What mountain biking taught me about mastery

From rock faces to business mastery – it’s all connected

I spent a lot of time mountain biking this summer. More than I have since becoming pregnant 8 years ago. This happened not only because I now have a 7 year old who’s independence has granted me more freedom. There was another reason. Because I achieved a certain level of mastery within it, I felt a renewed passion for the sport.

Mountain biking is not a new thing for me. I’ve been riding up and down technical, rooty, Southwestern BC trails for over 20 years now. This sport has been the single active thread in my adult life. There hasn’t been a year I’ve missed doing it which says a lot since in other areas of my life, my focus changes every 6 months or so.

I only now recognize that mountain biking has taught me a valuable lesson about the components of mastery – passion, practice, mindset and mentorship.

Mastery starts with a passion

When I first discovered mountain biking 22 years ago, it was love at first sight. Being an eco-conscious adventurer, I started biking to my first job after university. It was a trek. The ride was about 15km (that’s just over 9 miles) one way, with a big downhill on the way to work and a massive uphill on the way home. (I still have dreams about that never-ending evening climb.)

I’d heard things about mountain biking and since I’d already discovered hiking the mountains in my back yard, I was intrigued. So one day, on my way home from work I stopped into the local bike shop. There I met “the boys”. The ones who would properly introduce me to the sport. And voila, that day they casually invited me out to their Thursday night rides. Of course.

Being a fairly brave person who’ll try almost anything, healthy, once, I showed up that Thursday. I had no idea what I was in for … my entry to the sport was not a gradual ramp up. I was thrown in. The only woman trying to keep up with “the boys”. Of course.

Several hours later I arrived home – where I was still living with my parents – scraped and bruised from falling over my handle-bars on some complicated dirt path … with a massive smile on my face. I had no natural talent there.

But I was hooked.

Practice sets the foundation for mastering anything

I loved mountain biking from the start because it included all the elements of a perfect activity for me – outdoors, physically challenging, social and exhilarating. And it required so much concentration I was completely immersed in the task at hand.

For many people technical sport is like a meditation. So much concentration is required you don’t even notice you’re getting a workout. It helps when it includes chit-chatting with your friends hour after hour.

Despite my pure love of it, it didn’t come easy for me. I’m a cautious person by nature. Getting hurt has never been my thing. My mom used to tell people that she never needed a baby gate for me because I’d take one look at the stairs and decide to go the other way.

My aptitude for risk has only increased through age & experience. Once I’ve learned something is possible, I’ll do it. I’ve never been one to try something without being 90% sure I won’t fall.

**Side note, not wanting to fail is not always the best recipe for entrepreneurship. Yup.

I kept at it because I loved it. It’s how most of my long-term friendships have formed and it’s how I still spend time with my friends today. Needless to say, I’ve banked a lot of hours in the saddle.

The mindset to overcome my blocks

It’s hard to know what comes first when it comes to growth but without the mindset to persevere we can sit in average or on the verge of success for a veerrry loooooong tiiiiiiimmme.

Even when I thought I had the mindset to take any leap in my business, I had some major blocks. I didn’t even know how big they were until I was able to look back on how I blasted through them on my bike this summer.

Remember that I’d been biking for 20+ years.  You could say that I had “put in my time”.

Despite all the practice time I had in, I didn’t have the mindset for mastery. I’m not a dare-devil so if I felt I couldn’t do a drop, a steep pitch or get over those wet roots in one piece, I wouldn’t do it.

Because I didn’t have an ego around biking, nothing to prove, I had no problem walking around a feature.

When this summer hit, I started riding more regularly with friends who were at the same level as me. They forced me into analyzing the features as to whether or not we could do them. If the feature didn’t require an advanced technique (some kind of jump involved) we should be able to roll over it in one piece.

Up to then, I’d been okay not analyzing them and not doing them.

One day late July friend Suzie and I went for a ride on a trail called Somewhere Over There – a black diamond level. We decided to try one of the steep rock slabs that we hadn’t tried before. My back tire skidded out somewhat but I made it down without any trouble & only a few nerves.

But those nerves were very powerful. They triggered a major turning point!

After taking that one risk, my mindset shifted. Suddenly every black feature I’d skirted around on all the trails I’d ridden regularly for a few years, looked easy. That same week I rode them all, never doubting I couldn’t do them.

I’d achieved some level of mastery in my own mind. And I now approach every trail with a new perspective. If it’s doable with my advanced (not elite) skillset than I can do it.

No amount of practice, made that switch. My mindset needed to make a switch.

Mentorship makes the shifts possible

I mentioned my friends being part of the reason why my riding improved this year. If I hadn’t ridden consistently with peers at the same skill and risk level as me, I don’t know that I would’ve accomplished such a huge improvement in my abilities.

Yes, I’ve always ridden with friends but doing so with people at the same ability and ready to push themselves further, safely, was a game-changer. When I rode with people who were less ready to try things, I was off the hook. When I rode with people who found everything easy, I couldn’t relate. I chalked it up to “they are just wired differently than me”.

Like when I ride with my boyfriend. He doesn’t even know which features I’m talking about when I’m asking him if he thinks I’m ready to try it. Not many of them stand out for him because he’s that comfortable.

And when I rode with people who hurt themselves a lot or looked out of control, that would put me back even further. I didn’t need to follow their path.

So while I still had fun riding with anyone, those weren’t the partners for advancing my learning curve. What works is having peers who have:

  • a matching passion to grow
  • similar skills & experience
  • the same mindset about risk

Bam! And here I am … hurtling down rocks faces.

Mountain biking, mastery & my business

So it’s not surprising that I now have a new passion for my business growth. One that centres around the concept of mastery and a body of work that teaches others to harness their own mastery for growth.

Sometimes our training doesn’t come from the thing we’re working towards. We’ve realized a new level in a different realm, and apply the same approach – passion, mindset, practice & mentorship – to the current one.

All those little risks, from every aspect of our life lead us to being braver. To taking bigger risks that matter.

It’s only when we feel at risk that we’re pushing boundaries, challenging expectations and moving towards mastery. 

You never arrive at mastery, there’s always a new level ahead. But you don’t need to arrive there to produce your work using it or share your knowledge. There are pieces of it that you do excel in. Knowing what works to support you towards it and through it is important.

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