Yeehaw! For a minute there, I forgot I was/am 49. I could have sworn I was 10 years old again. (I highly recommend this for all grownups)
“We are breathless, but we love the days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other.”–Nina Riggs, The Bright Hour
(NOTE: Before I start writing this post, I want to offer my thoughts and love to any of you who have cancer, and/or an other life-threatening disease. For those of you who have beat cancer, I have great respect and admiration for you. While I have been, and am close to, people who have cancer, who struggle or suffer from various diseases, who are elderly, and/or who might otherwise be confronting their mortality, I don’t pretend to know what that’s like. I can only imagine. Please know I want to be sensitive and sensible here, and I hope I don’t say anything here that offends you. If I do, I am so sorry. And while I’m at it, I’m sorry for all of you who have lost loved ones. I do know something about that, and I am sorry for your loss.)
I don’t want to die. I love my family and friends and my life so much that if I live to be 95 it won’t be long enough. Still, I think about death, and my mortality, a lot – and on purpose.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Several things have caused me to keep the prospects of death nearby.
Lori was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend to many. She was my friend.
Sometime around the second week of October, in 2011, Lori stopped by my house unexpectedly. I was struggling over things related to someone’s death, and she knew this, and she cared so much she wanted to stop by. We had a great conversation, which included her sharing about an epic biking adventure she had recently embarked upon in California.
After a time, she got up to leave, and I walked her out, and we stood for a moment next to her car in my driveway. Lori squared herself in front of me, held each of my shoulders in her hands, and looked at me in the eyes with her sparkly eyes, and said, “For whatever reason, that day was the day that man was to die. I believe we each have a time that we’re meant to die.”
Just days later, on Oct. 19, Lori died suddenly, from an aneurysm. She was only 52. Lori’s passing struck me hard not only because she was a family friend, and we loved and adored her, but also because of those impassioned words she shared with me just days earlier in my driveway. Her belief that we all have our time to die more or less “assigned,” even if we don’t know it, took on a new meaning.
When I went to Lori’s funeral, and as I reflected on her life, I wondered if Lori somehow knew her life would be short. Of course I’m not suggesting that she really did know, but I wonder about it because she lived every day so fully, as if she knew her days were numbered. She was exceptional that way. Other friends or acquaintances have died too early in recent years, and their lives were lived similarly. As I left each of their funerals, I was sad about their passing, but I was also inspired by their examples, and I resolved to live more purposefully, and with a new sense of urgency for my life.
I wrote recently in TheMagic Ingredients blog post that I owe much of my current great life to a “Manifesto” I created for myself some years ago. I promised I’d share about it. This post is my effort to do that. Thank you for returning.
I may not wake up tomorrow. These are the words I’ve been reading to myself every single morning since sometime in late 2009.
I’ve shared with a handful of people who are close to me that I have felt as if my life will be short. I really believe this, even though, as far as I know, I have no terminal cancer diagnosis or serious diseases. I’m 49 years old, and by all indications, I’m quite healthy.
So why do I believe my life will be short? Could it be because I’ve practiced believing it, every day, for almost 9 years?
I know, Life is Short and Live Each Day As If It Will Be Your Last are not my ideas, and we’ve heard them over and over and over again by the late Steve Jobs, and other famous people who have made public cases for what I’m trying to do here in my little humble blog. But, at least in my experience, it’s one thing to endorse and buy into a slogan, and another to work to actually believe and embody it. Which is what I have been doing for the last 3,000 days. And while I hope, every day, that it won’t be my last, I decided in late 2009 that I wasn’t going to take any chances. And it has made all the difference.
The statement, “I may not wake up tomorrow,” is the last statement, of several, listed in a “Manifesto” I wrote originally in 2009. At the time, I had made it to the other side of a challenging reinvention of my physical and mental health, and was in the midst of my professional reinvention. I wanted to create a sort of “philosophy of life” document to guide me. I wanted to stay true to my wishes for how I wanted to be in the world, and the life I wanted to live, and to keep the momentum I had created going.
I purposefully took considerable time and reflection to create my Manifesto. After all, it would be a declaration and a “call to action” for me. I wanted to get it right.
Writing, and living my Manifesto has been one of the most constructive and empowering things I’ve ever done. Every day as I read it, the Manifesto “primes” me to live the day fully. When I do the math, it turns out I’ve read my Manifesto about 3,000 times. That’s a lot of affirming.
During the last year, I have worked to be more daring and vulnerable in my writing and in my sharing. Sharing my Manifesto here is part of that. You see, my Manifesto will tell you a lot about me. It’s so personal that I have shared this with only my husband, Jerry, and a handful of people.
Please know that I am not sharing it to show off what is my Manifesto, but rather in hopes that it might inspire you to write your own. (By the way, my mission isn’t to try to inspire people to be like me or to have a life like mine. Rather, my mission is to inspire people about their own lives. Everyone’s Manifesto will look and feel differently, and only you know how you want to live, and what you will need to write.)
Following is my Manifesto. This is my current version of it. It still includes most of the original statements from late 2009, plus numerous additions I’ve made in recent years.
SHELLI’S MANIFESTO (2018)
In everything I do, I think first of my family.
Every day I have meaningful connections with each of my sons. I make efforts to have rich relationships with them, and they know, and can feel, my love.
Every day we’ll connect in meaningful ways as a family.
I will be the best Mom I can be. I will work to grasp less.
I show Jerry my love, and our boys see our love for one another.
And don’t forget our Buddy.
I make time to spend with my parents.
I keep in touch with my sisters and brother.
I value my friends and friendships.
I am a great listener.
I know myself, but I’m always changing. I promise to keep learning about myself.
I pray – and am grateful – every day.
I am kind. To everyone.
I will be of service to others.
I love my whole life – the wondrous and ordinary parts AND the challenging and sad parts.
Obstacles teach me.
I create fun. I turn drudgery into adventure.
Every day I play at least a little, and I yell “Yeehaw!” often.
I am at choice. I’m not a victim. I get to choose at any moment what my existence will be. (Viktor Frankl did!)
I will respond, not react.
I am curious. I’ll always ask questions.
I will work to be more patient.
I love Solitude.
I want to be someone who dares to fail. I will be afraid of failing, but I will still dare to fail.
Sometimes I will fail.
I am humble.
Frequently, I will go without, and even fast. I will also enjoy a lot of bacon, ice cream, cake, donuts, coffee and wine.
Read. Every day.
I will wake early, often, and see the sun rise. I will also see some sunsets.
I want to be the person who gets up off the couch to see a rainbow, or who sets her alarm to see a meteor show.
Once in a while, I’ll sleep in.
Write. I am a writer. Act like one.
I want to be the person who takes a plunge in a frigid mountain lake in the wilderness, not the person watching from the shore, being so reasonable.
I practice. Everything.
I don’t want to be so hard on myself. I promise to be more compassionate toward myself.
Most often, good enough is good enough. Seriously!
I will do what’s right.
I inspire others to climb mountains they’re not certain they can climb (real mountains and the mountains in their life.)
Talk less, but say more.
I am as healthy and as fit as I can be so that I can entertain any adventures that come my way.
I am serious, and I’m a goofball. I take life very seriously, and I also don’t take life very seriously.
I am generous.
I champion others.
I am on time – or early.
Every moment counts. (Remember Seneca’s words, “Life is long enough if you know how to use it.”)
Don’t view anything as a waste of time, and it won’t be.
I may not wake up tomorrow.
That is it. My Manifesto may be a little more specific than necessary. For example, I wanted to name items like sunrises and books and drudgery. In doing so, my Manifesto reminds me of the kind of essence I want to embody. But, also, by being specific, the Manifesto can serve as a sort of “To Do” list, instructing me with specific things I can do to help me be who and how I want to be.
I have definitely seen more sunrises, and sunsets as a result of this Manifesto. I’ve seen more rainbows and constellation events. I’ve slept in more! I’ve played hard and been more of a “participant” in my family. I’ve viewed drudgery differently, and have worked to be more generous, something that unfortunately doesn’t come naturally for me. I’ve kept my fitness at a high level, and practiced everything more.
I am reading more books than ever before, and I have made strides in not being so self critical. I have been more loving with Jerry and the boys, and had more meaningful connections with them. I have tried to be a better friend. I’ve dared to fail often. I’ve failed, which means I’ve learned. I am writing more often, and this is a direct result of adding the writing statement to the Manifesto 12 months ago.
And, most importantly, I have done mostly a a good job of living each day as if it really could be my last.
One thing I ask myself often, and people I work with, is, Let’s say you have only one week left to live. Now look at your calendar. Would you change anything? (If Yes, make the changes.)
Some closing thoughts…
Those who know me or work with me know that I have a fascination with books and stories from people who are approaching the end of their life. I’m a voracious reader, and my favorite books are books written by the dying, or about the dying. As hard as I try to view each day as a gift and to live each as if it might be last, no one can do these things better than someone who is dying, and/or approaching the end of their life. I am deeply inspired by the wisdom and generosity offered by people who know they’re near the end of their life.
In addition, I’m a fan of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. For about six years, I’ve read many books about Stoicism, and by Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and others. I’ve followed with great enthusiasm all that Tim Ferriss has shared about Stoicism. I will write more in another blog post about Stoicism, and I hope you’ll return to read it. For now, I bring up Stoicism for two reasons that are relevant to this blog post.
The first is the concept of negative visualization, which I’ve made a part of my life since first reading about it. I’m oversimplifying for purposes of not wanting to go on too long about this here, but negative visualization is essentially the practice/act of imagining you’ve lost someone you love, or your job, or your home – or better yet, all of it. It’s imagining that your worst fears come true. By imagining losing what we love and value, we’re likely to cherish more what we have, and work to not take these things for granted. A book that has been very influential for me is A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. The book has helped me to be an “observer” of my life, while reminding me to never take the people in my life – or my life, for that matter – for granted.
The second is the Stoics had a meditation practice at the end of their day. Many of us do this already. We lie in bed at night and sort of play back the movie in our mind that was the day. Most of us tend to judge the day. I prefer to use the word, evaluate. It feels more constructive, especially if you tend to be hard on yourself like I am. Every night I reflect on my day, often holding it up against the calls to action in my Manifesto, and I ask myself things like “Could I have handled that conversation with more patience?” “Darn. When Fin was asking me about Friday night, was I looking at my phone, or at him, when I was responding?” For me, this taking stock – this evaluating my day – helps to keep me honest while providing real clues as to how I can be my Best self. I share this, because this process is a natural next step after writing a Manifesto.
Thanks so much for reading. Please feel free to offer a comment below, or to share with me directly any thoughts you have, or questions I might be able to answer that may help or inspire you to create your own Manifesto – your own daily guide for living.
As a gift, I’m including a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver, called The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, which is about cancer, mortality, the life lived, and the desire for more. I love it.
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac
By Mary Oliver
1. Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.
2. The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.
3. I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
4. Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
Blog Posts I’ve written that are related to many of the things included in my Manifesto:
Ever since the boys were small, often on Sunday mornings, I have been making them “Mommy’s Epic pancakes” for breakfast. What makes them Epic is what we have all come to call “The Magic Ingredients.” The Magic Ingredients are butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.
Sure, plain pancakes are delicious. But pancakes made with The Magic Ingredients are extraordinarily delicious.
For as long as I’ve been making Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, I’ve been requesting my husband, Jerry, to hide The Magic Ingredients. This is how it goes: Sunday morning comes, and about 50% of the time, depending on who is all home and what’s going on and if I’m feeling like a great Mom, I’ll offer to make Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, to which the boys respond enthusiastically.
The next thing that happens is I instruct Jerry, “Honey, I need The Magic Ingredients.” And Jerry goes somewhere in the house, to the hiding spot he selected for The Magic Ingredients after the last time I made Mommy’s Epic Pancakes, he brings them to me, and I proceed to make the pancakes. When I’ve used the last of the pancake batter, I instruct Jerry to “Please hide The Magic Ingredients again.” I’m always sure to add, “Please hide them so well that I can’t possibly find them.” And off he goes.
Well, I often have a hankering for some butterscotch or chocolate or peanut butter, and when I’m not very disciplined, I will go looking for The Magic Ingredients. Either I’m a good hunter or Jerry’s just not a very good hider, because when I go looking, about 50% of the time, I find the goods.
As the first sentence of this post indicated, I found The Magic Ingredients just this morning. The butterscotch chips are my favorite. I actually really believe that I have some sort of addiction to butterscotch. I have no turn off switch, and the flavor of butterscotch just kills me I love it so much. When I was pregnant with our son, Hayden, and had a hankering for butterscotch, I put son Wolf in his carseat, and drove out during a hailstorm to a place called Dairyland, so I could get a butterscotch malt with extra butterscotch chips. Well, that little hankering cost us significantly in hail damage to our car. Oops. Like I said, I love butterscotch, and I may have a problem. But I digress… Sorry about that. 🙂
Thinking about all of this has inspired me to think about what are The Real Magic Ingredients.
I’m talking about The Magic Ingredients when it comes to my life. When I go to bed at night and rest my head on the pillow, I usually feel one of two ways: 1- Anxious because I didn’t do my best in one or more areas that are important to me. I feel regretful; or 2-Happy and satisfied about how the day went. My cup feels full.
The first will cause me to have a mediocre night of sleep, complete with at least one major bout of insomnia. On these nights, I often am awakened at 2am by my uninvited inner critic, who feels the need to provoke a struggle within me. You know the feeling, when your head is about to explode with thoughts of how you should have done this or should have done that, and all of the ways you could have done better.
I love the way writer Elizabeth Gilbert describes our mind when we are visited by our inner critic: “My head, like most of our heads, is a neighborhood you don’t want to walk alone in at night.”
On the other hand, when I rest my head on my pillow at night and I feel great about how the day went, I experience a wonderful night’s sleep. If I do wake up during the night, my mind is likely reflecting on something great that happened, or anticipating something I’m looking forward to. It’s not the hostile environment that comes with the inner critic.
This is all to say that finally, at my age of 49, I have realized that the way to feel great about myself and my day is to make sure to have The Magic Ingredients in my life.
And I’m not talking about the butterscotch, chocolate and peanut butter chips for the pancakes.
I’m talking about these Magic Ingredients:
1. I’ve had a meaningful connection with each of my sons. I’ve connected with each of them in a meaningful conversation and exchange, and had time with all of them, and there have been some hugs. I’ve made them a meal, and/or offered to help each of them in some way.
2. I’ve had a meaningful connection with Jerry. We’ve looked into each other’s eyes some, had some quality conversations, and also connected on things that are practical and necessary. There have been some hugs and affection. (A friend of mine who recently went with her husband to a couples workshop told me about “launching and landing” — the idea that couples should make sure to connect at the start and end of their days. I like that, and it’s similar to what I’m talking about when I say meaningful connection. There’s meaning and intention in your connection with someone; you’re not just acting like roommates passing each other or bumping into each other in the house while getting things done.)
3. I’ve called and touched base with my Mom and Dad.
4. There’s been a group text that provided connection for my two sisters, my brother, and I.
5. I’ve cuddled with and had some time with our dog, Buddy.
6. I’ve had some contact with a close friend or two or three, whether it was a text exchange, or email to arrange a coffee date, or a quick call.
7. I enjoyed some time outside, regardless of the weather, and walked some.
8. I’ve done some real work for Epic Life, whether it was coaching calls, or Epic Adventure planning, selling/marketing, or working on a keynote presentation.
9. I was kind to everyone I came in contact with.
10. I helped someone.
11. I was grateful. I prayed and was thankful.
12. I did something to improve my health and take care of myself.
13. I ate healthy foods. Depending on the day, I may have even fasted.
14. I’ve read something, or many things. Articles, pages from a book, and as a result, I was inspired.
15. I wrote an article, or worked on a future blog post.
When all of the above are in place, they feel like The Magic Ingredients for my life. They are the things that make my life extraordinary.
I know – the list is long. There are 15 Magic Ingredients. But none of them is that difficult to do, and they are all things that I value.
Most importantly, they are all things I can control. In other words, I have a choice about how I will feel by the end of the day. That’s powerful, and good to know. If I’ve made sure to add The Magic Ingredients to my life, then I will have been my best and done my best. I will go to bed feeling good, and without regrets.
What are your Magic Ingredients? I challenge you to come up with your own list. It’s valuable work to do.
By the way, I wrote a “Manifesto” for me and my life in 2011 that I still adhere to. I read it every single morning. Writing my Manifesto 6 years ago, and reading it daily has helped provide clarity for me about who and what are most important to me. It is only as a result of that work, that I know what my Magic Ingredients are, and can work to intentionally insert them into my day.
Please check back soon. I’m writing a blog post about my Manifesto, and will share it soon. You might want to write your own for 2018. 🙂
I met Jerry in Omaha on Aug. 9, 1990, at a rehearsal for a wedding in Omaha. It was the wedding of Jody and Kathy, two people who are dear to us, and Jerry was a groomsman and I was a bridesmaid. Jerry was talking loudly to the other groomsmen, almost as if he wanted to get my attention. Which he did. I noticed him as I was talking with the other bridesmaids.
Well, at weddings, love is in the air. And Jody and Kathy’s wedding was no exception. Love was in the air, and it was a fantastic celebration with many family and friends of Jody and Kathy in attendance. After the wedding, there was a reception and there was dancing. Jerry and I flirted with each other and danced all night.
The next day, I flew back to Missoula, Montana, where I was finishing up my journalism degree, and Jerry returned to Dayton, OH, where he was a physical therapy tech in the Air Force.
1990 was before cell phones and email. So we wrote letters to each other, and Jerry flew out to Missoula a few months later to celebrate Thanksgiving with me. We cooked a turkey – the first time for each of us – and we had a great holiday.
We continued writing letters to each other on an almost-daily basis. We have a trunk of our love letters from that long-distance early courtship. (They are among my most cherished possessions.) Our long-distance phone calls became more frequent, and our trips to see each over long weekends became more frequent, even if we couldn’t at the time afford them.
In the process of all of this, we fell in love.
We invested a lot of energy, letter writing and phone calls to discovering more about each other. It wasn’t too long and we found ourselves talking about the future as if it was something we would some day share. We shared with each other about our goals, our fears and our values.
One night, in November of 1991, we were on our weekly phone call – Jerry in Ohio and me in Montana –and Jerry told me, something to this effect: I know we’re going to be together some day. And I know you’re probably getting asked by all of your friends, “Are you and Jerry going to get married?” Or “When are you and Jerry going to get married?” And I just want you to know that while I hope we will get married someday, I’m not going to be proposing this Christmas.”
I wasn’t disappointed, because I knew our love was real, and that the proposal would likely come at some point. It wasn’t like I was “waiting” to get married. I was starting my career in a place I loved, and our relationship felt strong and wonderful.
That said, I appreciated the conversation, and that Jerry gave me this “heads up.” Still, it felt a little awkward, so I quickly responded with, “That’s no problem at all, honey. In fact, what I really need – if you’re interested – are some new cross trainers. (I was playing a lot of racquetball at that time, and I did in fact need a new pair of shoes, what called at the time “cross trainers.” For those of you reading this who are too young to know what cross trainers are, they are a type of sports shoe suitable for a range of sporting or exercise activities.)
“Ideally, they’d be Reebok,” I added.
For some reason, that Christmas, I didn’t come home to Wyoming. I think it was because I was working my first career job as an advertising sales consultant at The Missoulian newspaper and was working through the holiday, not to mention I had no vacation time left due to the various Fridays I had taken off to visit Jerry in Dayton, Ohio. And, it should be mentioned I really needed to earn income, given the phone bills and plane ticket bills that were stacking up on the personal credit card.
Jerry and I, when it all started… (We were “kids!” I was 23 and Jerry was 27)
Jerry was going to be flying into Missoula to spend the Christmas holiday with me, and he was due to arrive in the evening of Dec. 20.
Dec. 20, 1991, was a Friday, which meant I did as I usually did and went to Happy Hour at a favorite bar with some Missoulian coworkers. This particular bar had the best long island iced teas, and was famous for its “nachos bar.” We had a great time and I was excited and blabbing on and on to my coworkers about Jerry’s pending arrival and our upcoming time together. I indulged in only one beverage since I had to drive about 7 miles to the airport to meet and pick up Jerry.
I stopped at home first, where I had a message on my answering machine (do you remember what those were?!). It was a message from Jerry calling from his layover in the Denver airport, saying his flight would be delayed by an hour but that he couldn’t wait to see me. So I putzed around, trying to pass the time, feeling excited as I anticipated Jerry’s arrival.
Impatient, I headed to the airport early. In 1991, Missoula was about 35% smaller in population than it is now. The airport was quaint and not very big. I was one of the only ones at the airport and I was early, so I wandered around looking at the various house plants, and looking outside one of the windows every now and then.
At the time, my mode of transportation was a gray, Ford Taurus. And it burned oil. Or maybe it leaked oil. I have a great memory, but for some reason I can’t remember which problem the Taurus had. I just remember I was seemingly always adding oil to it “just to make sure” it had oil.
As I wandered around the airport, with nothing to do and time on my hands, it occurred to me to go add a quart of oil to the car while I had the time – and to ensure we’d make it back to my apartment with no vehicle problems. We didn’t want to squander any of our precious time on the side of the road with car problems fresh after being reunited. 🙂
As I was outside pouring oil into my car, I noticed a bearded man with a huge video camera over his shoulder. (People who are my age or older will remember that back in the early 1990s, a high quality video camera was big enough to hold a gigantic VHS tape, and then some, and it was so big that one had to “rest” it on your shoulder to bear its heavy weight and to keep it steady.) This man with the camera on his right shoulder seemed at first to be lurking a bit. It was as if he was trying to see my face as he walked by. I thought he was going to ask if I had car problems and if I needed help, but he just said “Hello,” and continued into the airport.
After I added the oil to the car, I did the same.
There was Christmas music playing throughout the airport and slowly, more people started arriving. Jerry’s flight, which had a brief stop to make in Bozeman, was due to arrive shortly. So I just waited and fidgeted. I was so excited to see Jerry! We were in love, and, well, the saying, distance makes the heart grow fonder, is absolutely true.
Those of us waiting for passengers that were on the flight, started to line up by the doors that would be the ones they would all came through after landing and disembarking the plane. I was first in line. Of course.
I waited in anticipation for those doors to open. And then they did. Passengers started coming through. There were many passengers. More than 100. The first few stopped as they approached me, and asked me, “Are you Shelli?” And I said, surprised and confused, “Yes.” At first, I thought the worst – that they were going to tell me Jerry didn’t get on the flight and that they were asked to pass a message along to me. I didn’t know why else they would ask me if I was Shelli.
But the crowd continued and each of them stopped when they got to me, and each stuck a Christmas bow to my body or head or handed me a bow, or patted me on the shoulder, saying, “Merry Christmas” or “Congratulations.” I was confused, and I was blushing from all of the attention.
Covered in bows and growing impatient to see my boyfriend, I just figured Jerry, who is romantic, wanted me to feel special, and maybe he thought having so many people wish me a Merry Christmas would make for an unforgettable experience. Mission accomplished. Now, where’s Jerry?! I thought to myself.
And then, “Ho Ho Ho.”
One more time, I heard a deep-voiced, loud “Ho Ho Ho.”
I looked up and – finally – I see Jerry, only he’s Santa Claus. Dressed in a Santa hat and coat, he rushed toward me and we embraced. Jerry hugged me so tightly that I was lifted off the ground. After he set me back on the ground, he looked at me, and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas!”
And then, next thing I know, Jerry’s on his knee, holding my hands and asking me to “open the present” that is taped to his chest. I peel off the wrapping paper from the front of his Santa coat, and there are the words: “Shelli: Will You Marry Me?”
I melt. I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was getting cross trainers.
Right after I said Yes.
I said, YES! Of course I’ll marry you! We had some brief happy tears, and a little more public display of affection, before we heard applause and whooping and hollering.
The passengers and flight attendants that Jerry had enlisted during the flight to help him with his proposal, as well as others who had gathered out of curiosity, congratulated us. And there was champagne! The flight attendants located a few bottles of champagne and poured several small servings to distribute to everyone. It was a fantastic celebration for us, and it was meaningful to share it with a bunch of wonderful strangers who had played a part in helping Jerry propose to me.
Oh, and this is all on video. Remember the bearded man with the huge video camera on his shoulder who seemed to be lurking? That was a guy also named Jerry, who Jerry had hired to capture the whole event. The moment is recorded! (Unfortunately it’s on VHS, but I’m getting it transferred to digital as I write this.)
Jerry and I celebrated 25 years of marriage this past August. We have three sons – Wolf, 17, Hayden, 15, and Fin, 10, who are our greatest blessings. This memory of when Jerry asked me to be his wife, and when I said Yes, is a significant one because, in fact, I would not have this great life, or our sons, if not for Jerry choosing me and asking me to marry him on this day 26 years ago.
I feel compelled to mention here that just because Jerry and I are still deeply in love and celebrated our 25th anniversary doesn’t mean our marriage hasn’t been at times challenging or that it’s all bliss all the time. That would be lying. We have done a lot of work, and growing, and overcoming of struggles, to get to where we’re at.
This year, to commemorate our 25th anniversary we embarked on a 25-mile day hike that included climbing a (previously) unnamed mountain that is dear to us. That 25-mile epic journey was similar to the 25-year epic journey that has been our marriage. It was 10.5 miles of hiking before we even got to the part where would start climbing our mountain. At times, the terrain was loose and felt uncertain. The adventure had many sections that were just sheer work. At a couple of points, clouds came in quickly and we grew concerned, causing us to check in with each other and make sure we were in agreement on continuing or playing it safe. At times we wondered if we were up to the task. We got tired often, demotivated at times, and every now and again, impatient with one another. There were times when I was strong and Jerry wasn’t, and the other way around. There was also a lot fun, great conversations, laughing, inspirations, amazing views, and an epic celebration, complete with champagne, on the mountain’s summit. Like I said, our 25-mile day hike and mountain climb was a perfect metaphor for our 25 years of marriage. It was the best kind of celebration. Hard-earned and fulfilling.
I’m so glad I didn’t get cross trainers. 🙂
People like Warren Buffett and Sheryl Sandberg have referred to the choosing of a partner in life as being the most important decision one will make in his/her life. I couldn’t agree more.
A couple of my closest friends get a little irritated when I refer to Jerry as my best half. Not because they think he’s not amazing, but because they are my close friends and they don’t want me to sell myself short. That’s kind of them, and I love them dearly for it. But I’m sorry, friends. Jerry is my best half. Most, if not all of my successes in the last 25 years would not have been possible without the unconditional love and support that Jerry provides for me. I wouldn’t take the chances that I take with my business and work without his belief and love and support. It’s that simple. And we wouldn’t be living this epic life if Jerry weren’t such a fantastic “trooper” and so open to an adventurous life.
Thank you with all of my heart for reading this, and for walking with me down this memory’s lane.
I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and happy new year!
THEN. Jerry and I, 26 years ago. (This is our “engagement photo”.)
NOW. Jerry and I, with our three sons, during a spring break adventure last April.
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:
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!
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:
“Someone who does not run toward the allure of love, walks a road where nothing lives.” –Rumi
File this post under #sappy. What can I say, I’m a lover… On the upside, it’s a short blog post, with more photos than words.
I hike. A lot.
One of the reasons I hike is to clear my head and to be inspired by scenery, and whatever nature provides during a given hike. It could be a sunrise or sunset, or a “murmuration” of Bohemian waxwings rising above the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie River. It could be an elk, deer or moose sighting, or an incredible mountain view. Or wildflowers.
Often the inspiration comes in the form of a heart. I see so many hearts when hiking. Mostly I discover heart-shaped rocks, but I’ve seen hearts shaped by dirt, snow, a setting sun, a leaf, a cactus, and even manure! (See photo included with this post for proof of the latter!)
I’ve spotted heart shapes during hikes and walks in my Wind River Mountains, in the Tetons, in California, the Hoh Forest, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Toronto, and even in Portugal, Switzerland and Italy during our 30-day Epic Europe trip last summer.
I’ve found that I don’t have to be actively looking for hearts to see them. I only have to be open and to be paying attention, and so often, I’m blessed by a heart here or there.
Still, looking for love – for hearts – on the trail is a fun way to meditate during a walk or a hike, and I highly recommend it. Why not look for a heart, which is the symbol for love, and which is defined as: The center of a person’s thoughts and emotions, especially love or compassion; courage or enthusiasm; the central or innermost part of something; the vital part or essence. Or, as a verb: to like very much; to love.
In Florence, Italy, last summer.
On a family hike in Switzerland last summer.
Two for one on a trail in Ojai, CA, recently.
I looked up during a walk as the sun was setting and was blessed by this heart in the sky.
In Malibu, CA.
A manure heart I discovered while walking circles at the Rodeo Grounds.
Cactus heart on the Mugu Peak trail, in CA.
On the Shoshone Lake hike last November.
Double blessing – a heart and a sunset at the same time!
Dirt shaped heart.
On my descent of Fremont Peak last August.
A heart in a rock.
My son, Hayden, posing next to a rock that someone else found and propped up for all hikers to enjoy.