Mile One

Letter from Mile One
founder Joel Swanson


In April 2009 I took a break from the business world and set out north from the Mexican border, intent on hiking 2,650 miles to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail.  It was by far the most ambitious item on my bucket list and had been a dream of mine for years.  Five months and six pairs of shoes later I arrived at the Canadian border, both exhausted and exhilarated.

I (correctly) predicted that the hike would be transformative for me as a person.  What I didn’t anticipate?  That it would transform me as a business leader.

While initially unexpected, the parallels became too frequent and apparent to ignore:  this epic journey illuminated core truths of what it takes to be a successful leader, and to start and grow a successful business in the face of daunting odds.  As I stood on the Mexican border on that cool inaugural April day, I was flooded with doubts:  Had I done the right preparation?  Was I mentally strong enough?  Only 20 minutes after beginning my journey north I encountered something that would inform my approach to this hike and, ultimately, to business: previous hikers had celebrated the completion of the first mile by planting a “Mile One” highway sign alongside the trail amidst the desert sand and brush.  To some, it might seem trivial to highlight a single mile along a 2,650-mile journey.  To me, it sent a strong message:  the trail to Canada was long, and would no doubt involve frustration, pain, and tough decisions, but in that moment all I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other, one mile at a time.

The Mile One sign reminded me that executing the fundamentals is the foundation of success, no matter how big or small the goal.  It’s easy to focus on the proverbial “summit shot” of business: Glorious mountain views, the wind blowing in your hair, and no visible blisters.  And yet, transformation – and, by extension, success – only happens in the day-to-day, mile-by-mile, blister-upon-blister process of making unremarkable good decisions to move the business forward, and then showing up the next day and doing it again. These small moments don’t earn the glory, but they’re the only thing that gets us where we want to go.

It starts with Mile One. Even before that, it starts by getting the first step right, and then taking the next right step and the next right one after that.

Take the first step. Better yet, let’s take it together.

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