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.
The summer before I entered 3rd grade, we moved from town, “to the country.” I was excited. We had 10 acres and a big yard. I spent hours playing in the red rock cliffs and exploring the land around our home. Come to think of it, that move to the country likely deserves a lot of credit for my love of nature and its role in my life and work.
My brother, Michael, wasn’t born yet, so at the time, it was just my sisters, Alicia and Amber, and I. Our house in the country was located exactly 2.9 miles from town. We all had different interests, which meant my Mom spent a great deal of time driving us to and from our various activities. Now, as a parent of three children, I really appreciate all of the time sacrificed by my mom so we could participate in our activities.
One year for her birthday, my Dad surprised my mom with a red 1966 Thunderbird. Even though my Dad was/is the car enthusiast, my Mom loved that Thunderbird. It was a beauty!
A 1966 Thunderbird, just like the one my Mom drove us in to and from our activities.
After swim practice one evening, my mom was driving us three girls home. It was dark, and we were in the red Thunderbird. My mom knew this road well by now, and, as a result, we made the trip to and from home in short order! We were zooming along, sliding on the car seat in the back from side to side as she took the corners on the winding road, and suddenly, the headlights went out.
I’ll never forget it. We were cruising around “killer corner” and suddenly, nothing. Total darkness. Talk about Epic, and not in a good way… Of course this all happened in seconds, but it felt like an eternity as I recall it now and play it back in my mind. I remember our first instinct was to try to see. We tried harder to see the road and to get our bearings as we tried coaching my mom through the darkness. Probably just seconds later, but later all the same, it occurred to us to use the brakes, slow down and try to pull the car over. I know – go ahead and say it – Duh!
Note: I recently asked both of my sisters about this to make sure it wasn’t just me remembering it this way. They remembered it the same way. And for the record, while none of us is a rocket scientist or brain surgeon, I assure you we have brains and know how to use them. 🙂
I’ve thought a lot lately about this trip home in the red Thunderbird, traveling pretty fast when the headlights suddenly went out. It is a mystery and a marvel to me that when that happened, the first instinct was not to use the brakes and stop the car, but rather to try harder to see what was no longer visible.
This is pretty much what happens when our life feels out of control, or when something really serious happens that was not expected. Our tendency is to try harder to deal with it while proceeding rather than to pause and to “pull the car over.”
It’s instinctual survival, and there’s not a lot of thinking going on. Things are moving and coming at me quickly, and I’m adjusting on the fly, ducking and dodging but continuing to move nonetheless. Unconsciously saying Yes to everything. Not being mindful because I’m not slowing down long enough to pause and to think.
For many years, it never occurred to me to apply the brakes or even to slow down, or that saying No was an option. I would just react, over and over and over again in a given day, or in a given hour.
Thankfully, I’m much wiser now. Not always, but most of the time, I respond rather than react. I’ve learned, personally, and by witnessing numerous conscious, mindful people, that responding and reacting are two different things. The first is thoughtful, the second is not.
I would say responding is similar to applying the brakes. Not suddenly but gradually enough to be safe and to get an opportunity to size up the situation. Whereas reacting is proceeding blindly at a too-high rate of speed while trying to figure things out in the process and hoping for the best. (Good luck with that!)
Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of one of my most influential reads, Man’s Search for Meaning, writes, Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.
The challenge for many of us is learning how to create that space – that pause that allows us to thoughtfully respond rather than react.
The answer, in my humble opinion and experience, is to be more mindful. Although I had meditated off and on since my early 20s – for more than 25 years – it wasn’t until February of 2013 that I started practicing mindfulness on a regular basis. For the last several years I’ve included a brief mindfulness practice every single weekday, in the morning, before my day officially gets under way.
And what a difference it has made. It has been nothing less than a game changer. Before practicing mindfulness regularly, I didn’t have that space that Frankl referenced. Especially when I needed it most, during times of stress and overwhelm. Now I am able to create it.
The space and pause I am now able to create during times of overwhelm is not long-lasting; it’s fleeting, even. But it’s long enough to be thoughtful in determining how to proceed. For example, it’s long enough to take a deep breath and think about my words before flying off the handle at my husband or sons. It’s long enough to help me course-correct when I find myself reaching for the peanut butter jar. It’s long enough for me to figure out how I want to respond when a United Airlines agent tells me my flight is overbooked and I may not have a seat on the flight I reserved. It’s long enough to prevent me from completely unwrapping a Dove dark chocolate and popping it my mouth. It’s long enough to not hit Send on that email, or Post on that Facebook post that I’m not certain I want to share with the world. It’s long enough to help me notice if I haven’t been in touch with someone who matters to me. It’s long enough for me to choose how to respond. I don’t always make the wise decision, but most of the time, I get a brief space, during which I choose how to respond.
The Universe is funny. Being mindful helps me create a pause that most of the time is just long enough to unwrap my Dove dark chocolate… and decide not to eat it. (This extra reminder in the form of a message, certainly didn’t hurt, either.)
For starting a mindfulness practice, I have many tools, but my favorite is Headspace, an app I highly recommend to friends and all of the leaders I coach and work with. (You can sign up for a free, 10-day trial) Headspace founder Andy Puddicomb has a great Ted Talk. Check it out, and then download the app if you haven’t already. It’s a very simple, guided mindfulness practice, and comes bundled with packets of sessions in categories such as Health, Relationships, etc. I especially like the Health/Anxiety pack, but they are all worthwhile, and I recommend starting with the basic, 10-day, 10-minute practice.
Being mindful not only helps us personally, but it helps those around us, who are affected by our behaviors. Freaking out is not leadership. I don’t know about you but I prefer not to follow people who are freaking out, but rather those who are composed and thoughtful. I’m a Certified Wilderness First Responder and an adventure guide. If someone has an accident during our expedition, even if life and death, it would not be good to freak out or react. Even with time being of the essence – especially with time being of the essence – taking a brief pause to thoughtfully consider how best to proceed is critical.
Mindfulness is hard, but mostly because we make it so.
Recently, at a workshop I attended, a woman in her 20s stood up and asked about Mindfulness. She said it was difficult because her mind wouldn’t be still; it was full of chatter. Frustrated, she reported that her mind wandered constantly. I didn’t say anything because I had taken a vow of Silence, but I wanted to say this: If your mind is wandering, that’s normal. Sitting still in Silence hardly means our mind is quiet. And most of us are challenged by thoughts, and lots of them, and especially when we slow down long enough to listen to all that’s going on in our head. But in fact, this is what makes it a great practice. Mindfulness is practicing noticing our thoughts and redirecting our attention (usually to our breath). So the more your mind wanders during mindfulness practice, the more practice you’re getting at redirecting your attention.
I have learned that the easiest way way to learn how to pause before proceeding, how to be mindful, is simply to notice. For those of you who have a hard time sticking to goals and regular practices, Ellen Langer, often considered “The Mother of Mindfulness,” offers two words of instruction for being more mindful: “Pay attention.”
So if you’re not up for 10 minutes of Headspace, try this: Sit for 5 minutes a day without your phone or music, etc., and simply notice. Notice your thoughts, the sounds around you, how you’re feeling, the sound and sensation of your breathing, etc. No pressure – just sit and notice. This is a great start to becoming more mindful and responsive, and less reactive. (By the way, the stress brought on by the ways we react during times of stress is often even worse than the initial stress that generated our reaction. Not to mention the stress our reactions cause others.)
The next time you feel like you’re on a winding road, in the dark, with no headlights – like you’re out of control – take a deep breath, and pull the car over.
Learning how to do this will change your life.
And, finally, thank you so much for pausing to read my blog. I really appreciate it!
10% Happier (This is a fantastic book, and a compelling case for having a Mindfulness practice)
I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, and adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.
Hi. My name is Shelli Johnson, and I love my iPhone and Facebooktoo much.
Sometimes I long for a “bag phone.” Do you remember those? I think they came out in 1993, and they worked terribly. They were not compact and did not have a beautiful design. They were so big and bulky that they took up almost the entire front passenger seat of the car, and were not very reliable. On a good day, you might be able to successfully make a phone call. Having one made you feel like you had a method of communication in case of an emergency, but that was the extent of a bag phone’s value.
I just returned from a Byron Katie workshop and Silent Retreat. For 5 days in Ojai, CA, I didn’t say a single word, despite being amidst 115 other people and living in a community. As part of the Silence, I had no use of my iPhone or social media, and had no contact with family or friends. (I also semi-fasted, and was in a “hungry” state.)
While I was very eager to see Byron Katie in action, and to learn from her, and from my experience in Silence, it was the “no connectivity to devices” that I was most yearning for.
Unlike the bag phones of yesterday, today’s “smartphones” are beautifully-designed devices that not only work in emergencies, but provide all of my social networking, camera, audio books, music, shopping, level of physical activity, navigation, movies, not to mention a number of ways to communicate with people all over the world, with ease and immediacy.
Before I get to the shortcomings, which, by the way, are my shortcomings, not the iPhone’s or Facebook’s, I want to emphasize all there is to love about my iPhone and Facebook. (Please bear with me and continue reading; I promise I’ve tried to make it worth your while, and you’ll even get to read about a “covered wagon holdup.”)
Thanks to Facebook, I can keep in touch with my sisters, brother, parents, my Grandma, aunts, in-laws, uncles and cousins. I have some amazing friends that I would not have come to meet without Facebook. And, I have enriched many of my existing friendships. You’re a good friend on Facebook the same way you’re a good friend in real life. You do not only talk (post). You are interested in your friends’ lives so you listen and take interest in what they share, too. Being a good friend takes time and effort, and friendships are among my life’s greatest of blessings. Most of my relatives, friends, and clients are not local, yet I can keep in touch with all of them regardless of where they live. I can share in their celebrations and see photos from their lives. I can learn about the things that interest or matter to them, and find out if they’re suffering or in need of help or support.
Word of mouth has always been the most valuable form of marketing, and social media is word of mouth on steroids.I have “met” many coaching, Epic Adventure, and keynote presenting clients thanks to Facebook. Many – most – of my Epic Women, and other adventure clients have discovered me by way of Facebook. I am blessed by these meaningful relationships, and the times we’ve shared on the trail. I wouldn’t have these relationships without Facebook.
I love that Facebook tells me when my friends are having birthdays. I love being introduced to books, movies, blog posts, podcasts, articles, music, poetry, comedians, bacon recipes, travel destinations and other things that inspire me that I would not have been made aware of had it not been for my friends on Facebook.
I love sharing. This is just part of who I am. From 1994-2008, when I was operating Yellowstone Journal and YellowstonePark.com, I used to write 100,000 words of original content every year, including stories about wolves, grizzly bears, geysers in Yellowstone, and about various adventures throughout the greater Yellowstone region. And while I loved reporting on and writing the stories, I loved sharing them even more. I’ve written and published 300 posts on my adventure blog because I love writing, and I love sharing. I’m a voracious reader, so I love sharing about books or anything that inspires me. Facebook, with just a click of a button, allows me a way to share all of these things, and more, with my friends, and their friends, and with the world.
My iPhone has a great camera and makes it easy for me to capture a great photo of a special moment, and with just a click, I can upload it to Facebook for sharing and “keeping.” Speaking of keeping, I have used Facebook as our family’s “life streaming” record and timeline since 2009. I value photos and memory-making moments. I love that a photo stops time and captures a moment. I can look back at a photo, and be transported back to that very moment and remember things about it that I otherwise wouldn’t remember if not for the photo. For me, these photos and videos are priceless. All of the major events and celebrations in my family’s life have been posted, and the result is we have these memories and milestones on record in a rich and chronological format that I wouldn’t have without Facebook.
I love my iPhone because I can be reliably reached by my family and friends, or in case of an emergency. I love the connection it enables with family and friends. Texting during travel to notify someone you’ve safely arrived to your destination, to line up a cab, check flights, etc. makes our iPhone invaluable. I experience great joy when I get texts and meaningful notes and “pings” from people who mean a lot to me. These short, unexpected messages can make my day. I love that my iPhone is a camera and a way for me to listen to music, audiobooks and podcasts. I love that my iPhone lets me share most of my stuff with family, friends, and Facebook.
It is also a fact that without the wonders of technology, I would not have the blessed life that I live today. It is not a stretch to say this. We started our first company, Yellowstone Journal Corporation, in 1994. We were operating out on the Frontier of Wyoming and with limited financial resources. It was a struggle to say the least. But then the internet arrived and we developed our first website, YellowstonePark.com, in 1995, and we could suddenly market Yellowstone’s wonders to, literally, the world. For the next 14 years we embraced the technology, innovating and expanding the company, before selling it in 2008 to Active Interest Media. Without technology, that story would have been a shorter and less successful one, and almost certainly would not have had that great ending, which enabled me to reinvent myself and create Epic Life in 2011. Without technology, I would not be able to do the work I do while living where I do. So technology is not the bad guy. Hardly.
The issue is I love Facebook and my iPhone too much. I already have quite a few boundaries in place. (I don’t have my cell phone when in the kitchen or at the table for dinner, anytime I’m with my family (unless taking photos of them, which can be excessive and I’m working on this), in the bedroom, during lunch or coffee dates, before kids are off to school, etc.) Still, I feel too tethered. For better or worse, I am self aware, and I know that I’m too tethered. It is a reality that I’m looking down, at my iPhone, too often, and that, as a result, I’m often missing out on what’s happening in the present moment. David Brooks, in a conversation with Krista Tippett and E. J. Dionne, mentioned the idea of “disordered loves.” That describes my relationship with my iPhone and Facebook – it’s a love, but it feels out of order…
The current (March 2017) edition of Prevention magazine includes a feature article about me, and it is about a depressive slump I experienced from 2006-2009, and how, among other things, I used hiking to get myself out of it. Part of that slump was the result of being too tethered to my devices when my sons were younger. Back then, my tethered-ness was mostly due to work demands. The point is, I know firsthand that tethered-ness to technology is a slippery slope for me, and I’m sensing trouble.
Management guru Peter Drucker once said something that I’m going to paraphrase: Tell me what your values are, and I might believe you. But show me your calendar (and use of time) and I’ll tell you what you really value. This resonates. I say I value experience and time with family and loved ones, first and foremost, more than my technology, but the truth is I feel my actions are often not measuring up, and it can be confusing since it’s often family and friends the devices are connecting me to.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one with a problem. Just last year (2016), the business consultancy, Deloitte, found that Americans are looking at their phones more than 8 billion times a day. I think this works out to be a staggering, 150 times/day, on average. And, it’s not to answer a call or talk on the phone because research indicates that we only use our cell phones as phones about 10% of the time. The majority of our time on the phone is using social media, texting, watching videos, playing games, looking stuff up, Netflix binging, etc. Some 67% of Americans admit to checking their status updates in the middle of the night, during sex, and before attending to basic biological needs, like going to the bathroom, sleeping, or eating breakfast. (For the record, as tethered as I am, I am, thankfully, not in this 67%.)
I recently read a fantastic book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALS, and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing The Way We Live and Work. The book is not about overusing Facebook. It’s about a revolution. Over the past decade, Silicon Valley executives like Eric Schmidt and Elon Musk, Special Operators like the Navy SEALs and the Green Berets, and maverick scientists like Sasha Shulgin and Amy Cuddy have turned everything we thought we knew about high performance upside down. Instead of grit, better habits, or 10,000 hours, these trailblazers have found a surprising short cut. They’re harnessing rare and controversial states of consciousness to solve critical challenges and outperform the competition. What does this have to do with loving the iPhone and Facebook too much, you ask? That is a great question and the answer is, Nothing. 🙂
However, there is an excerpt in it that is very relevant to this post. The book’s authors, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, of the Flow Genome Project, report that the reason online distractions, particularly social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), are so sticky is because effectively they prime our brains for reward, mainly the feel-good neurochemical, dopamine. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky calls this priming “the magic of Maybe.” According to Kotler and Wheal: When we check our email or Facebook or Twitter and sometimes we find a response, and sometimes we don’t, the next time a friend connects, Sapolsky discovered that we enjoy a 400% spike in dopamine. Excuse my language, but holy crap. When we get a contact or like or love from a friend we enjoy a 400% spike/”reward” that is a rush of happiness and contentment. Perhaps it’s no wonder that social media and related distractions lead to tethered-ness that can eventually become an addiction. This research also raises the question: What is the emotional experience/cost when you get no response(s)?
And here we are back to my main reason for this long-form blog post: I am concerned that my tethered-ness, if I don’t make some changes, could turn into an addiction. Whew. I said it.
I arrived to Ojai, CA, checked into the Silent Retreat, and then eagerly addressed the powering off of my iPhone. (Note: Before powering off the iPhone, I did two significant things: First, I deleted my Facebook app, which was huge, since that’s one of the reasons my iPhone is so valuable to me and why I’m so tethered – the ease with which I can check in with my network of friends, and post and share stuff with them – and second, I turned off “Notifications” for my numerous apps. That way when I did “re-enter” and power on the device, I wouldn’t be immediately alerted, and sucked into the red circle with the probably-huge number of pending notifications on particular apps on my home screen.) Then, I powered off my iPhone, and tucked it deep into my suitcase, where I would not see it for 5 days.
As I did this, it felt like “help is on the way.” The last time I felt such important relief was when I went to a doctor in 2006, and said for the first time, out loud, that I was feeling depressed, and sinking deeper and deeper, and that I needed help. I left with a antidepressant prescription in my pocket and the feeling that help was on the way. I felt this relief not from the antidepressant prescription but rather from the fact that I had come clean – I had been honest with someone about my state. That’s sort of how I feel about my tethered-ness to my iPhone. To be clear, no one in my life is complaining about my iPhone and Facebook use. But I feel as if it’s becoming a problem. During the aforementioned depressive slump that lasted from 2006-2009, I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. It wasn’t a problem, but it could sure have become one. That’s how I am with my tethered-ness to my iPhone right now. I want to make some changes.
The 5-day “detox” would be a good start.
For the record, this wasn’t the first time I went technology-free. Two years ago, our family did an experiment where, for 7 days, we didn’t use any technology (no phones, television, computer –- no screens of any kind). Also, when I lead Epic Life adventures in the wilderness, or when I’m on a personal wilderness trip, they are “unplugged” experiences, and I’m disconnected from my devices. So I knew what it was like to be disconnected, and last week, in Ojai, CA, I was yearning for it.
Here’s what I noticed, gained and/or missed with no connectivity to my iPhone or Facebook:
There was a full moon on the first day of my no technology. I went to Meditation Mount, above Ojai, to meditate and take in both the sunset, and the full moon, which was rising over the mountains right as the sun was setting behind different mountains. I found comfort in knowing that I was looking at the same moon as my family and friends, and felt “connected” to them in a particularly meaningful way.
Full moon rising, at Meditation Mount, in Ojai, CA.
I love to capture photos of things that I see that are pretty, inspiring, peculiar or funny. Not having my iPhone –and being limited to my “regular” camera that has no connectivity or “sharing” ability – freed me up from quite a bit of capturing (and often sharing to Facebook or Instagram) that I would normally have done. I did take some photos of things I couldn’t resist capturing, but not very many, and as a result of my limited camera use, I think I actually saw more.
This sunrise moved me to tears. It marked the start of my Silence.
I thought about my family and friends even more than I normally would. Sure, it probably didn’t hurt that I was in Silence, and meditating and in contemplation often, but I found that without my tethered-ness to my iPhone and the resulting lack of “connection” to my loved ones, I thought about them more frequently than when I have in my pocket quick and easy potential connectivity to them.
I slept better. This could have had to do with the absence of Jerry’s snoring (haha), but I think it had more to do with my state of mind. My life was much simpler. Looking at our devices’ screens, and the blue light they emit, affects the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. This is bad news because melatonin is what signals to the body that we’re ready for sleep. Without use of technology, I fell to sleep more easily, and reached deeper sleep. I know I slept well because each night I very obviously reached the dream sleep stage. I had vivid dreams, including one where I was driving a covered wagon and got “held up” in front of the Farmer and the Cook shop and restaurant by a cowboy (someone I’d see in my home state of Wyoming), who wanted to take one of my wagon wheels. I was stressed out not being able to talk to him (due to the vow of Silence) so I was motioning with my finger, zipping it across my lips, etc., and he was so confused. The saga went on seemingly forever, before he just took one of my wheels and all I could do was use hand signals and frantically wave my arms to passersby trying to communicate the hold up/crime that had just occurred. Stressful during it, but hilarious upon waking up from it.
Saw these hearts embedded in the trail on one of my morning hikes.
Another night I dreamt I wore my flannel pajamas to the workshop and couldn’t apologize for them and no one could say anything to me or tease me because of the Silence. A third dream I had was that I ran into a family from my hometown of Lander, WY, at the local market, and couldn’t talk to them and they were so confused that I wouldn’t respond to their questions, act exuberant, etc. The dream was not stressful, but humorous!
During the five days, the whites of my eyes were more white than I can ever remember them. Just that I’m noting the white of my eyes is noteworthy. It’s not like I’m always checking out how white the whites of my eyes are. I don’t even notice them normally. But they were noticeably white, clear of any bloodshot. I think this was because I didn’t look at any screens at all. I did not read any books – normally I read several times a day. Perhaps with the reduced eye strain from not reading and looking at screens made my eyes less red. Also, I had my eyes closed a lot as I spent a lot of time sitting in Silence, at the retreat, and during the day, and on my own time during the evenings and early mornings. So maybe the increased “resting time” of my eyes also helped.
I felt more vulnerable during my hikes. On 4 days, I got up and left to go hiking when it was still dark. I do this so that I can be on the trail when the sun rises. Normally I have a cell phone or my InReach just in case of an emergency. Jerry, or someone, always knows my whereabouts and my estimated schedule. Without my iPhone or InReach, I was hiking in an unfamiliar place, before first light and no one knew where I was or what I was doing. What this meant is I was more aware of people and my surroundings than normal. I was more vigilant.
I wanted to look up information (terms or words or people that were referenced in the workshop), and couldn’t use my iPhone to search Google or ask Siri for the quick answer or definition. (So, I wrote a list of things to look up later when I could. #oldschool)
I wanted to check the weather, and couldn’t. (I know, Woe is me… I realize as I write this these are such First World problems.)
I wondered about the news, but then quickly felt relief at my not having any of it.
Without my iPhone or the internet available, I felt more free to focus on one thing at a time, and, without my usual devices, it wasn’t nearly as difficult for me to do so. One of my three words for 2017 is One. I want to do one thing at a time. If I’m eating, I’m eating (not reading and eating). If I’m talking to Jerry or the boys, I’m only doing that; I’m not also on my laptop. If I’m folding laundry, I’m only folding laundry. The reason this is important to me is I want to do more deep and focused work, such as writing. I was incredibly focused during these five days with no technology or connectivity to my networks.
I thought of each of my coaching clients. Normally I check in on a pretty regular basis, usually via text, Facebook message or email. I was unable to do that and missed being able to offer my support, although I had informed them in advance of my temporary unavailability.
Despite that the average American adult reaches for his/her phone 150 times a day, and certainly I’m probably up there with the best of these users, I didn’t catch myself reaching, or looking for my iPhone. Normally I’m always checking my purse or my pocket for it when getting out of the car or leaving the house, etc. But I did this not once during the last five days. (This is encouraging for me because it suggests that if it’s out of sight, I won’t necessarily be looking for it to check it.)
Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out in her important book, Reclaiming Conversation, that if we have our cell phone on the table, or anywhere in sight, even if it’s powered off, the phone’s presence has a negative effect on the quality and depth of the conversation that will occur with the people who are together. So, you may want to keep your phone tucked away in your purse or briefcase, or leave it in the car when you go to a dinner party, or a business luncheon, at a round table, etc. – unless you want to limit the quality and depth of conversation to small talk and surface chatter.
Turkle’s books, including Reclaiming Conversation and Alone Together, ought to serve as cautionary tales. Turkle writes, “When children grow up with time alone with their thoughts, they feel a certain ground under their feet. Their imaginations bring them comfort. If children always have something outside of themselves to respond to, they don’t build up this resource. So it is not surprising that today’s young people become anxious if they are alone without a device. They are likely to say they are bored. From the youngest ages they have been diverted by structured play and the shiny objects of digital culture.”
Without my iPhone and connectivity, I wasn’t looking for that occasional and regular hit of dopamine/good vibes I get when I post something on Facebook and get likes and loves, and/or positive comments. As social animals, our human nature is to look to others for approval. I’ve worked hard to get to a place in my life where I don’t expend a lot of energy worrying about what others think. However, I am human, and networks like Facebook, with its acknowledgement mechanisms (likes and loves, etc.) makes it easy to get caught up in the social approval psychology – even if offline you do pretty well to not be concerned with it.
Joe Hollier is coming out with a product called the Light Phone, “your phone away from phone.” I will be glad to have one. The phone is a way to give people temporary breaks from their smart phones yet still enable particular people to reach you via phone call. It is brilliant. And ironic that some of us need technology’s help to disconnect from it. I remember Arianna Huffington suggesting this would be the case back in 2007 when we were at the Webby Awards to win an honor for YellowstonePark.com, and during her keynote she said as much. That was almost 10 years ago, and I remember not really believing what she predicted. But she was right. In addition to the Light Phone, there are numerous apps that lock you out of connectivity (Freedom app) for periods of time, apps (Moment) to measure how many times you reach for your phone, and how much time you’re spending looking at its screen, etc.
As Light Phone’s manifesto so aptly suggests, “Our phones have become our nervous habit, our invisible crutch. We love their illusion of productivity and stimulation that is socially acceptable to abuse. Multitasking is a myth, it is addictive and exhausting. It is glorified procrastination. When we consume so fast, there is no way for us to appreciate anything, and appreciation gives our lives meaning and purpose.” It goes further to suggest that we are so tethered to our iPhones that in today’s times, if you’re in a public place and you’re not staring down at your screen, but rather looking around – and God forbid – at people, some may think you’re a weirdo.
There were many times like this during my 5 days of Silence – while standing in line at a busy restaurant, or at a grocery store – and it was very noticeable that I didn’t have my iPhone to bail me out of the “just waiting” in line without something to occupy my attention. I didn’t mind so much as I love to connect with people and love opportunities for serendipity to happen, which are more likely to happen if not looking down at your phone screen, but most people who are tethered to their devices go a little crazy without them in these social situations when so many others are looking down at their phones.
I remember what artist Amanda Palmer shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss about eye contact, and how powerful it is to look at someone, and for the other person to be seen. “I think eye contact is very hard for a lot of us because it’s so threatening. And the more disconnected we are and the more time we spend looking into our devices and barely looking into each other, the more threatening it is to keep and hold somebody’s gaze. But God, is it powerful. Looking someone in the eye … I often feel it’s the antidote for what is ailing us.” She added, “We do not connect with each other at nearly the level we could, and though we live in close proximity, and though we sit on the subway with each other, and though we have a wide variety of things connecting us, a lot of us are really alone.” I couldn’t say it better, and it is tethered-ness to our devices that is mostly to blame for this lost opportunity for meaningful human connection.
I wrote a lot. Thanks to an earlier challenge, I have been writing daily since Jan. 18. With no devices and contact with others, I “found” a lot more time, and was even more inspired to write. Josh Waitzkin, an American chess player, martial arts competitor, and author of a book I highly recommend, called The Art of Learning, is a proponent of distraction-free time – something he calls empty space. One way he limits distractions is by not using social media and seldom using email. “I cultivate empty space as a way of life for the creative process,” he explains. With no tethered-ness to devices, I had a bounty of empty space, and I felt inspired and imaginative. I filled more than one journal, and something about the content being hand-written makes it feel more authentic. Unlike our online posts, it is “un-edited,” and the writing is a “first take.”
I did feel like I had more time. Take away the iPhone, music, books and entertainment, not to mention talking or engaging in any interactions with others, and you have a lot more time, and energy, available. For many, I’m sure a digital detox like mine would result in significantly increased productivity. While I have no problems with being productive, I do want longer periods of uninterrupted time for purposes of doing deep, more focused work. Being completely disconnected from my devices and all forms of communication and entertainment provided more time.
As adults we often say, “Where did the time go?” We always wish for the time to slow down. I’ve found the way to do it: Reduce distractions. Hours stretched during my five days. While young people may not find this attractive, for me, and most adults I know, we’re willing to try anything if it promises time will (at least seemingly) slow down.
I missed my husband’s texts wishing me a great day, which he sends me every morning on weekdays.
I missed contact with Jerry and the boys each evening, and hearing how their days went. I missed being able to wish Hayden good luck at his basketball game that was Saturday, and Wolf good luck at his ski meet, which was Friday and Saturday. (Note: I was surprised and so touched when I returned to my AirBnB – an enchanting guesthouse on an organic farm – to find a bouquet of flowers and a card from Jerry and the boys.)
I also missed the random texts I get from Wolf or Hayden when they text to ask me what’s for dinner, or to ask for a ride home from school or practice. I was lucky to find that the boys and Jerry had each written me notes on the pages at the back of my journal, so I read those every day, and that was a meaningful gesture! I do love hand-written notes and letters, and technology has led to a reduction in this (lost) art.
A note from my youngest son in the back of my journal. (He always calls me “Little Mommy,” and I always call him “Big Fin.”)
I missed random texting to/from friends, and to/from my parents and siblings.
I missed having navigation – and this also made me realize how lazy we have become as a result of it. Without Google Maps’ voice guiding me or telling me where to turn, how far to go before reaching my destination, etc., I had to pay attention to street signs and landmarks to find and remember my way. And, as if that wasn’t challenging enough for me, I had to use a (gasp) paper map handout to find my way to local trailheads. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that!
I missed listening to music. Not often, but on a few occasions, when I was writing, or driving to/from from my AirBnB to the workshop each day. I missed it for the energy it provides and the contemplations that particular music inspires in me. But I also came to realize that often I listen to music to perhaps “hide” from some of my thoughts, or to escape from some of the thoughts I’m having that I am not ready to confront, or that are uncomfortable. It was interesting to realize that listening to music can be a crutch for me sometimes. I will be more intentional when I listen to it now.
Interestingly, I wrote many of these insights during the last night of my technology ban. Just thinking about re-connecting to my iPhone and Facebook caused me some anxiety. I could actually feel tension in my shoulders and neck as I thought about it. I really wanted to be intentional about how I “re-entered” with my connectivity. I didn’t want to go from nothing to blowing it wide open again so suddenly. I was certain about not wanting to be as tethered to it as I was before the Silent retreat experience.
Upon re-entry, when I did log in to Facebook on my laptop, there were 82 notifications awaiting my attention.
It’s been almost two weeks since I re-connected with my iPhone and Facebook. I’m happy to report that I’m doing better. Not having the Facebook app on my iPhone has helped me limit the amount of time I’m on Facebook, and has made me more intentional (and “miserly”) about what I capture to eventually share. I am trying out a new strategy that involves batching and boundaries, and I feel hopeful!
Two things I want to close with that are related, and I am inspired to share with you…
When at LAX, waiting for my flight, and return to the Frontier of Wyoming, I had an hour to kill so I walked about 6,000 steps (thanks FitBit app) around the terminal. As I walked, I paid close attention to all of the people. I would about 8 or 9 out of 10 people, had cell phones and were looking down at their screens. (I did have a brainstorm during this observation: Think about how much fun it might be for you and your travel companion(s) to disperse in the airport and not be able to use your phone, and then try to find each other. Sort of like looking for Easter eggs only looking for travel partners in an airport without the use of cell phones)
Another idea: If you want to be different – to be a nonconformist – dare to not carry your phone around. You will definitely stand out!
The last thing I want to share is something wonderful and magical – and why it will be hard to convince myself ever to completely quit Facebook and social media.
Last Tuesday, on my drive from Ojai to Los Angeles, I stopped on the Pacific Crest Highway, to do a quick hike up to the top of Mugu Peak. At about 10:45am, right after starting, I asked a woman, who was coming down the trail, which trail I was on, and how to get to Mugu Peak. She was friendly and helpful, and told me about the two trails I could choose from, and she gave me approximate distances for each. That was it, no other information was exchanged, and no discussion ensued, and we were off in our opposite directions.
Then, I posted a photo the following Friday on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) of the U.S. flag waving on the summit of Mugu Peak. Soon after, I received a comment on the photo from someone who indicated she was there about the same time that day because she recognized the misty, dramatic clouds that were obscuring the mountain in the background of the flag. I then responded and showed her another photo I had posted from the same hike of the orange poppies. She responded, asking where those were, saying she didn’t see those. I told her I captured the poppies photo on the alternative trail I took on the way down from the peak.
I then took a long shot and asked her if she was by chance the woman I stopped to ask about the trails leading to the mountain at about 10:45, and lo and behold, it was. Now, that’s crazy –and it is social media at its best and most magical. And it’s one of the reasons I’m in love with it.
I will be getting more clear on my next steps in confronting my tethered-ness and how to best continue my relationship with social media and my iPhone while not being as attached and tethered to them.
I have come to the conclusion that the iPhone and Facebook are not only not bad for me, they bring me great enrichment and joy for all of the reasons stated near the top of this blog post. Rather, my attachment and tethered-ness to them are.
As you can hopefully appreciate, this here is a tall mountain for me to climb. So tall that I cannot see the top. Articulating it here is a good first step, and at least, my journey is under way.
Thank you for reading, and for your support. I hope you’ll check back here often, or subscribe to this blog.
I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.
“Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom,” wrote the late Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of Thoughts in Solitude, upon entering the Monastic life.
I love the phrase, “the four walls of my new freedom” because it seems counterintuitive and yet rings true for me. When I limit myself or am disciplined, I feel more free.
Speaking of limits and discipline, I recently returned from a Silent retreat. What a fascinating, challenging and transformative experience!
I’m no stranger to Silence. In fact, it’s one of my closest companions. After all, I live in Wyoming where there are not many people. It’s not hard to find Silence on an hourly, if not daily, basis. Add to that I work alone, and I enjoy a lot of Solitude.
Socrates said, “Know Thyself.” In my humble experience, Solitude is the medium for self realization. I think self awareness is the first, and most important, step to living a happy and fulfilled life, and that the best way to discover, and come to know yourself is to spend time alone.
I’m also no stranger to meditation and mindfulness. I’ve meditated off and on for the last 24 years, and I’ve kept up a mindfulness practice every single weekday morning since Feb. 2013. It has been a game changer for me. (Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor and author of one of the most influential books I’ve read, Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” Before I practiced mindfulness on a regular basis, during times of stress and overwhelm, I didn’t have that space, that pause. Mindfulness practice has taught me how to create that pause, and it has made a huge difference in my life. Now, more times than not, I respond instead of react, and what a difference there is between the two. In short, responding is thoughtful and reacting is not.
And while what I signed up for, and traveled to Ojai, CA for, would include a lot of Silence and Mindfulness, it was more than that. It would be a Silent retreat, with no speaking, but also no technology (no iPhone or Facebook, etc.), which also meant no contact with family and friends. In addition, there would be no music, books or other “entertainment.” And, it would all be part of a workshop with Byron Katie. All of this would be among 115 other people, and while living in a community. This would be a difficult challenge for me, and I was eager for it.
Katie, author of several books, including Loving What Is, is famous for what she calls “The Work,” a method of self inquiry that she encourages people to do in Stillness/Meditation. The Work has helped millions of people change their lives for the better. So to be in the presence of Katie, and to witness her doing The Work with people in attendance who would be brave enough to share about their suffering would be a meaningful experience in and of itself. But no question, the main reason I signed up was to be Silent amidst people, something I had never experienced before for any length of time.
And boy, did I learn a lot from the experience.
Here are some things I learned from being in Silence:
–At the outset of the retreat, we were instructed to not give each other eye contact. It was suggested as a way to make it a little easier for people who would have a hard time not engaging with others. That for sure made the experience more challenging. I value connection, and eye contact, for me, helps make it possible, so this would make the Silence even more awkward and challenging. One of the “tricks” I told myself about this instruction was that keeping one’s eyes downcast can demonstrate humility. Humility is one of the attributes I value most in people, and, in my opinion, is what often makes a person kind, and a leader inspiring and approachable.
–As if no talking and no eye contact wasn’t challenging enough, we had no name tags. So we were Silent, not giving eye contact, and “nameless.” This is one of the things I came for. To be more anonymous and to get practice at that. (I wrote recently in a blog post, “Hungry,” that, among other things, I want to be more anonymous.)
–I like to help put people at ease, and I’m well-practiced at trying to do so. As I sat in Silence with people all around me, feeling the difficulty of not even offering simple pleasantries with one another really highlighted my want, and ability to help put others (read: myself) at ease. It was difficult and fascinating at the same time to resist the urge of trying to reduce social discomfort.
–As people, we are social animals. Most of us, unfortunately, find such Silence in large groups awkward. As a society, we want to fill the space. Notice the next time you’re in a conversation on the phone, in person, or in a group, or with a close friend… If the conversation fades and silence enters, it’s quickly “filled.” That’s what most of us do — we quickly try to fill empty space because it feels awkward and unnatural for it to just hang there, with no words in the air.
This reminds me of something writer Cal Fussman shared in a conversation with Tim Ferriss. A great writer and master interviewer, Fussman challenges us to “let the Silence do the work.” In other words, next time you ask someone a question, or you’re in a conversation and it goes quiet, dare to just let it be. Don’t jump in and try to fill the space out of discomfort. Certainly the Silent retreat felt that way for hours at a stretch. There was a lot of Silence hanging in the air, and it felt both unfamiliar and liberating. The Silence felt like possibility. I will be working to let the Silence do the work…
–When we spend time alone, available only to our own thoughts, as a listener to and noticer of our thoughts, including the good, the bad and the ugly, we discover and come to know ourselves. I personally enjoy a lot of Solitude. For example, I hike 1,000 miles a year. Half of those are hiked alone, and it’s not because I can’t find anyone to hike with. I think that more than any other habit in my life, Solitude is the one that is most responsible for my blessed life. I have a clarity about who I am and who and how I want to be that is invaluable. This self awareness informs me about what to say Yes to and what to say No to in my life. It is my guide for how to be my best. I feel so strongly that self awareness is the key to living our best life that I cover its importance in the keynote presentation I’m hired to deliver to corporations and conferences, “Epic Leadership Lessons Learned in the Field,” and I promote getting regular intervals of it to my coaching clients. The experience of Solitude I enjoyed every morning and evening, on my own exploring trails or at my AirBnb refuge confirmed for me its importance.
–Silence isn’t empty. It’s full. I recall the words of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton: “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. It is the presence of time, undisturbed. It can be felt within the chest.” Indeed, Silence is not empty. In fact, the chatter that goes on inside each of our heads is quite voluminous. Often, it’s anything but empty or “silent.” Sometimes in Silence there was so much going on in my head that I wished Silence were empty!
– Without talking, or any music or other audio distractions, we are better listeners. We are better at noticing things. I noticed the sound of my rental car’s blinker, even. Take away talking and you hear everything, and small details or things we normally wouldn’t notice can become fascinating. I was reminded of an excerpt from Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness: Adventures of Going Nowhere: “Sitting still is a way of falling in love with the world and everything in it.”
–Speaking of noticing, the definition of mindfulness that I love best is that of Ellen Langer’s. Langer is sometimes referred to as the “Mother of mindfulness.” (Check out this fantastic conversation with her.) She says mindfulness is simply noticing things. That is all you have to do: Pay attention. Take notice. I noticed a lot. I remember going on a caving expedition one time and, for a few minutes, we turned our headlamps off so we could experience total darkness. It was total darkness. Nothing but black. During that experience, I remember thinking all of my other senses were heightened, as if you when remove one sense your other senses, in compensating, or in being more freed up, become even more attuned. This is how I felt for the five days when I did not say a single word. All of my other senses were heightened. I heard more. I saw more. I felt more. I smelled more.
–I am a very curious person and, not to brag, but I’m a pretty good listener. I work hard at it. I love meaningful connections and conversations. I love to ask people questions, and to hear their responses and to learn about them. It was so challenging for me to not be able to do this, and to not think of it as so many lost opportunities. And, as is usually the case, the challenge of it taught me new skills and insights.
–Speaking of new skills, I honed an important skill – resisting. Saying No to my normal behaviors and trying something different than what I am used to. I learned some skills that I know will serve me in certain situations when I have a strong desire to say something, but prefer not to.
–I love to share and contribute, especially if I think that what I share will be of some value. I share a lot publicly, in my work, in my blogging, and in my relationships. Sharing is part of who I am. However, I decided in advance of the workshop that while I’d do the assigned work, I’d mostly be an observer and see what I could learn and how I could personally grow from the experience. However, I quickly realized that “observing” felt like watching, and I didn’t want to be a spectator but to be immersed and participating and getting the most out of this unique experience. I resolved to pay very good attention and try to notice as many things as I could. I also decided to challenge myself to not raise my hand and offer to contribute anything or do anything that would call attention to myself. I’m happy to report that I pulled this off. It was an uncommon experience for me, and frankly, I’m surprised I succeeded! (I did find that writing all of the things I had felt called to ask or share later in a journal felt almost the same as expressing it to the group, which was an interesting learning, and could be helpful to me in the future as I try to navigate how I will limit my time online, which may result in limiting my public sharing.)
–There’s a saying that goes something like this: “If there are 5 of us, I’ll have 4 teachers.” Everyone I sat with in Silence during the workshop – people I didn’t get to “meet,” given our Silence – I felt a closeness to, and in a way I can’t explain, they were all my teachers during the five days. I still think of them now and can picture their faces. I can still hear the stories some of them shared while doing The Work with Katie. I am pulling for all of them…
–For 2017, I have resolved to “talk less” and say more. What this means, to me, is being more intentional about what I say, share or write about. Being in Silence, amidst 115 people for 5 days and not being able to talk was about the best practice there could be for talking less. I honed the skill, and now let’s see if I can use it. 🙂 Katie has an eloquent presence about her. You can see her carefully choosing/”searching” for the right words before she says them. It doesn’t feel like she’s editing, as much as she wants for her words to count. I really appreciate that, and was inspired by watching her be this way in her communication. She talked less, and in doing so, said more.
–Words matter. During a time when I said not a single word, I learned more than ever how much words matter. This truth has deeper meaning after witnessing so many people doing The Work around suffering. So much of it was/is tied to something a parent said or a partner said that has had lasting, negative impacts on the person and his/her life. As a wife and a parent, in particular, but also as a coach that people trust, it was an important reminder that our words matter, and that we should not be careless or reckless with them.
-Some struggle more than others when required to be in Silence. I wonder if people who consider themselves shy might find this not as awkward as people who consider themselves outgoing? And yet maybe even shy people find this Silent setting hard because no one is speaking up. There are no extroverts taking the lead to start or carry the conversation.
–Some people are better at Stillness than others. For example, the woman who sat next to me on the first two days, was very good at sitting still and quietly. She hardly fidgeted. I have a lot of energy and can be still, but not as easily. I fidget a lot. At home I never sit for long, walking during my phone calls, and only sitting for stretches of 60-90 minutes at most, and not all day long. So it wasn’t that I was bored as much it was hard to sit so still for such long periods.
–While I love people and can be with a lot of people, as I get older, I’m becoming more of an introvert. (Technically, I’m what Dan Pink would call an ambivert. You can take his quiz here). This experience was sort of like a combination of being alone and in a crowd all at once. I found myself in a large crowd for several hours each day, but “off the hook” as far as having to socialize. It was difficult and awesome at the same time!
—If the lights were dimmed or off, I think the Silence would not be as difficult or awkward because we could more easily “hide,” which would make the awkwardness of Silence amidst so many people not as challenging. The lights were on and we couldn’t hide in the darkness. This was valuable. There were no shortcuts or ways to make the experience easier. Not to diminish my point, but I know it’s the same when I have sunglasses on. I feel a little bit hidden when people cannot look into my eyes. When I wear earbuds on an airplane, even if I have nothing playing into them, it sends the signal that I’m unavailable and, in this small way, helps me to hide.
–During the experience, I wondered about people who don’t feel they have a voice, and how it must feel to be Silenced against your will. I felt compassion for people who don’t get to have a voice.
–In Silence, time slows down. The 60 minutes of Stillness twice a day while waiting for the main workshops to begin, were very long. Because I love and value time, I appreciated that the 60 minutes were so long. Remember, no music, no reading, no eye contact, no darkness, no visiting, just sitting. Removing all of the normal distractions stretches the time. Who doesn’t want time to seem more abundant?
–To use a word from OnBeing‘s Krista Tippett, I was more “porous.” More was allowed into me as a result of the Silence. I felt my feelings more.
–Sherry Turkle wrote a book called Alone Together. The title refers to today’s times where you can be in a group of people, or with your family in the same room, but you’re not really together, rather you’re what Turkle calls alone together. You are physically close together, but you’re each far away, alone in your own worlds, thanks to your devices and their capability to connect you to friends and things that are “not here.” During the retreat, many of us waited, in Silence, for the doors to open for the workshop seasons, and we were all alone in our own worlds, looking down and away from each other. Alone together took on a new meaning for me. It felt like we were alone, but together in our Stillness.
-Speaking of alone and Silence, if you’re human and you’re normal, you are hardly alone when in you’re in Silence, what with all of the endless chatter and inner dialogues going on your head. In fact, it could probably be argued that there’s a lot more going on when you’re alone with your thoughts than if you’re in a conversation with others.
–Everyone has a story. I know this, of course. Especially in my work as a life coach, I know firsthand of the suffering so many experience. Still, when you can’t talk and project yourself, or exchange information about yourself –– you can’t edit and share the story you want to share – we make up our own imagined stories about others. When we do this we know we’re not basing them on anything but our imagination and/or past stereotypes and/or experiences, but still it is a little unfair. I caught myself imagining the stories of many of the people around me at the workshop each day. It was fascinating, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t nail any of the stories.
–Hiding. I figured out before traveling to California for the Silent retreat and workshop that I do a fair amount of “hiding.” And thanks to David Whyte, and his Hiding essay in the wonderful Consolations, I am positive that hiding can be a good thing. He writes, Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care. Boy, do I appreciate those words, but to be honest, too often they give me an out. I hide a little too much. I had noticed that when I am in Solitude, which is about half of my life, I’m effectively hiding from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. When I’m in social situations, just being my best self and asking people questions and then listening to them, I’m effectively hiding myself from others – not always intentionally, but sometimes. Well, I’m here to report that when I found myself Silent amidst 115 people, I couldn’t hide from myself or others. That was uncomfortable, and a worthwhile experience to say the least! That is the Epic I signed up for right there, and boy did I get it!
–I don’t mean to brag, but I am an expert at self criticism. I think, over time, thanks to so much time in Solitude, and becoming so familiar with, and defending myself against what I’ve come to call the “Wrath of Shelli,” I’ve developed more understanding about myself, which has led, pleasantly, to more compassion for myself. But what I learned during the Silent retreat, especially along with witnessing so many people who were courageous enough to share their suffering with us and Katie in front of the room, is that if we’re brave enough to be honest with ourselves, we’re likely to respond to ourselves with compassion instead of criticism. This is a huge learning for me. I saw it happen before my eyes with 18 out of 18 people who did The Work. I could see the compassion for themselves start to appear as they acknowledged truths about themselves. And, I noticed it in myself throughout the five days as I reflected and did my own “Work” and worksheets on my own areas of suffering or negativity. The more honest I was willing to be, the more my self criticism gave way to compassion. Hallelujah to that. As Kelly McGonigal has suggested, self criticism is not motivating. Those of us who are self critical try to convince ourselves that when we are hard on ourselves it motivates us to work harder, but that is not what actually happens. It is unhealthy and not helpful. So for that reason alone – to try to become more self compassionate – I recommend periods of Silence and self inquiry. Create opportunities for stillness and then do an inventory around an issue that is weighing you down or holding you back. And, dare to be honest.
–I prayed a lot, and prayer came more naturally for me.
–I consider myself a grateful person. I hope I am appreciative because it is something I really appreciate in others, no pun intended. I found myself even more grateful than normal when given so much time with so few of the normal distractions in life. And anytime I’m grateful, I feel my best.
–Now, a major detour from the tone of the other things I learned… I returned to Wyoming with a tick from the trails of Ojai! Early on in the five days, while back at my AirBnB, I felt a nuisance and slight pain in the lower part of the back of my neck. I couldn’t reach it with my hand and I couldn’t see it in the mirror. When I got home, 6 days later, and asked Jerry to look at it, it was a tick! He removed it and I started freaking out about Lyme disease. Fortunately, my son, Hayden, informed me that only 1.2-1.7% of all ticks carry Lyme disease. That is helpful to know, for sure, and I feel fine as of today, but this was the only real “bummer” of the Silence. Maybe I would have asked someone to look at it, even a stranger, if not for the vow of Silence. Just something to think about for the next time I guess. 🙂
Thank you so much for reading. I value your time, so I appreciate your taking the time to read my thoughts.
I hope you’ll return soon. I will be publishing a blog post about what I learned with no iPhone or Facebook in my next blog post and it’s an important one for me as I’ve been struggling a lot as of late with my amount of tethered-ness to them. I will also be writing about what I earned from Byron Katie, uncertainty, daring to fail, deep work, and more.
I am a certified life and leadership coach, personal development consultant, keynote (inspired) speaker, leadership development facilitator, adventure guide. I’ve coached 130 individual leaders from across the U.S. during the last 6 years. If you, or someone you know, would like to change your life and/or your leadership impact, I’d be honored to coach you. If you’re interested, please email me. I also bundle coaching with wellness and guided “Epic Adventure.” All of the adventures are “unplugged,” and offer you Solitude and space and time to be inspired and reflective.
WOMEN: Do you want to make some changes to your life, and go on an Epic Adventure with me? Right now I’m recruiting for my Epic Women Zion National Park Day Hiking/Life & Leadership Coaching program, as well as my Epic Women Wind River Range Backpacking/Life & Leadership Coaching program. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like information about either of these, or to schedule a call.
Stillness. Sunrise is my favorite time of day, and I captured this over Worthen Reservoir en route to a hike in my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range.