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.