“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” –Viktor Frankl
The date was July 6, 2014. We left Lander, WY, at 3:30am, under a dark sky full of stars, and hit the road that would lead us to the trailhead. We were amped up on caffeine, our anticipation for the adventure was palpable, and the truck’s stereo was turned way up. (For better or worse, I have a fantastic memory, and I can remember some of the songs that blared from the speakers on that drive in the wee hours of the morning, which included Red Solo Cup, Where is my Mind and Happy.)
I had hired my friend, Randy, to drive us. It would be a two-hour drive on gravel and dirt roads, and I didn’t want to burden myself with such a drive at the front end of what would be a challenging adventure that I was responsible for leading.
About a year earlier, Joel, a former colleague, client – and most importantly, a dear friend – asked if I’d be willing to organize and lead an epic backpacking program for he and his friend, Alan.
Over the years, Joel has done so much to help my businesses, and he was one of the first people to trust me to be his coach, making him special to me. So of course I said Yes.
We arrived to Big Sandy Opening Trailhead at 5:30am. I jumped out of the truck to start unloading our backpacks. I love to being on the trail before sunrise, so I can be out in the wilderness when the sun rises and shines its first light on the mountains. We were cutting it close, so I was hurrying and trying to get us out of the truck and onto the trail as quickly as possible.
But not so fast. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the truck, we were overwhelmed by mosquitoes. I do sometimes exaggerate, but this isn’t one of those times. We were under siege by millions of mosquitoes. They were all over us.
I know that July in Wyoming’s Wind River Range is often buggy. While I’ve had some of my best adventures in July, I knew there was a good chance that mosquitoes could be a part of our adventure.
As we all cursed the mosquitoes and tried to locate the mosquito head nets in our backpacks, I recalled a Skype call I had had with Joel and Alan six months earlier. During the call, we were trying to determine a date range that would work for all three of us. It would have to be July or September. I was sharing with Joel and Alan that in July, the weather would be great, but there would be a good chance of mosquitoes. I remember emphasizing, “The mosquitoes could be really, really bad,” to which Alan responded, with a chuckle, that he was from New Jersey where there are huge mosquitoes, adding,“I’m not afraid.” And so we decided on July.
As we swatted and cursed the mosquitoes, I wondered if Alan still felt that way. Thankfully we quickly located, and put on, our bug head nets. (This $5 item would prove to be the most valuable piece of gear for the adventure.)
As Randy drove off, I almost cried watching him leave us behind. The mosquitoes were so bad. I had never seen so many of them at once, and I thought, if this were Jerry and the boys and I, it would be a No Go. But this was a Go, regardless of the mosquitoes. Joel had come from Atlanta, and Alan from Malibu. Both are extremely busy leaders, and free time for them is rare. We had been planning this adventure for six months. There was no turning back.
Joel, me and Alan, in our epic head nets.
As we entered the forest, and started down the trail, I could hear Joel and Alan cursing the mosquitoes and slapping their various body parts in an attempt to kill, or swat the pesky insects away.
I was doing the same thing, although I kept my cursing to myself. I thought to myself, in anger: Are you kidding me? These mosquitoes are going to ruin this trip before it even starts. I had already been feeling a little nervous, what with wanting to make sure to provide an unforgettable, possibly even transformational, experience for these guys. The swarms of mosquitoes compounded my nervousness.
After a few minutes of walking, and hearing the guys’ cursing and swatting, I remembered, with great relief, the amount of whiskey they had packed. Thank God for the whiskey! I thought to myself. Back at the hotel, I had noticed the abundance of whiskey they were trying to fit into their backpacks, and wondered if it was excessive, and may have even questioned the wisdom of their bringing so much liquor along on what would be physically demanding adventure, not to mention one that would be at altitude. Now I didn’t have any doubt, and I was thankful for their wisdom.
More seriously, though, I realized that how I responded to these mosquitoes would likely influence how Joel and Alan would respond to the mosquitoes. I watched and listened as the swarms hovered in front of my face and all around me. Mosquitoes literally filled the air. (Their buzzing was so loud and constant that I could still hear them a week after our trip!). But then I noticed that the mosquitoes were not getting in. Our head nets were keeping them out. In addition to the head nets, we each wore pants, and long-sleeve shirts, and had sprayed some Off on ourselves before starting. I took stock of all this, and once again, confirmed that the mosquitoes were not getting into the head net, and they were not biting. We were protected.
It was then that I also remembered the words of the late Viktor Frankl. (What would I do without all of the books I’ve read, and the wisdom they have imparted on me?)
Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychologist, and a Nazi concentration camp survivor. He survived three years in camps. Every day in the camps, people all around Frankl died, yet he lived. After his experience, he wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, which is one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. I’ve read the book three times, and will likely read it several more times.
While starting up the trail, with my cursing and mosquito-swatting friends close behind, I thought of some of Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I recalled how Frankl was able to choose his existence, and how that made all the difference for him, despite his terrible, life-threatening circumstances.
I decided right then, just minutes into our backpacking adventure, and under siege by mosquitoes, to choose my mindset. Specifically, I decided, “I will not let these mosquitoes hijack this adventure.”
Right there and then, everything would change for the better. And doing that – changing my mindset – made all the difference.
The mosquitoes, though in great number and incredibly annoying, did not hijack our adventure. Despite the fact that almost all of our photos show us wearing our mosquito head nets, the mosquitoes seldom come up when we recall our experience in the wilderness that July. Despite the mosquitoes, ours was an unforgettable and inspiring adventure.
Yeehaw! Jumping on Jackass Pass, a rare moment that was breezy and therefore, at least for a moment, mosquito-free.
I share this story to illustrate that we all have the power to change our mindset. And yet, to tell the story honestly, it’s important to also share that I didn’t make that decision to change my mindset only that one time, at the start of our adventure. Rather, I made that decision, and chose that mindset, probably hundreds of times over the course of the five days.
And doing so made all the difference.
As I recall this story, I must share another realization. If the adventure were a few years earlier, I seriously doubt I would have had the maturity or the ability to have noticed my thoughts, and to have consciously decided to change my mindset. And I dread even thinking about how different the experience might have been as a result.
Let me explain. I promise there’s a nugget. 🙂
I have meditated off and on for almost 30 years. Add to that, I hike about 500 miles, alone, each year. In other words, I experience a great deal of “mindfulness.”
By the time I was leading Joel and Alan on our Epic adventure, I had spent 10-20 minutes every single weekday morning for 18 months in my simple mindfulness practice.
Sitting alone with nothing but my thoughts on a regular basis has changed my life in a subtle but important way. For the record, and this will not be a surprise to people who know me well, I have an overactive mind. When I sit in mindfulness, my mind and thoughts wander away from me over and over again. So, in my mindfulness practice, I am constantly working to “fetch” and bring back my wandering attention, to return it to my breath. Let’s just say, I get a lot of practice at redirecting my attention. (I used to think this meant I was “bad” at mindfulness or meditation, when in fact, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that it just means I get a lot of practice at redirecting and focusing my attention.) In the process of all this mindfulness practice, I have learned how to be an “observer” of my thoughts.
Consider the quote I included at the very top of this story: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Before I invested time in a mindfulness practice, I didn’t have that space. But now that I’m an experienced observer of my thoughts, I have this space – this fleeting opportunity that’s mine if only I’ll take it – that is between what is happening right now and what will be my response to it, during which I get to decide how I will respond. (By the way, sometimes I still may freak out, but it will be a choice, rather than a reaction, and let me tell you, that’s a big difference.)
Having the brief “space” allows me to thoughtfully respond, rather than to mindlessly or emotionally react, and it has made a positive difference in all areas of my life.
This is all to say that my mindfulness practice deserves much of the credit for my having the ability and mental wherewithal to notice my thoughts, and to change my mindset at the start of my adventure with Joel and Alan. It was the difference between allowing the mosquitoes to hijack our adventure or not.
I know that dealing with a bunch of mosquitoes on a wilderness trip is nothing compared to more serious circumstances, such receiving a cancer diagnosis, or getting fired or laid off from your job, or having your house burn down, or suffering the loss of a loved one.
But remember, Frankl was able to survive three years of suffering, and survived when so many others around him died, and/or surrendered to their circumstances. For Frankl, his ability to choose his mindset (what he called “the last of the human freedoms”), was the single thing that couldn’t be taken from him, and over which he had control.
In fact, our mindset is one thing over which we have control.
Frankl’s example is a tremendous inspiration for me, and has been for almost 30 years. When I was just 20 years old,I lost my Division I basketball scholarship, and one of the first blessings that resulted from that “failure” was discovering, and reading about Frankl’s story. I remember thinking, if Frankl could choose his existence while trying to survive a Nazi concentration camp, then surely a girl from Wyoming who lost her basketball scholarship could choose hers, too. Frankl’s story had a profound impact on me, and it changed the course of my life for the better.
Reading Man’s Search for Meaning, and remembering how Frankl was able to choose his existence by choosing how to respond to his circumstances continues to inform my life, particularly when I find myself in difficult circumstances.
Chances are, we all have at least some challenging circumstances in our lives right now. It’s hard to be positive and feel optimistic when our circumstances aren’t more favorable. Yet the mindset we have in those circumstances has a lot of influence over how we’ll live through those circumstances. Will we surrender to the circumstances or will we try to improve our situation?
I coach people from throughout the country, from all walks of life. Often, we work on mindset, and reframing and changing the way we view things. I work with leaders on being more responsive and less reactive.
Even the most positive among us struggle with negativity. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist, brain imaging expert and author, says we have 60,000 thoughts a day. Can you imagine? That’s one thought per second. And, did you know that 45,000 of these daily thoughts we each have are negative? Amen calls these Automatic Negative Thoughts, or “ANTS.” So 75% of our thoughts are negative. Not to be negative, but this fact is a real downer!
We all have negative stories that appear, especially when we’re experiencing self doubt, or struggling through difficult circumstances.
Are you old enough to remember cassette tapes? Remember how, as long as the plastic tabs weren’t manually removed, you could record new music over the old? I try to notice the negative story when it appears, and I then I work to “record a new track” over that old, negative one. Our negative stories are limiting. They hold us back, and cause us grief. We must replace them with new stories that are more constructive. All of this takes practice, and it can be extremely difficult work.
I am thinking now of a time during myGannett Peak expedition last July when I was in a tent above tree line, surrounded by lakes and tall granite peaks. There was an epic storm going on that included lightning that lit up my tent in between raucous thunder that echoed off the nearby granite. For a few hours, I lay there, alone in my tent, at 10,500’ elevation and 15 miles from the nearest trailhead, terrified. Each time my tent was lit up by the lightning, and each time I heard the cracking and echoing thunder, I thought to myself, I’m going to be struck by lightning! and I’m going to die! And each time, trying to practice what I preach, I worked hard to replace these negative thoughts/stories with, What a spectacular storm! And, Our guides spend nights like this all the time and they are alive. I tried all night to change my mindset, and was not successful. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort!
Thankfully I survived, and among other things, I get to continue my efforts to change my mindset, and to hopefully inspire others to change theirs when it would serve them to do so. It’s important work that can change our lives. I shared only a couple of examples of how changing my mindset changed my experience. There are many more I could share, but you have your own, and I encourage you to reflect on some of them.
Think of a time you changed your mindset, and in doing so, it changed your reality.
A favorite quote of mine, by Anaïs Nin, is “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” When we change our mindset, we see things as we choose to see them.
Think of a negative situation you’re in, or a negative thought that is a part of your inner dialogue these days. What is a new, more positive thought you can replace it with? Start practicing replacing the negative thought with a positive one.
I love metaphors. So to wrap this up, I’ll return to where we started – mosquitoes and head nets.
What are the mosquitoes that are trying to interfere with you in your work, your life or a relationship? What is an action you can take – a “head net” you can wear – to keep their negativity from getting in, while also helping you shift your mind and attention to something more positive?
Thanks for stopping by, and for reading my writing. I thank you with all of my heart!
(I hope you’ll check back. Watch for upcoming posts related to mindset, including growth vs. fixed, the science of gratitude, work/job recrafting, and more.)
I love poetry, and I often try to memorize poems that inspire me. Here’s an effort to recite one of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, on a recent hike in the “backyard.” Thankfully, my dog, Buddy, was there for support – and to steal the show. 🙂 Thanks for watching. (Full text of poem is included below.)
What is your favorite poem? I’ll be sharing more poetry here throughout this year, and I’d love to hear from you on your favorites.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
In the last 6 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people. I’ve coached them, presented to them, helped them facilitate leadership development, or guided them on an Epic Adventure. I have learned so much, and have been so inspired by these wonderful human beings – and by all of the wonderful people I am blessed to have in my life. This short video is about the most important thing I’ve learned in this work I do. I hope you’ll watch it, and if you do, I thank you so much for your time.
If you, or someone you know, could use some loving support, encouragement and daring, I’d love a chance to be your/their champion. Email me and we can schedule a call to see if I might be what you’re looking for.
Thank you so much for stopping by. And speaking of thanks, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!
I hope you’ll read this blog post. The sharing I do in it took some daring. You’ll have to read past the next few paragraphs to see what I mean by that. (I still can’t believe I’ve written a blog post that includes head banging and Elvis!)
For a few years now, I’ve been selecting three words to guide me during each new year. These are words I think a lot about, and carefully select because I mean for them to act as reminders for me to be certain ways during the year.
The three words idea is not my idea. My friend, Chris Brogan gets the credit. Every year I would read about his three words, and I was inspired, so I started doing it for myself a few years ago.
I chose ONE because I want to get better at single-tasking. I have a very active mind, and it’s difficult for me to focus on one thing at a time. I know how important deep focus is for doing meaningful work. The year’s not over, but I must report that out of all three of my words, there is one that I’m not doing so well at. Can you guess which one?
I chose PRACTICE because I believe that to get good at anything, or to create a new habit or to learn a new skill, practice is required. And I like rituals. I was already good at practicing when I chose this word, but I chose it because there are more things I want to practice. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m doing pretty well with Practice.
The last word, HELL YEAH, is – I know – two words, but hey, these are my words and my rules. I chose Hell Yeah because for some years now, I’ve been wanting to be more impulsive, spontaneous, daring, and fun. To be sure, I have a lot of fun in my life. I play at least as hard as I work, which is pretty hard. But I’m a planner, and so much of my fun is planned. I chose “Hell Yeah” as one of my words and intentions for this year because I wanted to “let loose” more. I wanted to find myself saying “Hell Yeah” when I would normally go into my head and overthink it before holding back and saying No, or Hell No. I want to have more Hell Yeah in me and my life.
I’m excited to report that I’ve said Hell Yeah a lot. And the result is I’ve had some exhilarating experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. And while Hell Yeah has been a conscious effort mostly this year, my desire to let loose was inspired earlier.
In 2013, I read, and have since been influenced by a 2009 article, written by Derek Sivers, called No “Yes.” Either “HELL YEAH!” or “No.” I have become great at saying No, and better at not saying Yes. I like that Hell Yeah means a Yes better be something to be emphatic about.
I also was inspired to have more Hell Yeah in my life when I led my first Epic Women Wind River expedition in August of 2013. After we climbed a tall mountain on Day 2, the Epic Women, who had traveled from Rhode Island, Chicago, California, Alaska, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Laramie, WY, for the adventure, took a plunge in the ice-cold alpine lake near our camp. I watched in awe, and thought the ladies were crazy. Then the ladies turned the tables and “coached” me into taking the plunge. It was freezing – and exhilarating.
After that icy plunge, I determined that I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and be reasonable during such occasions. I decided then that I wanted to be a person who lives more, and who “goes for it” more often. I think it was in those moments after I had dared to take the icy plunge that the initial “I-want-to-say-hell-yeah-more-often” seed was planted. But it took time to grow, and to sprout.
In 2015, I slid down a waterfall with my three sons that I hadn’t slid down since I was 18 years old, some 30 years earlier. As I did it, I screamed and was scared, but also excited, and for a moment felt like a teenager again.
In early 2016, we decided to take a 30-day Europe trip in the summer that we weren’t sure we could afford, but realizing it won’t be long before our boys are off to college, we said, Hell Yeah.
I have been playing some great basketball games with Jerry and the boys in the hotel pools when we travel – something I never used to do. I’ve been going on scarier rides and bigger rollercoasters at amusement parks. And the list goes on…
All of these Hell Yeah experiences make me feel young, and more alive. Who doesn’t want that? And I believe these experiences, because of their novelty, and because they make you feel so alive, help to create unforgettable – truly lasting – memories. In the end of our life, we won’t remember everything. It’s not possible. Having more unforgettable experiences has been part of my personal mission for years now, and saying Hell Yeah helps to keep me on mission.
It wasn’t until this year, though, that I really cranked it up. I hesitated on sharing this because I was concerned that people might judge me, possibly unfairly, but after careful consideration, and some feedback from people I trust, I have decided to share. After all, I didn’t break any laws, and I had the time of my life!
So here it goes…I went to a Rave. I should say we, and I should say two. Jerry, my husband of 25 years, is a real trooper, and I am lucky. He’s adventurous, and he’s game for just about anything I suggest.
Jerry and I have three sons: Wolf, a junior in high school, Hayden, a sophomore in high school, and Fin, a fifth grader. Last April, for our spring break, we took a road trip that included camping and exploring a bunch of state and national parks, sledding down giant sand dunes, exploring the hoodoos of Goblin Valley, and – and the end, a fancy hotel, fancy dinner, and tickets to a Utah Jazz basketball game.
About halfway through the trip, in Colorado Springs, we spent the day hiking 14 miles worth of trails in the Garden of the Gods. By evening, the boys were tired, and we were all sweaty and stinky and covered in dirt, so we got a hotel for the night. As we were taking turns getting cleaned up, the boys hinted they felt like they had earned some “Privs.” (Privs means privileges, which, for our boys, mean video games/”screen time.”) We had had a very active spring break so far, so theirs was not an unreasonable request. Plus, Jerry and I saw the opportunity: We could have a date! (Can I get a Hell Yeah?!)
For the last several months, I had been listening to a lot of Electronic Dance Music on Spotify, and Jerry liked it, too. (Polish Ambassador, The Chainsmokers, DJ Snake, David Guetta, etc.) Jerry and I love to dance, but other than the occasional wedding we attend, or a Lander Live event, we don’t get many chances to dance. So while Jerry was in the shower, I quickly Google-searched EDM in Colorado Springs. To my delight, there was a well-known DJ performing at a club called Rawkus, which was described as a “sizable, rollicking nightspot with a bar & neon lighting, plus a lineup of DJs & live music.”
When Jerry got out of the shower, I proposed my idea – that we go to Rawkus, an EDM club. After looking at me long enough to confirm I was serious, he said, “Sure. That sounds like fun.”
Jerry put on a polo shirt, and I put on my only shirt that wasn’t a t-shirt – a blouse – and I used my Uber app to request a ride. We told the boys we were going to an EDM club, and the older sons – the ones who know what EDM is – laughed, rolled their eyes, but then offered, “That’s cool.” We told them, “We may be out super late, dancing” – to which they responded, “Awesome. Take your time!”
The adventure started when the Uber driver showed up. A kind and outgoing “soccer mom” showed up in a maroon mini van. She quickly moved the two baby car seats – and no kidding a soccer ball, out of the back seat to make room for us. On her dashboard was a bobblehead Jesus, and there were wallet-sized photos of two young, adorable children, a girl and a boy, clipped to the visor above the front passenger seat.
“Where would you like to go?” she asked. “The Rawkus,” I said. She responded with, “Ohhh, Rawkus, huh? Feeling raucous tonight, are we?!” Jerry and I laughed, and together exclaimed, “Yes!” And I think – I’m pretty sure – she added, “Wow, Rawkus, I didn’t see that coming…” as she smiled at us in the center rear view mirror.
As our driver pulled out of our hotel parking lot, she asked us what kind of music we’d like to listen to. I could tell Jerry was impressed. I travel a fair amount, and have used Uber a lot, but this was Jerry’s first Uber experience, and he was surprised by the customer service. I whispered to him that the Uber drivers are rated by their passengers so drivers aim to provide a great experience. Her asking us for our musical preference was part of that.
We told her any kind of music would be just fine. “You pick,” I offered.
Our driver said, “I love Hip Hop, so if it’s okay, I’ll play some of that?”
“Sure” we said. Our boys listen to a fair amount of Hip Hop. We don’t dislike it.
Next thing we knew, a very explicit Hip Hop song came on. The title itself is explicit or I’d tell you what the song was. The music was so loud that we could feel the bass thumping underneath our seats and up against our backs and heads. I think the van’s windows were rattling. I was shouting as I tried talking to Jerry. We maneuvered through Friday night traffic as the Jesus on her dashboard bobbled, and Jerry and I looked at each other and grinned. By all indications, this was going to be a memorable date.
Our driver pulled up to the Rawkus building, and opened the van’s sliding door for us. With our ears ringing, we hopped out, and she yelled after to us, “Have fun – and dance like you don’t know anyone!” Excited, we yelled back, “Okay! Thanks!”
We found our way to the front entrance of Rawkus. The club wasn’t open yet, but the sign on the door indicated it would open in 15 minutes. So we started a line, and waited.
Soon, others started to show up. They didn’t get in line with us, but sat or stood near the entrance. I noticed none of them had polo shirts on, or blouses. They were many years younger than us. It’s not that we’re old, but Jerry’s 54 and I’m 49, and well, especially on a Friday night, it’s not hard to be younger.
At first I was feeling a little self conscious. It seemed like everyone who showed up looked at us. They seemed curious. Maybe it’s because we had on collared shirts. Or maybe it was because we were older.
As we were waiting, I spied a huge “Bingo” sign on a building in the same parking lot. I laughed, and whispered to Jerry that all of these other people were probably thinking we were at the wrong place; that we obviously meant to be in line at the Bingo Hall. It was funny. It is funny, even as I recall it now.
My self consciousness was short-lived because they were all so friendly. We all had in common our excitement for the night as we waited for the doors to open.
The doors did finally open, and we entered, paid the cover charge, and we were in the club.
We were the first to stand on the dance floor, and we snapped a photo.
Jerry and I at our first Rave. Collared shirts and all! (hahaha)
I was full of anticipation for what I hoped would be a night of energetic music and a lot of hard dancing. Jerry got a beer, and I had a glass of wine as we stood on the dance floor waiting for the first of many DJs to arrive and start the beats. There were people lining up at the front of the dance floor, near the DJ. The backs of their shirts said things like “Headbanger” and “Peace” and “Harmony” and a some words and phrases I won’t include here.
A man and a woman came over to us, and introduced themselves. Their gesture was kind, but also awkward. It felt sort of like when you’re at a banquet, and people come up to introduce themselves. After some polite small talk, the man asked, “Is this your first Rave?” [Gasp.] I felt a quick panic rush over me, as I thought to myself, A Rave? Are we at a Rave? I hadn’t considered that we were attending a Rave, and my mind flashed to what I thought of as a Rave –a big festival of people high on drugs, where there might be orgies. Like I said, [Gasp.]
But quickly I returned to the present, and this didn’t look anything like that. Thank God. What seemed like a little too much later, Jerry responded to the man, “No. We’ve never been to a Rave before.” The couple welcomed us, and told us to enjoy ourselves, and then they walked off to a different area of the dance floor.
Soon, the first DJ arrived, and it went dark, except for an amazing neon light show and some strobe lights. The music started.
Before we knew it, we were dancing our guts out—headbanging and all! The music was electrifying, and during a brief break during which we consumed large bottles of water, Jerry tried to explain to me how the bass was so strong and powerful that it made him feel more energized and alive. “I can feel it reverberating through my whole body. It’s awesome!” he exclaimed. I agreed. Even though we had hiked 14 miles just a few hours earlier, I suddenly had all kinds of energy, and for reasons I can’t explain, I felt youthful.
During the course of the night, people of various races, genders and ages, came up to Jerry and me, and high-fived us or offered hugs to us. A few of them remarked, “It’s so great to see you guys here.” Another person came up to me, hugged me, and remarked, “So you really like this music?” And I said “Yes, I love it!” All I can figure is we must have really stood out. We must have looked like we had gotten off at the wrong station. LOL. We were, comparatively speaking, old, and remember, we had on collared shirts. (We made a note to ourselves that we would need to get different attire for future Raves.)
We had an absolute blast! By the time we called it a night, my FitBit reported 64,000 steps – 30,000 of them (12 miles worth) from dancing, the others from the hiking we did earlier.
Jerry and I were dripping in sweat, and it was getting late, so I requested an Uber.
Our Uber driver was Elvis. Seriously. Our driver was the perfect impersonation of Elvis. He even (duh!) played Elvis’ music. When we got into the car, the volume was low, but we could hear Jailhouse Rock.
As soon as Jerry and I were buckled into the back seat, our driver asked us if we liked Elvis. “Of course,” we assured him. How could we respond differently? As if to make sure our driver had our respect, Jerry repeated how awesome Elvis’ music is, and in response, the driver changed songs to Love Me Tender, and starting singing loudly. Love me tender / Love me sweet / Never let me go / You have made my life complete / And I love you so…
That’s when I realized that there’s a difference between singing out loud to a song and performing. Our driver was performing. And his performance was stupendous! And, I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, that might be the first time I’ve ever used that word in my life. It was so stupendous that I seriously wondered if we were in a dream. Was Elvis Presley really our personal driver, and were we really being treated to a personal concert by The King? After Love Me Tender, came My Way, which I think is originally a Sinatra song, but one that Elvis sang and sang so well that it’s my favorite Elvis song.
As I listened, I thought immediately of my Aunt Carol, and her late husband, my Uncle Bob, whose favorite song was Elvis’ My Way. Then my mind wandered to the song, and our driver’s spectacular singing.
And now, the end is near; And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.
I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway; But more, much more than this, I did it my way.
Regrets, I’ve had a few; But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do. And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course; Each careful step along the byway, But more, much more than this, I did it my way.
The driver approached our hotel, and I remarked, “Oh I love this song so much. And you’re a great singer.” To which he responded, “If you like, I can drive around a few extra blocks so you can hear it to the end.” I started to say, Yes, but then caught myself, and changed my response to, “Hell Yeah!”
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew; When I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall; And did it my way…
The song ended, and so did our ride, and our unforgettable date. We gave our personal Elvis a very generous tip and made our way back to the hotel room and our sons. Jerry and I were still buzzing from the Epic night. What an exciting experience. We wondered to each other, out loud, if we’d ever go to another Rave. Um, Hell Yeah to that. (And, in fact, two months later, during a family trip to Las Vegas to attend a Bastille concert, Jerry and I read about a Bear Grillz performance scheduled at the Hard Rock Cafe. We love Bear Grylls, the British survivor who has a show about Epic adventure and survival, which I realize has absolutely nothing to do with going to a Rave with a DJ named Bear Grillz Oops. Another digression. 🙂
I dared to share this story and experience in hopes that it might inspire you to say Hell Yeah to things that could bring you more aliveness, and create more unforgettable moments.
So far, for me at least, saying Hell Yeah more often is proving to be a great strategy for living more.
I’m including 2 video clips below from the Raves to provide proof that we really did this, and also, to provide flavor, in case your curiosity has been piqued and you’re considering going to a Rave or EDM dance club. 🙂
This one is from our second rave, but shows – very early in the video clip and it’s fleeting so watch closely – Jerry, and I, dancing hard:
This second video is from our first Rave, at Rawkus, in Colorado Springs. The DJ, Martial Law, plays a remixed version of Paris, by The Chainsmokers:
Time. None of us knows how much of it we’ll have. I don’t know about you, but I’m working hard not to squander mine.
I don’t squander time mostly due to a mantra I started using several years ago. The mantra is: Nothing is a waste of time. I have used and lived by this mantra for the last several years, and it has made all the difference in my life. I wanted to share it, but I was too lazy to write a blog post about it, so I made a short video blog:
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself over and over again.” (Joseph Campbell)
My “sacred space” – where I can find myself again and again – is in Solitude, my time alone. Preferably spent hiking up a trail, or walking in very large circles. I’m a lover of Solitude. I yearn for it. (I think Solitude is the medium for self realization. Time alone is one of the most important things we can give ourselves if we want to know who we are, what’s missing, what we’re needing, who and what are most important to us, and what is possible for our life.)
As you probably know by now, I’m a hiker. More generally, I’m a walker.
I have this particular place in my town that I go to almost every day. I walk circles there. Large circles. Sometimes I do this over and over again, alone in my thoughts. Listening to my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation for me. Call me weird, but walking in large circles is something I look forward to. It helps me. I sometimes (read: often) have problems focusing. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I have enough self awareness to know I tend to be a “future oriented” thinker. (In 2009, I confirmed this after reading The Time Paradox, by Philip Zimbardo and Dr. John Boyd. Did you know our attitudes toward time have a profound impact on our life and world? Yet we seldom recognize it.) So anyhow, these walks help me. They help me to sort out the many thoughts that are in my head.
When I walk, I pay attention to the sounds around me, and the goings-on. I pay attention to how my body feels. I pay attention to how it feels when my feet strike the ground during each single step. (I try to be gentle with my steps because especially as a hiker, I know this helps with recovery after long, hard hikes. Plus, I would prefer be a quiet stepper rather than a loud clomper.) I pay attention to my cadence. I notice my posture, and try to stand and walk tall.
When I walk in circles at my particular place, I listen for birds, and to the the breeze or wind. I hear an occasional airplane taking off or landing. Sometimes a car drives by, but not often. I see other people, but not many. Usually it’s a city worker, or a person unloading his/her horse or horses from their trailer. I often look at the foothills of my beloved Wind River Mountains. I can see the Roaring Fork, and Mt. Arter, and up Sinks Canyon. After a recent storm, I can see where the rain was rain and where the rain was snow – evidenced by a perfect line that usually crosses along the bottom of our foothills at an elevation of about 7,800′. I can see the road that leads to one of my favorite places, our cabin.
I often find heart rocks in the trail, or in the parking lot, and I sometimes spy other shapes. I’ve written before about how I love to look for or find, unexpectedly, heart shapes while on my adventures. No kidding, I’ve even spotted manure that is shaped like a heart. (Please excuse my language, but the hashtag/caption for that image was, #lovableshit) I’ve seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets here, and I’ve video recorded our oldest son as he recites a slam poem he loves or creates.
A sunset with a heart shape that I spied while walking circles in my special place.
Most of the time, during these walking meditations, I let my mind wander and be free. I get many inspirations this way. Other times I try to focus my attention on a very particular thing – a problem, perhaps, or a conundrum, or an idea I want to develop, or a decision I’m wanting or needing to make. Sometimes I’ll use my walking in circles to try and memorize a favorite poem or quote. Sometimes I’ll try to empty my mind. That never works! I always smile when someone refers to an “idle mind” as being a non-active mind. (#envy)
Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, says it best: When you press the pause button on a machine, it stops, but when you press the pause button on human beings, they start. Indeed! When we’re still, our minds are often at their most active. I am a huge promoter of, and practicer of a mindfulness practice. I’ve had a practice every single weekday morning for years now, and it’s been a game changer. Because I have such an active and wandering mind, I get extensive practice at redirecting my attention, which is one the main things we’re going for when we practice mindfulness – the ability to consciously direct our attention. Such practice helps us learn how, especially during times of stress and overwhelm, to pause, and respond rather than react.
My mind is so active that I – it – craves focus. Last August, I climbed Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s tallest mountain. On summit day, according to my FitBit, we trekked 20,547 steps. Every single one of those steps were “high consequence” steps. It was a quiet, intense effort. Not many words were spoken during the 12-hour adventure, except for the short time on the summit, and when instruction was offered to us from our guide. Otherwise, I was completely focused on every single step. Until then, I had never engaged in such a sustained, high consequence experience. My mind is always thinking, and so active. I found the single-minded, single-tasking a welcome reprieve from my busy mind. Traveling on snow and up and down steep terrain, roped to one another, forced me to focus on only the next step, and then the next step, and then next step, for hours at a stretch. It was hard, but also unusual for me – and fantastic. The simplicity and intense, sustained focus on a single thing was blissful.
But back to my walking in circles. Always, they help me. May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.” I always return inspired, better, and with newfound clarity.
I also go to this place and walk circles during most of my coaching, or other calls. I work with people from all over the U.S, and typically I will have 1-2 calls a month with each of them. I am a better listener when I’m in an “open” posture, and walking, rather than sitting in front of my computer or indoors. I’m easily distracted, so one of the best ways for me to be a good listener is to free myself from distractions. And one of the best ways to be free from distractions is to get outdoors, in the open, under our usually-clear skies. I can be most present with someone by listening to them, and I just know by now that I’m a better listener and a more creative coach when I’m walking and outside, completely “tuned in”, listening and paying close attention.
Focusing on listening helps me be more present on my calls, which also helps me remember important and meaningful moments, and conversations. (This is so true that I can remember, vividly, some of the specific moments or conversations I’ve had with various clients, or friends, by retracing steps, and the path I was on, during a particular call I had with them.)
A moon through the chain link fence that surrounds the place where I like to walk in large circles.
I’m more creative and energized when walking. There are numerous studies that support this – that walking is energizing, and that time outdoors does our bodies, and our minds, good. That we’re more creative thinkers as a result. Plus, walking is healthy.
I don’t believe there’s a single study that says sitting is inspiring, or that sitting is energizing. If anything, only the opposite. And sitting is bad for other, more serious reasons, too. Sitting, in fact, is often referred to as the new smoking. We sit, on average, 9.3 hours a day. All this time sitting is robbing quality, and time from our life. The more we sit, the more likely we are to suffer from depression, disease and cancer. Sitting shortens our life, which, in my humble opinion, is already too short.
I started using a FitBit in December 2013. I did this because even though I train hard and regularly, and hike long distances, most of the day I was sedentary, at my laptop. As fit as I was when I got my FitBit, I was only walking about 6,000 steps a day on the days I wasn’t hiking. I wanted to change that. I needed to change that. Today, I average about 20,000 steps a day. I’ve walked almost 25 million steps (11,000 miles). Many of these steps and miles have been logged during my walking calls in this particular place where I go to walk my circles.
Speaking of walking and health, I’m a huge fan of the Blue Zones way of living, and the work of Dan Buettner. (I highly recommend the book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.) “Blue Zones” is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people. It turns out the people who live the longest, most fulfilling lives don’t lift weight or run marathons. They simply are more active throughout the day. Among other things, they walk a lot. They walk to the store, or to church. (I will save all I have to say about this for another blog post, though.)
A heart shaped by dirt in a parking lot where I walk circles, after a little rain.
During the last few months, I’ve had to find a different place to have my walking calls. You see, there is a lot of heavy construction going on near my usual location. Not to be self-absorbed, but I hope the project is completed before too much longer. It’s not the quiet place I’ve come to really appreciate. There is a bunch of heavy equipment driving by all of the time, and you can hear their beeps and big engines and scooping and grading sounds in the background. As a result, it’s currently not the quiet experience I’ve grown accustomed to, and therefore it’s hard to hear the person on the other end of my call, and hard for them to hear me. So at least for now, I’ve found an alternative for my walking calls.
But I still often head up there for my walking meditations – for 30-90 minutes of sauntering to clear my mind or figure something out, or just to walk. To move my body and to free my mind. (Whenever I try to talk myself out of going for a walk or a hike, I remember a quote from one of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit: “Every walker is a guard on patrol to protect the ineffable.” I always return from a walk as more than I was before it, and I am always surprised by something during the walk.)
Yesterday, as I did this, I worked hard to silence, or at least quiet, the background sounds of the construction. I couldn’t do it. It was during this struggle that I realized what was going on around me is exactly what’s going on in my mind right now. What’s in my head is very much “under construction.” I’ve got all kinds of projects on tap, ideas that are percolating, dreams and goals. So you see, there is a lot of heavy equipment maneuvering around, trying to create something new, or better. There is a lot of digging dirt and moving of Earth going on, and supplies being hauled and things being surveyed. My mind feels full of clutter, and often, as if a collision of heavy equipment could occur at any moment. This reminds me I better take great care, and be mindful. At times I hear a loud, constant beeping of a tractor or backhoe, and there is a constant humming of moving trucks and equipment. Around me as I walk, and also in my head…
One of the reasons I love this particular place for my walking is because at times I get to watch a small airplane taking off. Sometimes it’s a beginner pilot taking a lesson. He or she is literally learning how to fly, and I am a witness. I love that metaphor of a person learning to fly. Depending on what I’m working on or trying to create in my life, I often feel like I’m learning to fly, and that I’m a small, humble airplane working to take flight. Other times I get to see an airplane land. That’s also a big deal, watching how a small airplane comes in fast and connects with ground. How it must at some point return to Earth, to once again be grounded.
Every once in awhile, while walking in my particular spot, I’ll see a woman barrel racing. She’s riding her horse very fast and maneuvering around a barrel at top speed. I am envious. I don’t know her, and there are different women who show up to do this at various times throughout the year. But whomever the woman is, usually she’s riding at top speed on this beautiful and powerful animal that she somehow has under her control. Her hair, under her cowboy hat, is highlighted by the sun, and blowing in the breeze. Total Badassery. I love this as a metaphor, too. I often feel like I’m a fast horse, only I’m not skilled like the woman I watch. I don’t know how to steer it, let alone stay on it. I envy the barrel racer, and am inspired when I watch her do such a daring thing.
And although the heavy construction that’s going on near my particular walking place for the time being is cramping my style, it too, is a fitting metaphor. I’m right now under construction in a lot of areas, and I know that to get it right – to create something great, or to improve something I’ve already created, or am already doing – will take time and work.
What’s that saying I’m thinking about right now?
Hint: Now my mind wanders to Rome, a city that my family and I fell in love with on our 30-day Europe trip two summers ago. That’s it, after a search of my mind, I found it: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
After my circles-walking ended yesterday I emailed my Dad to ask him what the construction project was since I could only make assumptions. He told me the runway at our airport is being relocated and re-built to increase safety. The FAA was concerned about the runway being too close to the taxiway. There was a risk that a small plane taking off or landing might clip the wing of a plane that was on a taxiway.
I’m so glad I asked! As a metaphor lover, this news is brilliant, and helps me to circle back (pun intended) to my main point of this blog post. Right now, my mind is so full of projects that are under construction that it sometimes feels like a collision is inevitable. Walking in large circles helps me by providing more space for the goings on in my mind and avoids any of my idea’s wings from being clipped.
Postscript: As you can see in the photo below that my son captured of me at 10:48 on this Saturday, Oct. 14, I walk my circles even when the weather is unfavorable. To my delight, I found my place to be quiet once again. (We awoke to a major blizzard, which has shut down construction, at least temporarily.) I’ll take that as a cue and try to do the same with myself, and my overactive mind this Saturday.
Walking in circles in a blizzard today, Oct. 14, 2017.
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I really appreciate it!
Do you want to change your life? I can’t change your life, but I can help you change it. In fact, I’d be honored to help you do that. Email me!
Sometimes my life probably appears to be perfect. Especially on Facebook. It’s not perfect, but at least right now, my life is pretty amazing. (For what it’s worth, everything I post on Facebook is true; I don’t work to make my life look better than it is.)
That said, I’m human, and like everyone, I suffer depressive moments and hardships. (If I had been active on Facebook 8-10 years ago, my posts would look very different from my posts these days. Actually, unless I’m asked, I don’t like to talk about my problems, so probably I would have been “hiding,” and not very visible on Facebook back then.)
Josh Waitzkin, a former chess champion, and author of the awesome book, The Art of Learning, once said in an interview, “There is no such thing as good weather or bad weather, only weather.” The same could be said for life. It’s full of depressions and celebrations. Nobody’s life is perfect, not even my current one, which, as I said, feels amazing.
When I share with coaching clients, or friends, or groups I present to about my vulnerabilities, failures and about why my current blessed life is “hard earned,” people often respond with surprise – and relief. They wouldn’t have guessed my life was messy because unless you’re one of the aforementioned, you often don’t see that part of the “profile.” So this blog post will share about something near and dear to me – the importance in daring to fail, and in sometimes failing, including some of my messier parts. (There is a lot more where this came from, and I’m happy to share more personally if you’d email me and request it.)
One of my darkest times was during a time when I had so much to celebrate… We had sold our company of 15 years to a company I respected, and suddenly I had time, additional security, and very importantly, the opportunity to reinvent myself.
When I suddenly had time, and my pause button was pushed, I found I had a lot of hard personal truths to confront. Such as: I was overweight, sedentary, addicted to technology, drinking wine on too many weeknights, and depressed. For two years, every night after Jerry and the boys were asleep I’d beat myself up (in the form of self loathing) about the fact I let another day go by without taking a step to improve my health, and to get re-engaged in my family and my life. To get conscious again. This self loathing stemmed from a feeling of deep regret – for not taking action at something that could be life-altering, and that, in fact, was in my control.
I share this because I don’t know about you, but for me, nothing motivates me more than my not wanting to have any regrets. I’ve been there, and it was paralyzing, and an awful place to be.
I have recovered from the earlier bout of regret and self loathing, but life will always have some mess and heartbreak and hardship in it. I know this. It is for certain.
While I’m healthy and hopefully only midway through my life, for all I know, I may not wake up tomorrow. So I’m not going to take any chances. I think one of the hardest things any of can do is dare to live the life we are yearning to live – our life, not the life others expect us to live. Not a life where we play it safe. In fact, ironically I think we can risk our life by not living it. (One of the greatest regrets of the dying is that they didn’t have the courage to live their life, rather than a life others expected them to live, or a life that was safer and easier.)
Speaking of regret, when you talk to people who are approaching the end of their life, and you ask them, “What, if anything, do you regret?” most of the time, they list the things they didn’t do that they wish they could do that they can no longer do. In other words, they regret their inactions more than their actions.
What is something you’re wanting to do, but you’re not doing because you’re afraid? Take a minute and think about that. I know there is at least something that will come to mind if you’re honest with yourself.
Despite a range of life and work experiences, and expertise, I don’t consider myself an expert on anything. But I love to learn, and, I am pretty good at it. And thanks to the more than 130 individuals I’ve coached in the last six years, including the 80+ people I’ve led on wilderness adventures, I’ve learned a lot.
Here is one of the most important things I’ve learned: The number one reason we don’t do the things we want, need, or could do is because we are afraid. When I ask people, What are you afraid of? Almost always I hear, “That I will fail.” And when I drill down even further and ask, What do you mean by fail?, One or more of these are what I almost always here in response:
-I’m afraid I will fail. The thing will not be success, and I may not be able to recover.
-I’m afraid I will disappoint others.
-I’m afraid I will disappoint myself.
-I’m afraid I’ll look bad or that I’ll make a fool out of myself. I’m afraid I won’t know what I am doing, and that I won’t have what it takes.
By the way, I use all of the above excuses, too. I have things to share on each of these, including some things I’ve never shared publicly before, so I hope you’ll read on. Thanks in advance if you do.
I’m afraid I will fail. The thing will not be success, and I may not be able to recover.
Well, first off, we learn more from our failures than successes. There’s the saying, “Win or Lose” and “You win some and you lose some.” I can’t recall who said this, but someone suggested we change those sayings to “Win or Learn,” and “You win some and you learn some.” I love the suggested modifications.
I have written about it before, but as an adult, my first significant failure was losing my Division I basketball scholarship at University of Montana. I just wasn’t good enough, and the coach told me this much, and my scholarship went to a more capable player. I’m 49 now, and while I know a basketball scholarship is not a big deal, at the time, when I was just 21, it was a big deal. It was devastating. Feeling like a failure, and far from home, I suddenly found myself without a map. You can read the blog post about that, but, in short, as a result of that failure, I started hiking, I started spending time in solitude, first out of necessity but later out of desire, and I fell in love with reading. It was 28 years ago that I lost my scholarship, and for the past several years, hiking, solitude and reading have been tremendous sources of inspiration for me, and are critical components of my work and mission here at Epic Life Inc. I don’t think these three things would have become important, or that my life would be as amazing as it is today, had I continued riding the bench and having basketball play such a big part of my life. So, like so many people would say of their failures when looking back at them, my first significant failure turned out to be one of my biggest blessings.
I have also failed financially. My husband, Jerry, and I, got into deep personal financial struggles early in our marriage. In 1995, year three of our marriage, we had racked up almost $40,000 in personal credit card debt. In the beginning we joked that the debt was worthwhile because the the start of our debt had accumulated as a result of our using credit cards to pay for long distance phone bills and plane tickets during our two year, long-distance courtship from 1990-1992. But by 1995, it was no joke. We weren’t laughing, but crying. We sold our first home, and downsized to a very tiny and humble (a little better than a shack) of a house. It took a lot of humility to do that, but we were determined to turn things around for ourselves. It took four years, but we were able to fix up the small house, and pay off our debt with the equity from its sale. Today, we have financial skills we would not have developed if not for that financial failure early on in our marriage and partnership. It was during those financial struggles that Jerry and I committed to eating out only one time a month. Now, more than 20 years later, and the parents of three sons, ages 10, 15 and 17, except for when we’re traveling, we still hold fast to that rule, along with other restraints and financial habits we developed only as a result of overcoming our financial failures. Oh, and today, I am happy to report that we are free of debt.
We also had many failures along our way to success with our first business, Yellowstone Journal Corporation and YellowstonePark.com. We started that company in 1995. The first year we generated a whopping $18,000 in revenue. Over the course of 15 years, we failed a lot, and ate a lot of bread and water for meals, but we always recovered stronger and wiser, and eventually sold the company in 2008 to Active Interest Media.
Now I’m in my 6th year of our second venture, Epic Life Inc, and while being an entrepreneur and running and growing my own business is challenging, I’m so much wiser as a result of all of the struggles during the first go-round, and I’m more resilient when I do run into struggles or failures.
I’m often hired as a keynote presenter and/or speaker. (I prefer to call myself an inspired speaker rather than a motivational speaker) Often people will come up to me after my presentation, and ask how they can do the same work as I do, to which I respond by saying, “I’m a 30-year overnight success.” None of what I have has come easy, and I would argue that most of what’s great in my work and my life has come largely as a result of daring to fail, failing often, and learning more, and developing into a better person and leader as a result of both the daring to to fail, and the failures.
And if we’re committed to fulfilling our potential and to a self actualizing life, we must acknowledge that we will never have arrived. Life is one big journey that is full of both depths and heights.
Along those lines, I am happy(?) to report I’m currently as fallible as ever. In fact, just last year, while leading my flagship program, the Epic Women Wind River backpacking adventure, I made a leadership error. Even after years of leading expeditions and having expertise and knowing better, I made an unexpected mistake. The learning is never over, and I have learned to be humble enough to know this, and to learn as much as I can when I do fail.
I gave up Facebook for 30 days, and “failed” on at least four days when I found myself – you guessed it – on Facebook. I caught myself almost immediately, but only after a little perusing…
I fail as a parent, and as a wife, on a regular basis. I have failed in friendships, and other relationships. I I am likely failing at a couple of things right now, today…
Finally, one final item to share under the “I’m afraid I will fail” excuse. I led a Mt. Whitney co-ed expedition for 10 men and women a few years back. I partnered with a guiding company in the Sierras. Well, as a long-time adventurer, and adventure guide, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that seldom does an adventure go exactly as planned. But my co-ed Epic Whitney expedition had all kinds of challenges. The weather was a huge factor. By the time our 4-day expedition came to an end, we had gone from Plan A, to Plan B, to Plan C and finally to Plan D, which didn’t look anything like our Plan A.
Mt. Whitney. The summit was a No Go.
The year before, during the exact same dates, I went on the same expedition with Backpacker Magazine as part of a Summit for Someone fundraiser for Big City Mountaineers. Everything went better than planned. It went so well that we spent almost 2 hours lounging like marmots under a blue sky on Whitney’s summit. The expedition was inspiring, and it was also a blast. But can you guess which Mt. Whitney expedition developed me more as a leader and as a person? Hands down the second one that went through 4 iterations, and involved 60mph wind gusts, winter blizzards and below zero wind chill – oh, and not standing on top of a mountain. To be sure, we wouldn’t choose these failures, but I personally wouldn’t trade them for anything.
As my partner in the Mt. Whitney expedition so eloquently stated, “The journey is for the soul, the summit is for the ego.” Cheers to the journey, which will almost certainly include some failing.
And trust me, the best, most impactful people and business leaders fail often. They’re not special. They aren’t immune to failure, and in fact, they have the same fears we do.
But don’t just take my word for it – take Adam Grant’s. Grant is the author of two of my favorite leadership books, Give and Take, and Originals. He is also the top-rated professor at Wharton Business School. (Check out these Ted talks, Are You a Giver or a Taker? and The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.) While researching and writing Originals, Grant sat down with some of the most original entrepreneurs of our time, including Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and Mark Cuban. Grant writes, “When I asked them to take me back to the early days, they caught me off guard. They all felt the same fear of failure that the rest of us do. They just responded to it differently.
“When most of us fear failure, we walk away from our boldest ideas. Instead of being original, we play it safe… But great entrepreneurs have a different response to the fear of failure. Yes, they’re afraid of failing, but they’re even more afraid of failing to try.”
Grant was talking about business when he wrote the above, but it applies to our personal endeavors too. All entrepreneurs are human beings, after all.
By the way, I’m even more inspired by a person’s willingness to be brave and vulnerable than I am by his or her greatness. Daring to fail takes daring, and that daring is inspiring to witness. When we dare to fail, we inspire others to dare to fail.
I remember an expedition where we climbed four mountains. One man had never climbed a mountain before, and I hiked right in front or behind him on the first mountain we climbed. The climb took several hours. Every single step the man took was full of fear. His fear was palpable. He was stepping out of his comfort zone and into his potential thousands and thousands of times during what was a 10-hour effort.
Climbing mountains in high winds, on loose terrain and in a blizzard.
The late Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who developed ideas related to “hierarchy of needs,” said, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”
When we dare to fail, we’re stepping forward into growth. We’re not playing it safe. We’re showing up even though we’re scared, and we’re not playing small. We’re afraid, and we’re proceeding anyway.
One final and important bit about failure. Let’s not be reckless. I’m not recommending being reckless in our daring to fail. No, we must dare to fail with tremendous care. When I work with leaders who are about to launch a new program or product, or who are considering making a major change, we often do an exercise called a pre-mortem. This is basically the act of articulating and writing down your worst fears, the worst case scenarios. I do this same work with my life coaching clients. Often, just by acknowledging and listing our fears, we realize they aren’t as great as we were previously making them out to be. But just as important as acknowledging worst case scenarios, is our need to have ideas for what we do should any of our our worst fears come true.
I recently watched Alex Honnold present here in my hometown of Lander, WY, about his solo climb of El Capitan with no rope. His is an astonishing feat, and it was incredible to see him in person and to meet him. Honnold was saying that in preparation for the challenge (where the stakes are literally his life), he invested significant time climbing the route, and memorizing the moves for the entire 3,000-foot-long route. After the presentation, I went up to Honnold, and asked him more about his process. He explained that he not only rehearsed and memorized the moves of the route, but also visualized and imagined all the “what could go wrongs,” so that on the day of the big event, he felt ready and not afraid.
Finally, I think we ought to look back on our life and our work path, and look for, and reflect on our “failures.” Think of one of them, and examine it for lessons you learned, and how that failure may be continuing to inform your life in a positive way. Rinse and repeat. In my experience, this is such fascinating, and useful work, not to mention we can make all kinds of new discoveries about ourselves, and our life.
These failures make for such interesting stories, and they can help and inspire others when we share them.
A Princeton professor, Johannes Haushofer, published a CV listing his career failures on Twitter, in an attempt to “balance the record.” I think keeping a “resume of failures” is a brilliant idea. Otherwise a resume or CV doesn’t tell the whole story. “Every resume and bio that you put together is basically just stringing one success next to another, and we erase all the failures in between,” explains Adam Grant, who keeps a resume of failures after being inspired by Haushofer.
I’m afraid I will disappoint others
First off, the feeling of disappointment is one of my least favorite. And I care deeply about people. So the threat of causing others disappointment is a legitimate and understandable fear.
Good human beings, which describes everyone I know and work with, are always concerned about others. They care for people, and don’t want to disappoint them or let them down. As a result, we often don’t do things we want, need or could do because we just can’t bear to risk letting others down.
But I’ve learned that those “others” in our world, whether they’re our friends, family members, co-workers, or colleagues, prefer that we take chances. They trust we’ll give it our best and that we’re not out to disappoint them.
Think about your friends, family, co-workers and colleagues for a minute. Do you think they’d prefer you take chances and try things that are challenging that will make you better and smarter and more fulfilled, or do you think they’d prefer you play it safe and play small and take no chances.
Marianne Williamson has a great quote that is probably famous because it rings true for so many of us, even if its truth can be inconvenient: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I’m afraid I will disappoint myself
I said at the beginning that I don’t consider myself an expert at anything. I want to take that back. I’m an expert at self criticism. I’m a master at it. I’m very hard on myself, and my expectations for myself are often so high that they’re unachievable.
I’m here to report that almost 100% of the people I’ve coached, or led into the wilderness on adventures, tend to be self critical. We often don’t see this in the people we know or admire. On the outside they appear strong and confident. I bet I appear strong and confident. But inside, there’s a whole different story being told.
I’ve taken many leaders up mountains they didn’t know how to climb. As hard as it is for them to climb a mountain they don’t know how to climb, there’s one thing that’s even harder: Fighting the personal narrative that is often, during times of struggle, a negative one. Most of us battle the inner critic, self doubts that flood our minds when we’re doing something hard that we’re not certain we can do. It’s that voice that’s yelling at us inside, right in the crux of our struggle, saying things like: “You gotta quit! You’re going to die! You look like a fool! You’re holding people up. Whose idea was this? You can’t do this. What were you thinking?” And on and on and on. Fill in the blank with your own inner critic monologue.
Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal has done a lot of research and work related to self criticism. I listened to a series of audio files by her a few years back and found her work about self criticism and self compassion to be informative and hopeful. In short, McGonigal says self criticism is not motivating. We just tell ourselves that it is. We think that if we give ourselves a good butt-kicking, it will motivate us to do more and better. But McGonigal says it’s just not true. She argues that self compassion is more motivating.
Loving ourselves, although that should be a top priority for all of us, can seem like too big of a stretch for those of us who are self critical. Self compassion is a better first step, I think.
There’s that wonderful saying, “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” I endorse this message. But I’ve added my own twist, that I often share with people I work with and care about, and that is: “Treat yourself the way you’d like to treat others.” This constructive behavior toward self during struggle and doubt can make the challenging experiences in our life and work more tolerable and, in the end, more worthwhile. It can also be the difference between quitting and hanging in there when we really, really want to hang in there.
So many times when I’m leading a person up a mountain, or through any wilderness situation that’s challenging, a person who is struggling will be encouraging to all of those around her or him, while inside unleashing the wrath of the criticism on himself or herself. Like I said, these same people are often loving and supportive and compassionate to others. So we know how to encourage. We have that skill. We simply have to turn that skill onto ourselves, and when we do, it makes all the difference. It’s not easy work, but it’s worthwhile work.
One final thought on this fear of disappointing our self… There’s a quote by Terry Tempest Williams, from her wonderful book, The Hour of Land and it is, “Wilderness is an antidote to the war within ourselves.” Hear Hear. One of the main reasons I love using the wilderness as a platform from which my clients can practice doing the hard work that living our epic life and being our best requires is because in the wilderness we can’t run from our self, and we can’t hide. During adversity, we are forced to confront our inner critic. In real time, during those struggles, we learn new, gentler, more compassionate ways to be with our self that then carry over into other areas of our lives after the adventure has ended.
The last thing I want to say on this fear of disappointing ourselves, is often the disappointment we have in ourselves is a result of the comparing we do. We compare ourselves to those around us, and then we are disappointed when we don’t measure up. We need to stop comparing. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Byron Katie says, “Without comparison, our life is perfect.” If you want to be disappointed or miserable, just start comparing yourself, and your life, to others.
Finally, in my experience, we are much more likely to be disappointed in ourselves when we don’t do the thing we are yearning to do than when we dare to do it.
Designer, author and professor Debbie Millman said something on a recent podcast interview that I haven’t quit thinking about. She asked this question: What are you more afraid of – regret or rejection? Regret will be my answer every time. I think Millman’s is a great question to think about.
I’m afraid I’ll make a fool out of myself. I don’t know what I am doing. I’m afraid I’ll look bad
My friend, Trevor Ragan, perhaps says it best. He says “Getting better and looking good don’t happen at the same time.” Amen to that. Let’s just acknowledge this fact, and agree to look bad every now and then so we can get better. Deal? I’m in.
When I recall all the times I feared I would look like a fool, and/or did look like a fool, I can’t help but think of when I decided I wanted to learn how to skate ski. I didn’t take a lesson; I just rented the gear and went to our local golf course where there were groomed trails. I’m athletic, but skate skiing is very physically demanding and technically challenging to learn. I had not a clue what to do and I fell no fewer than 1oo times in an hour. It was ugly, and painful, and it was humiliating. But I’m so glad I did that. I’ve been skate skiing for six years now and it’s one of the reasons I love, and can tolerate our long winters.
So daring to fail means being willing to look bad.
As I mentioned before, I’ve led people up mountains who didn’t know how to climb a mountain. In July of 2013, I led my first Epic Women backpacking program. On Day 2, we let the eight women – none who had ever climbed a mountain – lead us up a tall mountain. They didn’t have mountain climbing skills, or experience at high altitudes. The process was therefore laborious, and the women were at times apprehensive. The ascent took longer than if the guides or I led us up the mountain. And, our chances of summiting were lower also, since summit attempts are limited by changing weather so the longer the effort takes, the lower the chance we’ll be able to continue toward the summit. But if the goal is to develop the women’s skills and leadership, then it’s worth it. We made it to the top, and the result was not only the accomplishment of standing on the summit, but even more importantly, each woman, and our entire expedition team was more than we were before.
I’m coaching two people who have cancer. It is meaningful work, and I want to do more of this work. But often, during a call with one of these people, I find myself telling myself, “I don’t know how to do this.” I don’t, but I’m listening and I’m giving it my best. I am learning by daring to fail.
Daring to fail, even though it means risking looking bad, and looking like a fool, and stumbling our way through, is about becoming actually what we are potentially.
I think it was Charlie Chaplin who said, “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”
But my favorite quote for this section of the blog post is something said by my friend, the late Todd Skinner, who was a world-famous, big wall climbing legend, and an amazing human being: “We cannot lower the mountain, therefore we must elevate ourselves.” The best way to learn how to do something is to dare to do it, even if you don’t know how to do it.
In closing, I want to go back to something I said earlier in the post.
When you talk to people who are approaching the end of their life, and you ask them, “What, if anything, do you regret?”, do you know how most of them respond? Most of the time, they list the things they didn’t do that they wish they could do that they can no longer do. They regret their inactions more than their action. They regret the things they did not do.
This is so important for us to remember. Let’s not be sorry for not doing something we wanted to do because we were afraid.
Here’s to all of us daring to fail more often. Here’s to leading a more fulfilling life. Here’s to having more interesting stories to share. And finally, here’s to not having any regrets – now, or in the end!
Thank you so much for reading.
Part of my work is keynote presenting. I’m hired by organizations or events to deliver my keynote presentation, “Epic Lessons Learned in the Field.” I also provide leadership development training and facilitation. One of the workshops I’m most passionate about is DARE TO FAIL. I also have a little availability right now for coaching if you or anyone you know would like to have someone dare, support and hold them accountable in making some positive changes in their life or leadership.
Email me if you’d like to learn more about any of these offerings. Thanks!
I love this little, simple flower. It is a beautiful flower. But it is its nature – its way of not trying to steal the show – that most causes me to find it beautiful.
The fact the flower is not trying to win anyone over, not doing anything special other than being itself, is what wins us over. And notice that it is not surrounded by a bunch other flowers. Instead, it is as if it is choosing to not conform – to dare, and to choose to be where it is mostly likely to bloom, even its existence is a little lonely.
I love that this flower, and my chance encounter with it, helps me to articulate something I have been thinking a lot about.
If you are one of my friends, or part of my family, or if you read a recent blog post called Love on the Trail, then you know how I love looking for, and finding heart rocks on my hikes. What I’ve learned is that if I’m looking for heart rocks, I will find heart rocks.
Similarly, since I first began thinking of small and unassuming wonders, I’m seeing them everywhere.
Small wonders, humble actions. Big impact. I’m talking about something or someone who is great and yet isn’t trying to be great for the sake of being great. Something that may be hard to see, but beautiful when stumbled upon. A person’s kind and generous gesture. Someone who is very busy, yet gives of his or her time. A leader who isn’t out in the front. Someone who listens deeply. These humble acts and examples are impactful. I feel blessed when I notice them, and I don’t forget them.
Some recent examples…
Last night, my family and I were lucky to be able to attend a presentation in our small town of Lander, WY, to meet the one and only Alex Honnold. Honnold recently free solo climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan, and the presentation he shared with us was his first such presentation. At the beginning of his presentation, Honnold explained his early interest in rock climbing. As a child, he would watch, in wonder, as climbers scaled Yosemite’s big walls. “I always thought it would be cool to be a small dot on a big wall,” he explained.
Honnold is someone who accomplished something seemingly impossible, and yet he remains humble, and refreshingly human.
I was cleaning off the table that is a collection place for all of my adventure gear and clutter during this time of year. As I went to move a book I finished reading several months ago, I noticed a dog-eared page. Upon opening to the page, I read a quote I had underlined, by Terry Tempest Williams: “Wilderness is the antidote to the war within ourselves.” Yes. I love the wilderness because it reminds me of my small place in the world while its wonders take the place of my sometimes war-like inner struggles.
During a recent epic day hike with my husband, we started so early that our first six miles were in the dark. For a long while, except for the occasional clicks of our trekking poles, there was not a single sound to be heard. But then, at 5:13am, we heard a single bird sing, and after that, several other birds of a great variety started singing and chirping. The forest was officially awake. You feel small, humbled, and yet so very alive all at once when in the wilderness.
I was recently friended on Facebook by a man I met in my CTI Coaches Training in 2011. Seeing his friend request made me recall the impression he had on me in just a single, 3-day course. He was quiet, but not shy. There’s a subtle but important difference between shy and actively choosing to be quiet. This man is the latter. He didn’t say very much during the entire three days of training, yet his presence was felt. When he did say something, everyone in the room leaned forward and hung on his every word. His words were carefully chosen, and his contributions valuable to us all.
Three days ago I was walking home from the Post Office, and I passed a woman. We made brief eye contact, and I smiled at her. She didn’t smile back but she wasn’t unfriendly. I thought she looked familiar, and after searching my memory during the next several blocks, it came to me. She was the “anonymous” woman who handed me a $100 cash donation in a hardware store some years back when I was fasting to help raise some money for the local food bank. She didn’t want to give me her name, but insisted I take $100 of her money to give to someone who needed it. I was so moved by her generosity and humility and desire for no credit that I later wrote about it. I have never forgotten her, or that simple and generous and anonymous act of kindness. She, and her generosity and humility continue to inspire me.
A week ago I listened to a wonderful episode of Beautiful Writers podcast where Elizabeth Lesser was the guest. Lesser is the founder of the Omega Institute, and author of the wonderful Broken Open, a book I gift often to people I work with or know who are going through a difficult time. I highly recommend Broken Open, but I also enthusiastically recommend her latest book, Marrow, A Love Story, which is a memoir that is the story of two sisters uncovering the depth of their love through the life-and-death experience of a bone marrow transplant.
Speaking of humble impact, how about author Anne Lamott, one of my favorite writers. Lamott was a guest interviewer in the aforementioned podcast episode and, in the opening of the episode, refers to Lesser as amazing, and as being “quite the big cheese.” To which, Lesser responds, “I don’t actually believe in big cheese… We’re all part of the same chunk of cheese. This idea that some of our lives are more big cheese-ish than others… I protest.” Have I mentioned lately how much I admire humility?
Yesterday morning when I got up after an uncommon sleeping-in, I went downstairs and spied my husband, Jerry, outside on our back patio, drinking coffee and reading quietly. He didn’t know I was watching, but I was inspired by the peace that was over him, and I admired him, and his stillness.
Speaking of stillness and flowers, I am writing a poem about my very favorite alpine wildflower, the Forget Me Not. It is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful and “humble” flower in the world. It grows near mountain tops, in very exposed and often windy locations. The flowers are tiny, and they grow in bunches of perfect little bright, bold blue flowers, that appear to snuggle the Earth below them.
Forget Me Nots are so humble that their scent disappears during the day. You can only smell the flower at night. When glanced at amidst a field of flowers that is home to larger, bolder flowers, Forget Me Nots can be hard to spot, and as a result, maybe even unspectacular. But when looked at individually, Forget Me Nots are perfect in their beauty, brightness, small size, and simplicity. While the flower is stunning, its resilience, relative “silence,” and humble impact make me love it even more.
Forget Me Nots, near the top of Mitchell Peak, Wind River Range, Wyoming.
I think it’s ironic that this favorite flower of mine is called the Forget Me Not, because for me, everything about it is so utterly unforgettable.
Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot to me!
I think one of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing for us to do is to dare to live the life we are yearning to live. I’m talking about your life, not the life that others expect you to live, which usually follows a safe path that prevents you from taking too many risks and keeps you from rocking the boat.
In fact, I think that many of us risk our life by not living it.
If you are a woman, and you want to make some changes in your life, consider the Epic Women program, which combines life/leadership coaching, wellness, and a guided 4-day Epic backpacking expedition in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
The coaching helps a woman take stock of her life, while “priming” her for the July Epic adventure, which is, no doubt, the highlight of the Epic Women program. Being in the wild astonishes us. The wilderness experience wakes us up from a sort of hibernation.
So, would you like to feel more inspired? Would you like to “crank it up,” and do something unexpected? Would you like to discover more about yourself? Would you like to change the conversation in your life? Are you going through a change or transition? Would you like to gain more confidence, or improve your leadership? Would you like to get in the best shape and health of your life? Would you like to make some changes to your life?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions. But I think they are all important ones to consider, and if you answered Yes to any of them, then I’m looking for you.
By the way, if you’re reading this because you’re a leader in your work, and you’re more interested in leadership development, than life coaching, I would offer this: How we live is how we lead.
There is always more to discover about yourself, and what may be possible in your life, but it takes daring…
Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne dared to find out more about themselves by signing up for Epic Life’s first-ever Epic Women Expedition. These epic women could have signed up for a retreat or a vacation. But they didn’t. They signed up for something that promised to push them.(If you are a woman, this post is an effort to dare you.)
The Epic Women program is a year-long program that combines life and leadership coaching with a 5-day backpacking expedition in my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne came from Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Wyoming to embark on the expedition.
Epic Life’s adventures provide an opportunity to embark on a “Hero’s Journey.” A Hero’s Journey is no vacation. Women who sign up for the Epic Women Expedition are answering a call to adventure. Joseph Campbell said nothing brings people together like terror and aspiration. In my final individual calls with each of the women the month before our expedition, most of the women remarked that they were “nervous but excited.” I had them right where I wanted them…
An important aspect of the EW expedition is a mountain climb. Climbing a mountain is a great metaphor for living our best/most epic life. To find our path, to become more, we must dare to go off-trail and uphill. Let’s face it, living our epic life is often hard work. At times it requires a heroic effort. During the EW expedition, we would practice climbing a mountain, and the mountain would be Mitchell Peak. Mitchell is a big and tall mountain, and climbing it would provide views of one of the most stunning sights in the world, the Cirque of the Towers.
Climbing Mitchell Peak is a grunt for most people. If you’re from sea level, it is even more so, and five of the seven women came from sea level. It would be even more difficult because I scheduled it for Day 2. I didn’t choose Day 2 to make it harder. I chose it to hedge against poor weather that might be a factor later in the expedition leaving us no time to accomplish a mountain climb. And, I wanted the group to achieve something great right out of the gates.
As we got settled into our first night’s camp, the sun set and provided glow all around us. We could all see the massive mountain we were going to climb the next day. It loomed.
Vicki, Jackie, Roxanne, me, Jenni, Mariah, Diana and Wendy, on our first night.
I asked the women to share with me how they viewed Mitchell Peak and what their feelings were as the mountain climb approached:
MARIAH: When Shelli told us that we’d be climbing a mountain on the second day of our trip, I was a little skeptical. I had just learned to tie my boots that day! We could see the peak from our campsite, so we knew exactly what we were getting into– and it looked pretty daunting…
ROXANNE: My thought was “OMG, no way.” It truly seemed impossible. And then as I considered that we were really going to do it, I thought, how are we all going to make it all the way up there??
VICKI: It’s funny, that first night the whole experience was still so surreal, that even when we looked at the mountain in the distance it didn’t seem real. I was thinking… “oh, we’re going to climb THAT?! My eyes must be deceiving me… there must be some secret way up there…”
DIANA: Mitchell Peak seemed like this beautiful yet formidable entity looming in the distance. The unknowns of what lay ahead on the route to Mitchell Peak created anticipation and excitement.
JACKIE: Gee, I guess that pile of rocks doesn’t look too high, heh, heh… What, you mean we’re going to climb that thing… How exactly will we do that??
WENDY: The night before, the mountain looked so big… I wondered how far it really was to the top.
JENNI: Looking at Mitchell Peak the day before the ascent allowed just enough time for the intimidation to set in!
Day 2 came early. With headlamps on, we huddled to have coffee and tea and a quick breakfast in the “kitchen area” of our camp. I did a quick check-in with the women regarding how well they slept. No one slept well. In my experience, most people don’t sleep well before a mountain climb, let alone on the first night in the wilderness. I also didn’t get a wink of sleep.
Soon, we had our boots and daypacks on, and were ready to start the Mitchell Peak adventure. Right out of camp, the elevation gain starts. We did a lung-buster-“Buns of Steel” workout as we hiked up the south end of Jackass Pass. Occasionally we stopped to check the map to get our bearings. By the time we reached North Lake, we had gained 700′. North Lake was still and reflected an unnamed peak we all chose to call Epic Peak. Here, we treated some water, had a quick snack, and looked up at the beckoning Mitchell Peak, which stood 2,000 more vertical feet above us.
Taking a quick break at North Lake. That’s “Epic Peak” in the background.
After considering a couple of different route options, the women chose to take what we would call the “Mitchell Direct” route. The next couple of hours of hiking would be hard going. We’d hike up a steep slope that consisted of what the epic women came to refer to as “loose, but stable” terrain.
Climbing a mountain.
An important part of climbing a mountain is pausing to glimpse how far you’ve come. This provides inspiration for the rest of the climb.
After various women took turns route-finding, we could finally see our line to the summit. By this point, our hiking strategy was to move slow but steady. There was less oxygen available, legs were growing weary, and there was a fair amount of boulder scrambling, which was a new experience for many in the group.
Almost to the top.
I should mention that our instructors, Allison and Kat, were a significant part of our Epic Women adventure, and are themselves epic women. As we approached the summit, Kat had a wonderful idea for us to all hold hands upon summiting. It was a powerful and unforgettable experience.
Yeehaw! We made it to the top.
Nothing transforms a group into a team better than an epic undertaking. Using expedition behavior and learning the necessary physical and mental skills while ascending the mountain, we all became more, individually and as a team.
After experiencing the summit as a team, but also individually in our own ways — and after some celebratory “summit chocolate” — we reminded ourselves that the summit was only the halfway point. We still had to get ourselves down the mountain.
What goes up must go down. Here we navigate down Mitchell’s slopes.
After 11 hours of hard hiking uphill, and downhill, we returned to camp. What a day! Yet, these women aren’t just any women. They’re epic women. Somehow they still had energy left in the tank to carry through on an earlier commitment to take a swim in Big Sandy Lake. I was totally sold on the idea, mostly because it was so unreasonable, but I lacked the courage. It would be a polar plunge, and I didn’t have the guts! But with the women coaching me, and Kat’s hand to hold, I submerged. It. was. epic. We had come full circle in a day’s time. We had looked at the lake from the summit, and now we looked at the summit from (in) the lake. What a beautiful and perfect ending to a truly epic day.
Here are the epic women’s thoughts upon reflecting on their mountain climb:
MARIAH: Climbing the mountain was an incredible feeling– although the mountain itself was a challenge, the best part was doing it together. Some people had sore feet. Some people were more affected by the altitude than others. But we worked as a group, and we got there as a team. Holding hands as we reached the summit was a powerfully emotional experience. Their was collective triumph, but also 10 individual victories on the mountain on that day. Seeing how people were affected– by the feat itself, the view from the top, etc.– was the best part.
ROXANNE: After successfully climbing the mountain, I thought of many things you said – checking the map, making a plan, taking turns taking the lead, taking a break and re-checking the map, noticing how far we had come & different times along the way, encouraging others when needed, asking for help when needed, all lead to reaching the summit successfully. All are great metaphors for our everyday lives as we encounter various issues & obstacles that may feel like climbing a mountain. I will certainly pull from this experience when encountering other challenges in my life.
VICKI: When we held hands on the summit, I could literally feel the electricity flowing between our hands and our hearts, the welling of emotion, the hint of acknowledgement that overcame each one of us as we peered back through the valley and the lakes below – gazing in quiet disbelief at what we had just accomplished.
DIANA: The big rocks/boulders appeared at first glance to be solidly placed, fixed upon the steep slopes. But when stepped upon some of them teetered or shifted which was a bit alarming. I did not expect them to do that. So what appeared to be concrete and definite had some unknowns built in. Then entered the second guessing and the doubting. Do I step here or should I step there? If I step there will I fall? The doubts and the uncertainties compounded. But then after watching others tackle the boulders and through the encouragement of others I realize my fears were unfounded. I had to be confident in my choices of where to step. I had to be flexible in my stride, stand upright and bridge the rocks with my feet. And if a boulder dipped or rocked no need to panic, just go with the flow. In many ways I think life is similar. There are things that just by looking at them we assume we know. We step right in. But then we quickly find out such is not the case. We might become timid or intimidated by this and find ourselves in an uncomfortable place, the unstable footing if you will. Then there is the self discovery aspect…we learn what we do not know. Then the choice, to turn away from the issue or to turn in to it and face it. And then the enlightenment that all things are possible with flexibility, determination and balance. Life is filled with lots of uncertainty and unstable ground. It just boils down to how you approach it and how you view it. Not everything is as it seems and not all things are fixed and solidly placed. And that’s cool. Lesson learned on Mitchell: be receptive to life’s unknowns and know that with confidence, skill, focus and balance many things that seem most intimidating can be achieved.
JACKIE: Upon coming down, I was thinking, Wow, that thing is up there! I can NOT believe I went up to the top of that huge pile of rock!…I feel pretty impressed with myself. I was scared coming on EWE that I wouldn’t be fit enough, skilled enough, hadn’t prepared enough, might be too old, too fat, too slow, the altitude, etc. Climbing Mitchell affirmed in me that I am strong, pretty fit for an almost 50-year-old dame, and that when I set my mind to something I can achieve it. I realized that I have strength, endurance and better capability than I gave myself credit for having…I know that if I prepare, I can do a lot and I can continue to experience and see wonderful places on this earth using human power.
WENDY: After the mountain climb, I thought, I climbed a big ass mountain! And I came down on one leg. It was a powerful emotion of personal achievement for me. (Wendy injured a knee during the ascent of the mountain)
JENNI: Intimidation combined with a little determination made for a lot of motivation to conquer the peak that had been staring at me for two days! Now that I have successfully summited Mitchell I have a new record “high” for altitude. It was an amazing feeling to accomplish the climb and it gave me an adrenaline rush that I hope to keep satisfying in the future. In comparison to life….all things are possible when you’re determined to succeed. Just keep a nice steady pace, continue putting one foot in front of the other, and when you reach the top you’ll know it was worth every ounce of hard work you put into achieving your goal!
For me, climbing Mitchell Peak with Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne, women I had come to know personally in the months prior to the adventure, and whose lives inspire me, was an unforgettable experience that will always be dear to me. All of these women could have been doing something else that week — something easier or more “fun.” Their courage to sign up for the epic expedition, and that was displayed throughout the mountain climb, is a reflection of their gusto for life. One of my favorite quotes is a Mary Oliver one: “Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” I can report that these Epic Women were not breathing just a little. They may have even at times been gasping. On the Epic Women Expedition, they were practicing experiencing being fully alive.
I’m signing up women for Epic Women 2017. If you’re interested, please email me.
When I first met her, she was crumpled under the cliff, her face bloodied, and her right eye blue, and swollen shut. Her right cheekbone and nose were also swollen and appeared to be fractured. Her face, underneath the bleeding, was pale, and although she was screaming and trembling, her body was not moving. Her uncle was with her, cradling and holding her feet in his hands.
My husband, Jerry, our three sons, and I had been nearby, exploring and climbing the hoodoos known as the “goblins” of Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park when we heard a scream, followed by a loud yell for help. We quickly descended and bolted toward where the yell came from, and that is how we came to meet Ivy, who, presumably, was just moments before having the time of her life exploring with her younger sister, and her uncle.
How quickly one’s life can go from full to fragile…
If you look closely, you’ll spot our three sons. The crag near the upper left is near where Ivy fell from.
I am the mother of three sons. Two of them entered the world in the form of an “emergency,” and at least for some moments there was concern about their survival. I will never forget the despair Jerry and I felt in those moments of uncertainty. The possibility that our son’s life was at risk was too much to bear, and I didn’t have the emotions or ability to hold myself up under its weight.
That is similar to how I felt as I took my first steps toward the girl. I didn’t have the emotions for this and yet I felt the weight of tremendous responsibility and a desire to help. I wondered if I was up to the task. I took a deep breath, and collected myself so I could put myself to use.
Sitting with my sons only moments before responding to Ivy’s fall.
If something were to go wrong for any of my family members, friends, clients, myself – or anyone I encounter in the wilderness who needs help – I wanted to have the skills to be able to help. I wanted to know what to do in situations like this one, and if necessary, to be able to help save a life.
Until March 30, except for blisters, altitude symptoms and minor injuries, my First Responder skills had never really been put to the test. I was hoping it would stay that way.
We’ve been taking our sons, Wolf, 16, Hayden, 15, and Finis (“Fin”), 9, to Goblin Valley since they were toddlers. We’ve traveled extensively in search for great outdoor adventure, and to date, Goblin Valley is our family’s top pick when it comes to natural jungle gyms. The state park boasts a 3-square-mile area called the “The Valley of Goblins.” There are thousands of hoodoos (“goblins”) that beckon.
A child’s natural instinct is to climb, so it’s unreasonable to take kids to Goblin Valley and expect them not to climb and explore the area’s hoodoos. When the boys were little, I would spend most of our time at Goblin Valley yelling and worrying and freaking out as I tried my best to keep the boys on a “short leash” and from falling. That was the way it was when we came here – the boys had a blast, and Mom and Dad worried.
Our sons, eager to explore the 3-square mile of “Goblins.”
Here’s a short video clip of me following our 9-year-old as he climbs and explores up and over “goblins”:
As our boys have gotten older, and more experienced in the outdoors, and with these “goblins,” we have extended more freedom, and there’s less freaking out. But the worrying is always present, and the What Ifs are as numerous as the goblins…
What happened to Ivy is a parent’s (uncle’s) worst nightmare. She had taken a big fall from a “goblin” that was above us.
I did a quick recall of the first steps of the Wilderness First Responder protocol. “Size up the scene,” I told myself, and quickly scanned for immediate dangers to the girl and any of us. I determined she had fallen, learned that it was her uncle who was with her, that the girl’s name was Ivy, and that she had been exploring with her younger sister (who was nearby, hunched over, terrified and sobbing). I asked if anyone saw her fall. Her younger sister pointed to where she had fallen from, which was pretty high up there. I asked if she had seen how Ivy landed, and the answer was no. I (and Ivy’s uncle and my husband, Jerry) couldn’t get Ivy to calm down enough to talk to me directly. She was in excruciating pain. Moaning and crying loudly, and at times, screaming. She trembled in pain and fear, and her face, underneath all of the blood, appeared pale. I asked her uncle if she was conscious when he got to her after the fall. He said he thought she was out/unconscious for “a full minute at least.”
I remembered from my WFR training that when someone suffers a fall from a height, there is a significant risk of spine or head injury – and likely, both. “Let’s be sure to not move her,” I said. She was not on level ground, which made it hard to assess her condition, but we made sure not to move her.
I quickly went through what is known as ABCDE. I checked her Airway for obstruction; Her mouth was full of blood and I couldn’t tell if her teeth had been knocked around, but I couldn’t see anything obstructing her airway; I checked her Breathing–I looked, listened and felt; I won’t lie, this was hard given Ivy’s screaming and pain, and my anxiety and concerns for her were great; Circulation – I tried to check her pulse, and I examined her for any bleeding other than what I could see on her face; Disability – I managed for spine injury, again cautioning anyone who could hear me not to move her; and last, Environment/Expose – assessed environmental life-threats and exposed any serious wounds. I was just guessing, but there appeared to be fractures to her face and nose, and I wondered if her left arm, or wrist, might be broken, and worried about her back being broken, or at least severely injured.
Next, I did a quick and dirty head-to-toe exam. She had sensation in her toes and fingers. “Good news there,” I told myself. I tried repeatedly to discern from Ivy what hurt the most, but couldn’t make out what she was saying; she couldn’t talk and was in tremendous distress.
I recalled from WFR training that it would be important to keep her awake and alert, so her uncle and I continued talking softly to Ivy, and tried to help calm her down. We asked her if there was a song she liked, that she could sing. It was no use; she was in extreme pain and couldn’t compose herself. But we did keep bringing up that idea. It would help her, and us, if we could calm her down even a little bit so we could learn more about her injuries and state, and to conserve some of her energy.
Then, to my great relief, a man appeared who identified himself as a family doctor who happened to be in the area, and who had with him a trauma kit. I moved aside, and let him take over the medical care while I remained in the background trying to help calm Ivy down. A moment later, another doctor, an anesthesiologist, was also on the scene. (Whew! I have never loved doctors so much…)
“I know it’s hard, but try to take some deep breaths. You’re going to be okay,” I told Ivy, while rubbing her left arm lightly. Now that there were doctors on the scene, the mother in me took over. “Help is here, and more is coming. You’re going to be okay. Try to take some deep breaths,” I told her over and over again, while no doubt also trying to make myself believe it.
In the meantime, the family doctor wondered out loud if there was something we could lay Ivy on to at least transport her to more level ground without compromising her spine. The uncle mentioned he had a cot in his trunk, and gave my sons Hayden and Wolf the key, described his vehicle, and our boys ran as fast as they could to the parking lot to retrieve the cot. In the meantime, other area tourists started showing up and lending a hand.
Turns out, when we first arrived, another man, who also heard the initial yell for help, had ran to get help from the Ranger station, so in pretty short order, the Ranger(s), along with others, including our Wolf and Hayden, ran toward us, carrying a litter, oxygen and other supplies.
Several minutes passed while the head Ranger and the family doctor worked on Ivy, and not long after that, we started hearing Ivy singing, what sounded like the song, Jingle Bells.
As the Ranger and doctor tended to Ivy’s care, and more help was solicited, our son, Wolf, worked to comfort Ivy’s sister, who was by now in great distress. The rangers and doctors completed their assessments, and a handful of people were able to move her to a board and then put her on the litter. Next, the crew administered oxygen to Ivy, and the group, including our oldest sons, took turns carrying the litter with Ivy in it. (Jerry, and our youngest son, Fin, walked just ahead of the group to navigate to find the easiest and most direct path for them to take to the parking lot.)
Once at the parking lot, Ivy was put in the bed of the Ranger’s truck and accompanied by the doctor, her uncle and the rangers to the Ranger station to meet a helicopter that was now en route.
As we parted ways with the uncle and Ivy’s sister and the others who had helped in the rescue effort, the uncle looked at us, and thanked us. I told him we’d pray for Ivy, which he seemed to particularly appreciate. (I remembered during the emergency births of two of our sons that a nurse in each case had offered to pray with us. It was moving and powerful and just what we needed in our desperation and helplessness.)
During our one-mile hike back to our camp, my family was mostly quiet. It had been a sobering experience, and we were all a little traumatized. Then one of our sons spoke up, recalling that, coincidentally, the uncle and Ivy and her sister had been camped in the spot right next to ours in the Goblin Valley State Campground the night before. We hadn’t talked to them, but we then all recalled that the uncle looks like one of our favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan, and I mentioned that I remembered noticing he was eating Honey Nut Cheerios at the picnic table in their camp that morning. We recalled Ivy and her sister had been playing and messing around at their camp, but we hadn’t paid very specific attention to them at the time.
The night before, we had marveled at the beautiful sliver of a moon that was right above a black, silhouetted ridge of “goblins.” Soon after, the sky became totally black, except for the thousands of twinkling stars. It was one of those unforgettable, brilliant night skies as we ate s’mores, and looked forward to our next day of adventuring in the “goblins.” The boys’ anticipation was palpable.
The moon over our camp the night before the rescue.
Later that night, as we lay in our tent trying to sleep, we could hear the man (who we now know to be Ivy’s uncle) and the girls’ –Ivy and her sister’s– voices, laughing and talking, presumably by their own campfire. By all indications, it was a blessed night for them.
We had no idea that the next day we’d meet them the way we did, and be involved in helping to save Ivy’s life. (I tend to think there are no coincidences – that the Universe has a plan – and and that things happen for a reason. This experience certainly feels like that.
For a day or two following the experience, I think we were so traumatized that we felt like it was bad luck for us to be part of such a terrifying and serious experience. But now, we view the experience, and our role in it, as more of a blessing. Of course we so wish Ivy didn’t fall, and yet because she did, we feel grateful to have been so close at hand to be able to help.
Family selfie in Goblin Valley, March 30, 2017.
As a family, we have revisited the experience often.
Since our return home to Lander, Wyoming, 2 weeks ago, I’ve tried to hunt Ivy and/or her family down. We are worried about her, and continue to talk about the experience and pray for Ivy. We would love to know how she’s doing. We know she was helicoptered to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, CO, but Ivy is a minor, and we don’t know her last name, and due to HIPPA and other privacy restraints, we’re limited in our quest. I’ve searched Facebook extensively, and have shared the posts with all of my friends in Grand Junction and also in Salt Lake City, where her uncle (during the rescue, had told me she is from), in hopes that someone will know her, or of her condition.If you’d be willing to share a link to this blog post, I’d be grateful. I know it’s a long shot, but it could reach someone who knows Ivy and her family, and somehow we could get information about her well being, which would mean the world to us.
For the record, my family members and I are no heroes here. There were numerous people who helped to save Ivy’s life and to get her to help as soon as possible. The doctors and Rangers did far more to help Ivy than I did.
I have always worried about what it would feel like to be with someone who has a heart attack or who suffers a life-threatening injury, and to not be able to help them. I can’t think of a greater feeling of helplessness than that. Although I probably will never be completely confident in my Wilderness First Responder capabilities, I am grateful for my training. Thanks to it, I was able to know the very basics of what to do when I met Ivy on March 30.
Finally, people are amazing. It was spectacular to see how so many strangers came together to contribute to help Ivy, and I will never forget the kindness and compassion and leadership that a group of strangers demonstrated. None of us exchanged names or shook hands, and yet what happened was significant. Deep and meaningful connections to one another were formed in our group’s effort to help Ivy, and yet none of us will probably ever see each other again.
I have a feeling that whenever we hear the song, Jingle Bells, and whenever we return to our favorite “goblins,” we will think of Ivy.
This experience has been a great teacher. I have learned so much, including:
–How quickly one’s life can go from full to fragile. One minute you’re playing and feeling so vital and alive, and the next, your life could be hanging by a thread.
–Worrying and trying to keep your kids “on a short leash” in the wilderness is a good start, and is better than having a cavalier attitude, but in the wilderness, worrying is not enough. What happens when someone does fall or get injured? We all need to ask and consider this question before going to a place like Goblin Valley. A first aid kit is of no value if we don’t know what to do when we need to use it. At the very least, I recommend a CPR class and certification, and if you spend a lot of time in the outdoors, are a parent or lead groups on adventures, consider a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder course.
–The stakes/consequences are high in the wilderness and in remote areas. A medical emergency in Goblin Valley, or any wilderness or other remote location can have a very different outcome than in a town or city. Everything is harder, and takes considerably longer. When we go to play outdoors, we need to consider the risks, and not only worry about and mitigate those risks, but seriously consider what we’ll do if something bad happens. We need to have an emergency plan in place in case something does go wrong.
–Time in the outdoors is important, fun and invaluable for children, and for all of us, especially during these times when we’re so attached to our phones, computers, TVs and other “screens.” Most of the time, things don’t go wrong. For years now, my family and I have spent significant time in the outdoors, and we have never had a serious injury and, until March 30, had never been involved in a rescue or evacuation. Incidents like Ivy’s, although very serious and sobering, should not be a deterrent from spending time exploring the outdoors, but they should serve to inform us.
–Being unplugged on a vacation or adventure (without a cell signal) is both the good news AND the bad news. We had left Four Corners National Monument the morning we arrived at Goblin Valley. That was basically a four-hour stretch that had virtually no cell phone signal. We did not have a cell signal anywhere during our 2 days in Goblin Valley, even when climbing to the highest perch we could find. Do not count on your cell phone to call for help when in remote, wild places like Goblin Valley.
–Being able to manage our emotions, especially during times of high stress and/or a life-or-death emergency, is a very important skill. I like to say, “Freaking out isn’t leadership.” No one wants to follow a leader who is freaking out or who is an emotional mess. And if our life is at stake, we’ll do much better, and our outcome will be much more positive if the people caring for us have a calm and emotionally collected demeanor. This is hard to practice unless you’re tested in real life. Last Thursday, I got a lot of firsthand practice. I didn’t wish for that, but I know it could help me to help, and lead, others in the future.
Here’s a video I captured about one hour before we heard Ivy’s scream and her uncle’s yell for help. It will give you a fantastic look at what is Goblin Valley: