Impact HUB Tokyo: Thoughts on entrepreneurship and climbing

Editorial Note: The original Japanese word “登山” is a general term that means going up a mountain and can refer to hiking, trekking, climbing, and mountaineering. In this piece, the author is usually referring to hiking, but the translation team has made some editorial decisions based on cultural context.

Many moments, I find myself reflecting on the similarities between climbing and entrepreneurship. It began with my love of nature which got me into climbing and trail running. For example, Impact HUB Tokyo is like a mountain hut, where climbers can rest, take shelter, and get the latest information. Let’s start with some other common parallels to reflect on the startup life through the experience of climbing.

Others say it’s crazy. But is it really?

startup and climbing japan social enterprise
Image courtesy of Impact HUB Tokyo

The words “climbing” and “entrepreneurship” seem to elicit the same reactions in people. Of course, I’m referring mostly about people who aren’t interested in climbing or entrepreneurship. Both topics usually elicit words like “hard” or “challenging”. From an ordinary person’s perspective, the mountain is a place that brings about exhaustion, the heat, then the cold, too many bugs, and even the bears. But for people who actually climb, the “difficult” parts don’t make up that much of the experience. Proper preparations can also be made to deal with dangerous situations.

It can perhaps be said that people climb for the experience and sense of achievement that comes from overcoming hardships. For mountain lovers, the lack of electricity, the burden of carrying water and other essentials — the sum of all the modern-day inconveniences is precisely the charm.

Even though people refer to “climbing” as if there was only one way up a mountain, there are actually many ways to do it. There are those who seek out the tallest and most difficult mountains, or those who pride themselves on hitting all of Japan’s 100 Famous Peaks, or those who enjoy a relaxing hike appreciating the alpine flora. Perhaps it is because climbing can have something for everyone that it has become so popular. Some people do not even care about making the summit. Trail runs are also faster compared to hiking, giving a different experience to the same mountain. The physical challenges are also quite different. Either way, it’s possible to meet great friends/comrades through the various ways one spends time on a mountain. This sense of camaraderie is probably also what supports lonely entrepreneurs and career-driven people in their 30s and 40s.

The simplicity and force of “Because I like it”

impact hub tokyo members story
Image courtesy of Impact HUB Tokyo

Entrepreneurs like their jobs and climbers like their climbing. Despite something being “hard”, you do it because you like it. And because you like it, you can keep going; what’s more, you’ll push yourself to go even further.

The thing is, with hiking, your route is complete once you’ve gone up and down the mountain. But for entrepreneurship, it feels like there’s never an end in sight. In that respect, climbing guarantees a sense of fulfilment once you’ve finished your route. Also, you can plan for climbing. You can estimate the duration of a route, prepare for hazards or high altitudes, and turn back when the weather is bad or your body can’t go on. You can mitigate risks, plan to arrive at a rest hut before sunset, and make sure there is ample time planned in your schedule. Climbing has many different tried and true methods. Because on the mountain, what you do is, in essence, a matter of life and death.

It could be said that deep down, both entrepreneurship and trekking is like putting your life at stake. Except entrepreneurship isn’t about survival so much as it is about the scale of effect this choice has on your way of life.

To lose not to adversity and keep going onward.

There is a famous commencement speech that the late Steve Jobs gave. In his first story, he talked about connecting the dots. These “dots” can be all the moments in all the days that eventually lead you towards a summit. But for Jobs, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward… you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future” by finding and doing what you love. In Jobs’ words, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” If those of us who seek, be it entrepreneurs or climbers, don’t stop searching until we have found our calling. If we can abandon “common sense” and find what we love, then maybe we can approach that state of “staying hungry and foolish” that Jobs speaks of.

This time, I drew parallels between climbing and entrepreneurship based on my own experiences on mountain trails, but there will certainly be those who say, “That’s not true” or “It’s not like that”. If I have the opportunity, next time I would like to hear the unique experiences and perspectives from my fellow Hubbers.

Ryoko Okamoto (岡村亮子)
Story by Ryoko Okamoto

Up until the point of writing, I have climbed Mount Fuji, Mount Kita, Mount Kitahotaka, Mount Tsubakuro, Mount Jonen to Mount Aino, Mount Haku, and Mount Takao. My first trail running competition was the Three Peaks Race, a 23km short course. In 2016, I completed the 100km Mount Haku geo-trail in 3 days. I’m considering entering the 7-day 250km challenge next year.

In general, I like travelling and “playing”. If nature and yummy food are added too, my life is complete! I am currently seeking out a style of work that has flexible hours and is location-independent through trial and error. I’m also learning from the entrepreneurial spirit at Impact HUB Tokyo.

This piece is a translation from Impact HUB Tokyo’s original post “Vol. 2 登山と起業は似てる Members’ Story” with permission.

Writer/Editor: Ryoko Okamoto (岡村亮子)
Translator: Michelle Lai

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