yep. This thing. I may as well have ridden a rocketship. It was also hot as hell, so every time we stopped I’d strip off the moment I clambered down and fling my things all over the place, as evidenced here.

Things I think I can’t do

When the constant pain wasn’t distracting me, I was busy being terrified. Three deer standing at the edge of the road waiting to jump out and kill me. Taking turns at 100 and leaning 45 degrees with the bike. Flying into my driver during an emergency stop coming into the city. Foggy night riding while a thunderstorm lit up the sky around us. Lane-splitting between trucks. Construction coming out of nowhere. Other cars cutting and swerving in. I’m a nervous passenger. There were so many times when all I wanted to do was say, “Listen. I cannot do this anymore. Drop me off at the nearest exit, and I will hitchhike my way home. Thanks for the ride!” By day four, when we needed to make good time, and the riding was getting intense, and the wind blast was so crazy I was convinced I was going to be pushed off that tiny little seat, I was verging on downright miserable. The only thing that got me through was sheer determination.

That determination—less charitable people would call it “bull-headedness”—has gotten me through so much. Earlier this summer, I went to Cape Breton with a friend. We found this charming place where you walk through the woods, clamber down a cliff using a system of ropes, cross through a rumbly river, and swim in ice-cold saltwater through a cavern until you reach this lagoon amid the rocks. Above it, there’s a cave in the side of the cliff, and more ropes. The boys who had gone the day prior told us we’d need lots of upper-body strength to pull ourselves up. One of them had even needed to be pushed up.

Of course, I figured I wouldn’t be able to make it. Possessing an extra x chromosome already predisposes me to be rather lacking in the upper-body department, and my twice-broken wrists of last year put me at something of a disadvantage. I remember perching atop one of the rocks, about to jump into the icy lagoon, looking up at the cave in the cliff and being convinced I’d never make it.

Then I gritted my teeth, pulled everything in my body together, and I made it! I’m certain it was that stubbornness, not any hidden reserves of strength, that fuelled my success. I’m also pretty sure that’s how I’ve structured the entirety of my life.

Things that scare me

Breaking both my wrists last year made me pretty skittish about my vulnerability. Being in a couple of car crashes in quick succession when I was eighteen made me an extremely nervous passenger. As a general rule, I very much dislike things that are beyond my control.

Obviously, riding pillion on a motorcycle is sort of a double-whammy for me. But I’m quite certain that forcing yourself to face things you fear makes you a stronger person. As a result, anytime I think “Oh, gracious. That sounds scary.” or “That sounds hard. I wonder if I’m capable of doing it?”, I take it as a sign that I must do it. Learning to ride a motorcycle (I have a license now!)? Moving to South America for five months? Going ziplining? Life modelling? Bring it on.

And of course, running a business is one of these things. I’m amazed that I’ve been doing this for so long and I’m still terrified of it and convinced I can’t do it at all. What if I mess things up and ruin my reputation? What if I get jerked around and can’t pay my bills anymore? What if the stress drives me totally insane and I end up wandering about aimlessly, muttering about em-heights and kerning?

Running a business is one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, and it never stops being terrifying.

Being a brave little toaster

Facing fears in other areas of your life forces you to become stronger and more self-assured. That sense of determination—the “I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m damn well going to try as hard as I possibly can”—is enough to push you to do everything you can in order to make it happen. I think, ultimately, I would have killed my business had I not started pushing myself to confront fears in other aspects of my life.

I’m a big fan, however, of pushing boundaries incrementally. If you suddenly dive into something terrifying, it’s easy to become paralyzed by fear, and no longer retain the ability to respond in an agile way when things change, as they invariably do. It’s important to push through things you’re afraid of, and things you don’t believe you’re capable of doing, but you can’t allow yourself to become locked up by them if you take on too much at once. It’s a fine balance.

It’s for this reason that I keep ramping up my adventures. I’m deep in planning mode (by which I mean “vaguely thinking about from time to time”) for my next crazy adventure, which is shaping up to involve a few different continents. By pushing things a little further every time I do them, my brain starts learning that it can handle whatever challenges I can throw at it. I stop being apprehensive when something crops up and I think I can’t manage it, because consistent experience tells me that I can.

This is the classy way to relax. (Don’t worry, I’m in Connecticut. The gas stations are spotless.) I was performing some variant of this sprawl, often with the backpack still strapped on, at every gas station down the eastern seaboard (when I wasn’t busy doing cartwheels to stretch out.) Coincidentally, this is also how I look when I’ve had the week from hell and have been working nonstop putting out fires, scrambling to get things done, and generally going crazy. Like this one! Good times.

And hey, if I hadn’t pushed myself to make it through this trip, I may not have learned how to smoke a cigarette while riding a motorcycle in New York City. You’re welcome, lovely clients. I do crazy things to make you happy.