Starting a business is hard. We must commit, endure the grind, face our fears, stay grounded, and be flexible. Most of us understand and accept the association between healthy bodies, minds, and businesses, but the effort required to get a business off the ground can drain us and push out the activities that keep us healthy and engaged.

Work-life balance or work-life integration?

One of the reasons many of us started our own business was to have work-life balance, but we soon realized that balance is an ideal that doesn’t quite fit who we are and how we think. The phrase “work-life balance” conjures two images for me: a scale with equal measures on each side and a rock cairn. The problem is that both are static and reflect a moment in time, not a process.

What if we give up the idea of work-life balance and instead seek to integrate our work and what we classify as life? What if instead of feeling the pressure to disengage from work we need and love to do to go outside and focus on our fitness (balance the scale) we allow the interaction of our bodies and the environment to teach our minds lessons of business, lessons that give us the mental and physical edge to sustain our effort and succeed in business and life? What if we run, bike, climb, hike, and bend like our businesses depend on it?

Running is hard, but running tests our resolve.

Let’s face it: Running is awful. Actually, running is awesome—once we develop the endurance to run more than three miles at a time. When we first start though, every muscle in our bodies screams, “What the hell were you thinking!?” Running doesn’t reward us for our efforts until we prove our commitment by suffering for it day in and day out for an undetermined amount of time.

Sounds like a start-up, doesn’t it?

Credit: Cristen Iris

Mountain biking is a grind, but mountain biking makes us strong and agile.

Unlike running, mountain biking gives a same-day reward. When we earn the uphill, we are rewarded with the thrill and sheer joy of the downhill ride.

But we must earn the uphill. We must muscle it out. We can slow down or even stop to rest before resuming a run, but stopping on the uphill of a mountain bike ride is not a viable option. If we’re on the right trail, the slope is too steep and terrain too technical to resume. Stop now and it’s a hike-a-bike to the top. And if we thought riding was tough, moving ourself and a heavy, unwieldy object up a hill will bring the definition of “difficult” into sharp focus.

But few things can compete with mountain biking for full body fitness. The uphill grind builds large muscles, and the downhill tear requires absolute concentration and fine motor skills. And crashing? We will crash. And we will learn that the best way to avoid a crash is to avoid the brakes, instead forcing ourselves to lean in and go faster.

It’s counter-intuitive but will save us from a lot of pain and long recovery times. The stronger and more agile we are, the faster and safer we will get up and down mountains whether those mountains are literal or figurative.

Credit: Cristen Iris

Rock climbing is scary, but rock climbing develops our courage.

“Safety” is not a word associated with rock climbing or entrepreneurialism. To be a true entrepreneur is to be a free climber.

We might talk about the big picture, the general “going for a climb,” but we don’t tell the people who love us exactly what we’re doing until we survive it. They’ll worry. They’ll tell us not to do it. They’ll tell us it’s safer to rope in.

The thing is, we don’t need their reminders. If we’ve gotten off the ground, we’ve looked down and immediately and viscerally understand the penalty for failure.

Freeclimbing requires and builds strength; it forces us to think strategically; and, more than perhaps any other sport, tests our courage. This is exactly the kind of courage we need to keep climbing and then to stand on the tops of our mountains, look down, and celebrate our victories.

Many entrepreneurs are workaholics, always climbing, but climbing doesn’t require nearly as much courage as stopping. It is when we stand at the top, look down, and take time to celebrate our ascent that we overcome our fear of falling, of failing.

Credit: Cristen Iris

Hiking is slow, but hiking keeps us grounded.

Of course, we will not progress if we stay on the mountaintop, and the view from the top—while offering perspective—doesn’t get the job done. It’s the work we do when our boots are on the ground that moves us forward. And nothing serves to develop our humility—to keep us grounded—as does a slow march on aching feet when we cannot see our destination.

But there is something about the smell of dirt, pine, and open air that inspires and expands the mind.

Yoga is still, but yoga develops our flexibility.

Stillness is antithetical to entrepreneurialism and not an activity easily embraced by our go-go-go personality types. But yoga offers the entrepreneur an opportunity to tune out and tune in, to soothe and stretch overworked muscles, and to develop a mindset that sets us apart from rigid thinkers and reactionary doers.

We classify running, mountain biking, rock climbing, and hiking as activities but yoga as a practice. Far from being static, yoga teaches us to integrate physical and mental movement. The practice thereof reminds us that we and our businesses are works in progress.

Fitness and Business

From an evolutionary standpoint, an organism’s fitness is measured by its ability to adapt to a selective pressure and reproduce. As entrepreneurs, we face selective pressures on an almost daily basis. If we are to survive, we must be strong. We must adapt. We must thrive. We must produce and reproduce.

I cannot help but wonder if much of the success of entrepreneurial endeavors in the Northwest can be attributed to our love of and access to the outdoor classroom just beyond our office doors and if a direct relationship can be found between improvements of our levels of physical fitness and success in our businesses. What I am sure of is the personal and professional benefit I’ve gained from running, mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and practicing yoga and adopting a work-life integration mindset.

Cristen Iris

A proponent of work-life integration, Cristen Iris is a ghostwriter, book doctor, speaker, literary talent scout, and lover of all things out of doors. She works with entrepreneurs, advocates, and other health and outdoor enthusiasts. Cristen lives, works, and plays in the Pacific Northwest.