As a consultant who has done a lot of work with destination and tourism clients, I was excited to see the New York Times annual “52 Places to Go in 2024” announced this week. It got me thinking about Place #42: The Boundary Waters, Minnesota. Their photo of Place #42 showed the pristine beauty and peacefulness of this very special area. But it also reminded me of my trip there — in my mind it would have been captioned, “Way out of my comfort zone!”

In 2016 my new beau invited me to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. I said yes. He was an experienced Boundary Waters traveler. We had been dating for about six months, and camping sounded romantic. Hah!

I didn’t know what portaging a canoe meant (IYKYK), I didn’t know how to pitch a tent, and I wasn’t clear on the fact that we didn‘t have specific locations and plans where we would camp. How hard could it be?

I was working at Destinations International (then DMAI) and we had just completed our annual convention in Minneapolis, so he drove up from Chicago with the dog to pick me up and we headed up north from there.

The weather and setting were spectacular, but…I had never taken a trip like this. At first, I went along with the lack of a definite plan, but the task of lugging this canoe everywhere between lakes did not seem relaxing to me, and the lack of an actual pre-arranged spot that was ours seemed counter to the idea of enjoyment.

I completely lost it around the middle of day two. Standing waist deep in water, my beau and I looked at each other. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “I am so far out of my comfort zone right now!”

Once I said it out loud and acknowledged the obvious, things began to get better.

We glided across the lakes, pitched our tent on a tiny island, lit a picture-perfect fire and cooked a great meal. I began to appreciate all the things I had felt intimidated by at the beginning of our journey, including the lack of a plan, the complexity of the lakes, the complete solitude and the magnitude of options for getting lost.

I see some good business lessons here.

  1. It is ultimately good for you and your organization to get out of your comfort zones and explore new approaches and strategies — but don’t wait until it’s urgent and there isn’t time for the discovery process. Do it before then, so that you can roll up your sleeves and really get into things.
  2. I firmly believe organizations do their best work when they are challenged to think differently and try new ways to bring value to stakeholders, clients and partners. It can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s critical to success.
  3. When tackling a new program or initiative, not knowing exactly where you are headed is a necessary and important part of the process.

By the way, when he asked me to marry him a few years later, I said yes.