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CEO’s Corner

[Motorcycle Diaries]
A Lifetime of Lessons from a Biking Trip Across Sahara

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The key to living a fulfilling and meaningful life is to always strive for a balance between strikingly opposite notions. Be it passion and responsibilities, or challenges and comfort. This blog narrates a recent experience where I had to strike a fine balance between imminent risks and a lifetime of rewards.

Have you read Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig? It is one of my personal favorites, as it takes you on a profound journey into the fundamental questions of life. As a bike enthusiast and CEO, I always find parallels between riding a motorcycle and leading an organization. Both require me to be extremely agile, nimble, mindful, and decisive. As a leader, I must make clear decisions based on the best available options, just like negotiating difficult turns on a bike.

Riding a motorcycle through the exotic landscapes of Morocco had been on my bucket list for a while. In September 2023, I finally made it happen after much planning and careful consideration. Little did I know that my trip would turn out to be much more than just a biking adventure. It would be a journey of courage, resilience, and gratitude. It will be an experience of riding through Morocco in the midst of an earthquake and flooded with several uncertainties.

Well Planned is Half Done

I joined a group of 9 bikers to explore Morocco on two wheels. We would ride 600 kilometers in 3 days, starting and ending in Marrakech. We would see the stunning Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.

I was thrilled about this adventure, as I had always wanted to see Morocco and its beauty. I prepared for the trip by researching, getting the right gear, and honing my skills. As a biker, I was ready for the challenges.

But not everyone was supportive. Many people questioned the safety, feasibility, and wisdom of the trip. They cautioned me about the risks of riding in unfamiliar terrain, getting sick, and security issues.

I listened to their feedback and appreciated their care. But I also followed my heart. I trusted my instincts and my abilities. I believed that this trip would be a great opportunity to grow, learn, and relax. I also knew that I would have a team that would back me up and share my vision.

The Unimaginable Happened

We landed in Marrakech on September 08 after a long flight from the US. We were ready for the trip of a lifetime, but fate had other plans. A massive earthquake rocked Morocco, causing damage, casualties, and chaos. The quake epicenter was in Al Haouz province, 72 km southwest of Marrakech.

The earthquake news shocked and saddened me. I felt compassion for those suffering and hoped they would recover soon.

We decided to stay calm and wait for more information from the tour operator before making rash moves. We spent the night of September 08 in a park in the old Medina of Marrakech. To lift our spirits and ease our anxiety, we shared stories, jokes, and dreams until the wee hours of Saturday, September 09. My years of experience as a leader have taught me to always be ready with a contingency plan. The key is not to get overwhelmed with the emotional response, but to use the power of emotions to critically analyze the risk factors and plan for all possible outcomes.

The operator gave us the option to cancel the trip. 3 out of 9 group members decided to go back and not continue with the trip. The rest of us, including me, wanted to go ahead despite the uncertainties. We agreed to respect each other’s choices and support each other.

Time and Tide Wait for None

On Sunday morning, September 10, the six of us who remained met in the hotel lobby to begin the trip. The tour operator had tweaked our route to avoid the earthquake-hit areas. Despite the ordeal of the past two days, I was thrilled to resume our trip as planned.

We also wanted to support the Moroccan economy by sticking to our plan. We knew that tourism was a lifeline for many Moroccans who were already hit by COVID-19 and now the earthquake. We hoped that by spending money during the trip, we could contribute a little to their recovery.

The revised route took us through Taroudant and Ait Benhaddou, before we returned to Marrakech, covering a total distance of 600 kilometers. We packed our bags, put on our helmets, and started our engines.

We crossed the Atlas Mountains via the famous Tizi-n-Test pass, a spectacular road full of twists, turns, and switchbacks that climbed over 2,000 meters and descended towards Taroudant.

Thinking Fast and Slow

I was riding a BMW R 1250 GS. It’s a powerful bike meant for long trips, but riding a motorcycle on Atlas Mountain is like playing a chess game on a roller coaster. It requires a significant amount of concentration and focus. All sensory faculties are in action. Each twist and turn reveals a new and surprising view of the landscape. A non-biking person cannot fathom the adrenaline rush of riding switchbacks.

In leadership, switchbacks are inevitable. A leader must be able to handle the curves as they come, without knowing the outcome of their decisions with certainty. The reward of navigating difficult turns is always the same – a natural high and a sense of accomplishment that cannot be put into words.

The ride was exhilarating and breathtaking. We rode through scenic roads, stunning landscapes, and diverse cultures. We marveled at the golden sand dunes that shimmered in the sun, and the green oases that offered a refreshing contrast.

The locals were friendly, helpful, and accommodating. I had practiced some basic Arabic words and phrases, as well as some local culture and beliefs. This helped me to interact with them better. We also enjoyed the local food, Tajine, a slow-cooked stew with tender meat, aromatic vegetables and sauce.

During the next 3 days, we celebrated our achievements, stopped at scenic spots, and took pictures. I cannot overstate the importance of celebrating small wins. When the goalpost is far away, it’s wise to break the journey into small milestones and celebrate each success with joy. When you acknowledge your achievements, no matter how small, you reinforce your belief in yourself and your abilities. It motivates you to keep moving and keep giving your best with every step.

Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear

The trip was over before I knew it. It was one of the best trips of my life. I learned about Morocco and its people, and importantly, I learned more about myself and my limits.

I will humbly accept that I made some mistakes as well. I regret not speaking up when three of our group members decided to quit the trip. While it was a difficult decision, I did not try to convince them to join us. I felt that they missed out on a great opportunity.

Looking back at the photos of the trip from the comfort of my couch, I realized that I did well by following my heart, trusting my gut, and taking risks. Life is like a motorcycle ride. It is full of surprises, challenges, and joys. It’s important to know how to make it memorable.

Opus Official

Praveen TM is a highly accomplished global payments leader with over 20 years of experience. A veteran in the payments industry, Praveen has immense wealth of insights to share in payments innovations, emerging technologies, FinTech, and financial services.

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