January 2024

  • Type 2 Professional Fun

    Two weekends ago, Julia and I went to Skoki Lodge. Skoki Lodge is a backcountry cabin just over 11 km North of Lake Louise, situated in the Skoki Valley. It’s a log cabin originally built by a group of Banff Residents in the 1930’s to cater to ski-tourists. Today, it’s relatively untouched from the original structure and for only ~$700(!) a night you get a truly rustic experience, including no running water or electricity. Fortunately, your stay includes high quality meals and you have amazing access to various trails around several nearby mountains.

    Part of the Skoki adventure is getting to the cabin. You ‘pick your own adventure’ and can hike, XC ski, or alpine ski tour/split board in. Having never been before, not knowing any 1st degree connections who had been, not finding great information online, and receiving poor instructions from the 60-year old ski bum who checked us in at the base of the village, we were woefully unprepared. We brought classic XC skis and no skins (i.e., grips for the bottom of your skis that allow you to climb uphill without constantly slipping backwards), not realizing that much of the journey is a steady uphill climb. From the trailhead, you climb ~500m and must get over Deception pass (~2,500m elevation), which feels like scaling a mountain. Everything you need you carry in on your back so we each had a ~25lb pack on.

    The combination of the wrong equipment, severely underestimating how hard the journey would be, and -25°C weather, all combined to make it one of the more challenging physical activities I’ve ever completed. It took us 5.5 hours. I burned nearly 3,000 calories. When we were maybe ~2/3 of the way in, looking uphill at Deception pass and realizing due to the lack of skins we would be walking up the entire way, I was reminded of the concept “Type 2 Fun”, a former colleague, Matt, had explained to me several years earlier. Type 2 fun describes an activity that can be uncomfortable or extremely challenging throughout, but which you find enjoyable in retrospect.

    Now that a few weeks have passed, I can confidently say the trip squarely fits in the Type 2 Fun category. I’m incredibly grateful we did it, even though a lot of it sucked in the moment. This got me thinking about whether the concept of Type 2 Fun can be applied in a professional context. And I was reminded of my experience at Onex working on the SIG investment.

    SIG Combibloc is a multi-billion dollar aseptic packaging company headquartered in Switzerland. With a small team, I worked on evaluating the investment for nearly a year, of which six months was particularly grueling. For the six months leading up to the acquisition, I literally did nothing but work. I worked 7 days a week, usually for as long as I physically could. With very rare exceptions, I’d arrive at work Monday to Friday at 9 am and leave the office between 2 and 3 am. On Saturday and Sunday, I’d arrive at ~10:30 am and leave at ~3 to 4 am. I spent 5 weeks straight living out of a hotel in London. I travelled to various manufacturing facilities in Germany, Switzerland, and made a 24-hour trip to China. I gained 15 pounds and the week after we signed the deal, I became severely ill. The experience had a lot of suck in the day-to-day… but in retrospect, it was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve ever had. I’m incredibly grateful for it and remember it fondly, and a decade later am still proud of the work we did.

    I’ve also had many experiences of working under similarly hard conditions, which I have absolutely hated, look back with zero feelings of gratitude or joy, and know with certainty that many of those unhappy and long, hard work periods were key drivers to making a career change. So what made the SIG experience different? What are the characteristics that can make an experience, which might be really challenging or difficult in the moment, later fit in the Type 2 Professional Fun bucket? For me, it was a sense of deep accomplishment after the fact (i.e., you worked hard, but you knew the hard work was meaningful and had purpose); enjoying the company of those you’re on the journey with; and having a sense of self-improvement or betterment because of the associated learning from the experience. I believe if those characteristics are present when working through a really challenging period, you’re likely to look back upon it fondly even if it wasn’t enjoyable at the time.

    Importantly, the ability to recognize in the moment the potential future benefits of your current suffering, can make it much more tolerable. That was certainly the case for how I felt ~2/3 of our way into the journey to Skoki.

  • Positive vs. Negative motivation

    People can be driven and motivated by a wide variety of reasons, some of which tend to be positive, and some of which tend to be negative. Both can be extremely powerful forces.

  • Is it for you? Or them?

    Running is one of my favourite forms of exercise. It’s a great physical and mental outlet. We live near the Bow River in Calgary and I’m fortunate to have excellent access to amazing running routes. I can practically run indefinitely East or West along the Bow. When I’m in Toronto, I typically stay with my parents and also have great access to running routes in the Cedarvale ravine and along the Kay Gardner Beltline. Both these routes are typically quite busy with other runners, people walking, and some cyclists.

    There’s a generally followed, unspoken rule of running etiquette, which is that when you pass by another runner, you give them a short nod and/or a smile and a small wave.* It’s a nicety, for sure. I am definitely a regular ‘waver’ along the trail. So, what do you do when you give someone a polite small and wave… and they completely ignore you. Direct eye contact was made for sure. But they just keep on going. As insane as this sounds, this used to piss me off. My self talk would be something along the lines of… “what is fucking wrong with this person? They can’t wave back?”.

    One day, after getting no response to a smile and wave, I was reminded of an important principle: you can’t control someone else’s actions. You can only control your own. Am I waving at someone because I need a wave back? Or because it feels like a nice thing to do when I’m out for a run? Is the wave for me? Or is it for them? Once I remembered the wave is for me, I stopped caring about whether I got a return wave or not.

    This is a micro-example of an important theme. A lot of time and mental energy can be exhausted worrying about someone else’s response or actions, which you can’t control. Sometimes it helps to ask yourself: are you doing it for you? Or are you doing it for them? So long as you feel good about your own actions, you can feel less emotionally invested in the response (or lack thereof).

    Here are a few other common, perhaps more relatable, examples: You send out a well thought out note on a topic you care about. No one responds. You make a post online. No on ‘likes’ it. You give someone advice or feedback. They ignore it. You request a meeting with someone. They decline. In each case, you can choose to be upset with the response (or lack of), or you can be satisfied with your own actions.

    *Amusingly, in Calgary, this occurs probably 75% of the time based on my non-scientific anecdotal observations. In Toronto, that number is probably closer to 50% or maybe a bit below.