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 think one of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing for us to do is to dare to live the life we are yearning to live. I’m talking about your life, not the life that others expect you to live, which usually follows a safe path that prevents you from taking too many risks and keeps you from rocking the boat.
In fact, I think that many of us risk our life by not living it.
If you are a woman, and you want to make some changes in your life, consider the Epic Women program, which combines life/leadership coaching, wellness, and a guided 4-day Epic backpacking expedition in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.
The coaching helps a woman take stock of her life, while “priming” her for the July Epic adventure, which is, no doubt, the highlight of the Epic Women program. Being in the wild astonishes us. The wilderness experience wakes us up from a sort of hibernation.
So, would you like to feel more inspired? Would you like to “crank it up,” and do something unexpected? Would you like to discover more about yourself? Would you like to change the conversation in your life? Are you going through a change or transition? Would you like to gain more confidence, or improve your leadership? Would you like to get in the best shape and health of your life? Would you like to make some changes to your life?
I know I’m asking a lot of questions. But I think they are all important ones to consider, and if you answered Yes to any of them, then I’m looking for you.
By the way, if you’re reading this because you’re a leader in your work, and you’re more interested in leadership development, than life coaching, I would offer this: How we live is how we lead.
There is always more to discover about yourself, and what may be possible in your life, but it takes daring…
Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne dared to find out more about themselves by signing up for Epic Life’s first-ever Epic Women Expedition. These epic women could have signed up for a retreat or a vacation. But they didn’t. They signed up for something that promised to push them.(If you are a woman, this post is an effort to dare you.)
The Epic Women program is a year-long program that combines life and leadership coaching with a 5-day backpacking expedition in my backyard, Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne came from Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Wyoming to embark on the expedition.
Epic Life’s adventures provide an opportunity to embark on a “Hero’s Journey.” A Hero’s Journey is no vacation. Women who sign up for the Epic Women Expedition are answering a call to adventure. Joseph Campbell said nothing brings people together like terror and aspiration. In my final individual calls with each of the women the month before our expedition, most of the women remarked that they were “nervous but excited.” I had them right where I wanted them…
An important aspect of the EW expedition is a mountain climb. Climbing a mountain is a great metaphor for living our best/most epic life. To find our path, to become more, we must dare to go off-trail and uphill. Let’s face it, living our epic life is often hard work. At times it requires a heroic effort. During the EW expedition, we would practice climbing a mountain, and the mountain would be Mitchell Peak. Mitchell is a big and tall mountain, and climbing it would provide views of one of the most stunning sights in the world, the Cirque of the Towers.
Climbing Mitchell Peak is a grunt for most people. If you’re from sea level, it is even more so, and five of the seven women came from sea level. It would be even more difficult because I scheduled it for Day 2. I didn’t choose Day 2 to make it harder. I chose it to hedge against poor weather that might be a factor later in the expedition leaving us no time to accomplish a mountain climb. And, I wanted the group to achieve something great right out of the gates.
As we got settled into our first night’s camp, the sun set and provided glow all around us. We could all see the massive mountain we were going to climb the next day. It loomed.
Vicki, Jackie, Roxanne, me, Jenni, Mariah, Diana and Wendy, on our first night.
I asked the women to share with me how they viewed Mitchell Peak and what their feelings were as the mountain climb approached:
MARIAH: When Shelli told us that we’d be climbing a mountain on the second day of our trip, I was a little skeptical. I had just learned to tie my boots that day! We could see the peak from our campsite, so we knew exactly what we were getting into– and it looked pretty daunting…
ROXANNE: My thought was “OMG, no way.” It truly seemed impossible. And then as I considered that we were really going to do it, I thought, how are we all going to make it all the way up there??
VICKI: It’s funny, that first night the whole experience was still so surreal, that even when we looked at the mountain in the distance it didn’t seem real. I was thinking… “oh, we’re going to climb THAT?! My eyes must be deceiving me… there must be some secret way up there…”
DIANA: Mitchell Peak seemed like this beautiful yet formidable entity looming in the distance. The unknowns of what lay ahead on the route to Mitchell Peak created anticipation and excitement.
JACKIE: Gee, I guess that pile of rocks doesn’t look too high, heh, heh… What, you mean we’re going to climb that thing… How exactly will we do that??
WENDY: The night before, the mountain looked so big… I wondered how far it really was to the top.
JENNI: Looking at Mitchell Peak the day before the ascent allowed just enough time for the intimidation to set in!
Day 2 came early. With headlamps on, we huddled to have coffee and tea and a quick breakfast in the “kitchen area” of our camp. I did a quick check-in with the women regarding how well they slept. No one slept well. In my experience, most people don’t sleep well before a mountain climb, let alone on the first night in the wilderness. I also didn’t get a wink of sleep.
Soon, we had our boots and daypacks on, and were ready to start the Mitchell Peak adventure. Right out of camp, the elevation gain starts. We did a lung-buster-“Buns of Steel” workout as we hiked up the south end of Jackass Pass. Occasionally we stopped to check the map to get our bearings. By the time we reached North Lake, we had gained 700′. North Lake was still and reflected an unnamed peak we all chose to call Epic Peak. Here, we treated some water, had a quick snack, and looked up at the beckoning Mitchell Peak, which stood 2,000 more vertical feet above us.
Taking a quick break at North Lake. That’s “Epic Peak” in the background.
After considering a couple of different route options, the women chose to take what we would call the “Mitchell Direct” route. The next couple of hours of hiking would be hard going. We’d hike up a steep slope that consisted of what the epic women came to refer to as “loose, but stable” terrain.
Climbing a mountain.
An important part of climbing a mountain is pausing to glimpse how far you’ve come. This provides inspiration for the rest of the climb.
After various women took turns route-finding, we could finally see our line to the summit. By this point, our hiking strategy was to move slow but steady. There was less oxygen available, legs were growing weary, and there was a fair amount of boulder scrambling, which was a new experience for many in the group.
Almost to the top.
I should mention that our instructors, Allison and Kat, were a significant part of our Epic Women adventure, and are themselves epic women. As we approached the summit, Kat had a wonderful idea for us to all hold hands upon summiting. It was a powerful and unforgettable experience.
Yeehaw! We made it to the top.
Nothing transforms a group into a team better than an epic undertaking. Using expedition behavior and learning the necessary physical and mental skills while ascending the mountain, we all became more, individually and as a team.
After experiencing the summit as a team, but also individually in our own ways — and after some celebratory “summit chocolate” — we reminded ourselves that the summit was only the halfway point. We still had to get ourselves down the mountain.
What goes up must go down. Here we navigate down Mitchell’s slopes.
After 11 hours of hard hiking uphill, and downhill, we returned to camp. What a day! Yet, these women aren’t just any women. They’re epic women. Somehow they still had energy left in the tank to carry through on an earlier commitment to take a swim in Big Sandy Lake. I was totally sold on the idea, mostly because it was so unreasonable, but I lacked the courage. It would be a polar plunge, and I didn’t have the guts! But with the women coaching me, and Kat’s hand to hold, I submerged. It. was. epic. We had come full circle in a day’s time. We had looked at the lake from the summit, and now we looked at the summit from (in) the lake. What a beautiful and perfect ending to a truly epic day.
Here are the epic women’s thoughts upon reflecting on their mountain climb:
MARIAH: Climbing the mountain was an incredible feeling– although the mountain itself was a challenge, the best part was doing it together. Some people had sore feet. Some people were more affected by the altitude than others. But we worked as a group, and we got there as a team. Holding hands as we reached the summit was a powerfully emotional experience. Their was collective triumph, but also 10 individual victories on the mountain on that day. Seeing how people were affected– by the feat itself, the view from the top, etc.– was the best part.
ROXANNE: After successfully climbing the mountain, I thought of many things you said – checking the map, making a plan, taking turns taking the lead, taking a break and re-checking the map, noticing how far we had come & different times along the way, encouraging others when needed, asking for help when needed, all lead to reaching the summit successfully. All are great metaphors for our everyday lives as we encounter various issues & obstacles that may feel like climbing a mountain. I will certainly pull from this experience when encountering other challenges in my life.
VICKI: When we held hands on the summit, I could literally feel the electricity flowing between our hands and our hearts, the welling of emotion, the hint of acknowledgement that overcame each one of us as we peered back through the valley and the lakes below – gazing in quiet disbelief at what we had just accomplished.
DIANA: The big rocks/boulders appeared at first glance to be solidly placed, fixed upon the steep slopes. But when stepped upon some of them teetered or shifted which was a bit alarming. I did not expect them to do that. So what appeared to be concrete and definite had some unknowns built in. Then entered the second guessing and the doubting. Do I step here or should I step there? If I step there will I fall? The doubts and the uncertainties compounded. But then after watching others tackle the boulders and through the encouragement of others I realize my fears were unfounded. I had to be confident in my choices of where to step. I had to be flexible in my stride, stand upright and bridge the rocks with my feet. And if a boulder dipped or rocked no need to panic, just go with the flow. In many ways I think life is similar. There are things that just by looking at them we assume we know. We step right in. But then we quickly find out such is not the case. We might become timid or intimidated by this and find ourselves in an uncomfortable place, the unstable footing if you will. Then there is the self discovery aspect…we learn what we do not know. Then the choice, to turn away from the issue or to turn in to it and face it. And then the enlightenment that all things are possible with flexibility, determination and balance. Life is filled with lots of uncertainty and unstable ground. It just boils down to how you approach it and how you view it. Not everything is as it seems and not all things are fixed and solidly placed. And that’s cool. Lesson learned on Mitchell: be receptive to life’s unknowns and know that with confidence, skill, focus and balance many things that seem most intimidating can be achieved.
JACKIE: Upon coming down, I was thinking, Wow, that thing is up there! I can NOT believe I went up to the top of that huge pile of rock!…I feel pretty impressed with myself. I was scared coming on EWE that I wouldn’t be fit enough, skilled enough, hadn’t prepared enough, might be too old, too fat, too slow, the altitude, etc. Climbing Mitchell affirmed in me that I am strong, pretty fit for an almost 50-year-old dame, and that when I set my mind to something I can achieve it. I realized that I have strength, endurance and better capability than I gave myself credit for having…I know that if I prepare, I can do a lot and I can continue to experience and see wonderful places on this earth using human power.
WENDY: After the mountain climb, I thought, I climbed a big ass mountain! And I came down on one leg. It was a powerful emotion of personal achievement for me. (Wendy injured a knee during the ascent of the mountain)
JENNI: Intimidation combined with a little determination made for a lot of motivation to conquer the peak that had been staring at me for two days! Now that I have successfully summited Mitchell I have a new record “high” for altitude. It was an amazing feeling to accomplish the climb and it gave me an adrenaline rush that I hope to keep satisfying in the future. In comparison to life….all things are possible when you’re determined to succeed. Just keep a nice steady pace, continue putting one foot in front of the other, and when you reach the top you’ll know it was worth every ounce of hard work you put into achieving your goal!
For me, climbing Mitchell Peak with Mariah, Jenni, Jackie, Vicki, Diana, Wendy and Roxanne, women I had come to know personally in the months prior to the adventure, and whose lives inspire me, was an unforgettable experience that will always be dear to me. All of these women could have been doing something else that week — something easier or more “fun.” Their courage to sign up for the epic expedition, and that was displayed throughout the mountain climb, is a reflection of their gusto for life. One of my favorite quotes is a Mary Oliver one: “Are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” I can report that these Epic Women were not breathing just a little. They may have even at times been gasping. On the Epic Women Expedition, they were practicing experiencing being fully alive.
I’m signing up women for Epic Women 2017. If you’re interested, please email me.
“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.
She waved me over. I didn’t recognize her. I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Which always sort of amazes me since our town is so small, and I was raised here, and have lived here for a combined 38 years. I know many people here, if not by name, by face.
I walked over to her. One of her boots had a hole in the toe, and her clothes were oversized, hanging on her. She gave me a gentle smile, as she held her hand out to me and passed something into my hand.
I looked inside my hand, and it was a $100 bill. Then our eyes met. You know how when you really look at someone and you can get a glimpse of what we think is their life or their backstory, how you can sense pain and heartbreak? We connected for a brief moment, and heartbreak of some kind was palpable.
“Please give it to someone who’s hungry,” she said, softly, in barely more than a whisper.
I thanked her, and asked her what her name was. She didn’t give it to me, instead just politely shaking her head, and turning and walking away.
It was Wednesday in November of 2013, and I was in Ace Hardware. I was “fasting to feed the hungry,” and I had stopped in to collect a donation from the business.
I had started fasting once a week in 2013. Originally, I did it for health reasons. I had read of the health and anti aging benefits of fasting at least once a week. Apparently, fasting, or reducing calorie intake to 500-600 calories a day, once a week, has enormous health benefits. I am oversimplifying, but in layman’s terms, fasting sends your cells into repair. I also am an experimenter, especially when it comes to anything health and diet-related, and I wanted to see if I could lose 5 pounds in the process of experimenting with intermittent fasting.
The first time I fasted, I thought I was going to die. I was starving! I had a headache and major hunger pains. I remember when it was 11:30am, the time I usually ate lunch, I could barely take it. I was home, and it would be so easy to sneak a handful of nuts, or a spoonful of peanut butter, or whatever. This was my idea and the rules were mine to break. No one was keeping watch over me.
But I was determined. So I went upstairs, out of sight of our kitchen, and laid down in bed. A nap was elusive, what with the chattiness in my head about how hungry I was, and the pains – and loud growling reminders coming from my empty stomach, and all.
It was while lying there that I thought of all of the people in the world, including in my small town, that feel like this regularly, and not by choice. Wow. That put things in perspective for me real fast. I turned my mind to those people. I wondered who I knew, or who I saw throughout my town, in lines at the Post Office or at the grocery store, or on Main Street, or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, etc., who felt like this often. Everything about my fasting changed for me in that moment.
I decided to make my fasting be for a cause other than my own self-absorbed fitness and weight loss-related goals. I started “fasting to feed the hungry.” Every week I would pick a local cause, and I would fast for 24 hours, and I would post about it on Facebook. Businesses, such as Ace Hardware referenced above, and individuals in my town, would donate $24 (1 dollar for every hour of my fast) or more to whatever cause I was fasting for.
For me, it meant not only going hungry once a week but also getting out and being visible in my community and on Facebook during the days I fasted. It meant “selling”and marketing what I was doing in an effort to generate awareness and money for the particular cause. Many weeks I fasted and raised about $300-$500 a week for causes that included the Lander Care & Share Food Bank, the Friday Backpack Program, the One Stop Shelter, and others.
The Backpack program especially tugs at my heart. This is a program that sends home a backpack of food to kids on Fridays who won’t otherwise see a meal all weekend long. They get breakfast and lunch at school, and often that’s all they get for food. It’s actually a little pathetic that all I have to do to help feed those kids is go hungry for a single day…
It felt good to be fasting to feed the hungry. My fasting felt purposeful. I felt purposeful.
And, I also discovered that when I’m in a fasted state, I’m more present. It is so clichéto say “present,” but it’s true.
When I’m fasting – and hungry – I am more attuned. My senses are heightened, including all of the most important ones. I’m more tender on these days when I’m hungry, and that is a good thing for me. I’m more sensitive and not as selfish as I normally am.
I think it was Annie Dillard who wrote, “How we do one thing is how we do most things.” I think about this a lot. It’s useful. I don’t want to live recklessly and as if everything is in abundance. I want to not eat the house, and I want to taste my food, and to appreciate it. I don’t want to be a pig. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want to over-consume. In my eating or in my living. And most importantly, I want to remember people who are less fortunate than I am, who could use a break or a little help.
I am not proud of myself often. But when I fast, I feel better about myself because I’m a more compassionate human being.
Every week when I fasted I was more compassionate because I thought more closely about people who are in need, and I felt closer to my community. The result is I think about my community a lot more now even when I’m not fasting, which has been an unexpected benefit.
Which brings me to the woman at the start of this story.
I think of her often. Anonymous, humble and generous. I’ve never seen her again. She was an angel to give $100 to someone in need. I sometimes wonder if she actually was an angel. Did she, and that transaction, really happen or was she an angel sent to deliver a message to me?
I did like I always do. I greeted the passenger next to me, but had my earbuds in to ensure I wouldn’t have to engage with any more than a simple greeting and acknowledgement. (Often I don’t listen to anything; rather this is a way of making people think I am unavailable, tuned in to me and away from them.)
I was on a United flight to Detroit. I was a little annoyed that I was in a middle seat. I always request an aisle seat because I usually have to use the bathroom at least once, probably twice, on a three-hour flight, and I prefer to not have to climb over people whenever duty calls. I love sitting by the window if going to a new place, but usually opt out of that because then I have to climb over two people, not to mention I’m usually in the back of the plane and the window seat can feel claustrophobic to me.
Even though I fly quite a bit these days, it’s as if when I buy a ticket, the “system” sees I’m from Wyoming, and thinks “She is from Wyoming. She probably doesn’t get out much. Give her the back seat of the plane. She’ll be so excited to be going somewhere, she won’t mind.” This was what was going through my mind when I smiled, genuinely, at the woman next to me, seated by the window.
We were soon in the air and the flight went well. I effectively “hid” with my earbuds in, and my eyes closed behind my sunglasses. It was an uneventful flight, and I had been, thankfully, unbothered.
But following my usual protocol, as soon as we land and are taxiing to the terminal to disembark, I suddenly become more open and generous and willing to have a conversation.
Even if it’s a little selfish, I want and choose to have these conversations at the end of the flight. I like people, and am fascinated by their stories, and I value the connection that occurs between two people, and in these small but meaningful exchanges. There is something about going places, and arriving, that can make all of us more interesting – to ourselves, and to others.
As I strike up a conversation, I notice that the woman is wonderfully warm. She could be my grandma. Wait, she could be mother! When did I get so old that someone in their late 60s or early 70s causes me to think of grandmothers?
I ask her if Detroit is her final destination. She’s generous with information. She’s 72 years old and she is visiting her 49-year-old nephew who is paralyzed from the neck down. He was hit and run by a drunk driver at only age 21. He recently came down with pneumonia, and his body seems to be shutting down. As his “favorite aunt,” she was going to be with him, “and probably, to say goodbye,” she explained, with a little tremble in her voice. I told her what a wonderful person and aunt she was to be traveling to be with him. I told her I would keep her nephew, and her, in my heart and prayers and thoughts. And I would. I would think of her and her nephew several times off and on during the few days when I working and sightseeing in the Detroit area and her nephew, and picture them in a hospital together.
As we said farewell and exchanged well wishes to one another, I reflected on how glad I was for breaking my isolation/silence.
After collecting my suitcase at the baggage claim, I go outside to the curb and quickly catch a yellow cab. It’s 5 minutes, and I’m in a car, headed to Birmingham, an upscale suburb of Detroit, where my hotel and my work would be. The driver is most of the time talking to other cab drivers. It’s a pretty short trip and I manage to engage the minimal amount by looking at my phone and doing the usual – checking Facebook, emails and Instagram. Mostly, though, I use the time to look around at the sights of this area. Like I said, it’s my first time here, and I’m curious and eager and always excited to be somewhere for the first time.
I quickly dump my luggage into my hotel room, and then order a taxi in short order. This is my only free day, and I arrived early for purposes of exploring the area before my work starts the next day.
My driver is Phil. He is retired from General Motors, which is headquartered here in Detroit. When he opens my door, he is really polite. Not in a salesman, “I need to be really nice so I get 5 stars” kind of way, but in as older man, gentleman sort of way.
As a result of his genuine kindness, I made a quick decision to be generous and kind again. I am naturally this way, but when I travel, I isolate and like to be selfish and hide and enjoy my me-time – more than normal. I’m always a little disgusted with myself when I notice that I’m deciding if I’ll be open or genuine or not. Such “power” – to actively decide if I’ll be generous or not with people. I make a mental note of this – that it feels selfish. I don’t want to be selfish. I want to be generous and compassionate.
I told him it was my first time in Detroit, and “Wow, looks like a I picked a beautiful day for it.” I commented on the blue sky and warm temperatures. (It was 70 degrees and we had a cloudless sky). “I’m excited to see your area. It’s my first time,” I said.
I start asking questions. I am curious and if I’m going to be generous, I’m going to learn some stuff.
Turns out Phil had worked for General Motors, headquartered in Detroit. He worked there “for 37 years and about a month.”
He retired 5 years ago to care for his wife, Susan, during her second round of cancer. “She died 1.5 years ago,” he offered. “She was a wonderful woman. I know all husbands say that about their wife but truly she was an angel. I miss her badly.” He added, as a result, his two grown daughters, who live in Naples, Florida, talked him into driving for Uber. “It gets me out of my quiet and empty house and off my couch, and it’s an effort to meet and talk to people.” He then told me I’m the first Wyoming customer he’s had. Surprise surprise. 🙂
Phil delivered me to the General Motors Renaissance Center. I take a photo of the beautiful exterior of the building, and then go in, and take a quick tour on my own. It is fantastic, but my sights are set on something other than the Renaissance Center. I want to see the Detroit River, and specifically, the Detroit River Walk, which supposedly, is beautiful, especially on a perfect Fall day like this one. Plus, I think it will be weird to be looking south to see Canada…
I, kindly, interrupt a passerby in the lobby of the Center. He’s a man about my age and looks like my people, (whatever that means). I apologize for my forwardness, and ask him if he is a local, and if so, would he would be willing to answer a few questions for me?
He walks me around the winding and spectacular foyer to some back doors that lead us out to the River Walk. His name is Casey. He works for General Motors, in sales. He’s based in New York City, but used to work here at the Detroit Renaissance Center. I say I’m from Wyoming, and that this I my first time to Detroit, and that I only a few hours. “I want to see as much as can from here in three hours. I’ve got a lot of energy, and want to explore by foot,” I say.
He is generous and kind. He starts listing all kinds of insider tips, including how far to walk on the riverwalk before I should worrying about my safety – about 1.5 miles… “probably no more than that.” He highly recommends I stop in for a beer at a place called Atwater’s brewery. “Look for an old, big historic warehouse.” He also recommends a stop at the Motown Museum, and/or also the Detroit Institute of Arts. He adds, “and if you like books, and libraries (is it that obvious?!), be sure to check out Detroit Library.
Before parting ways, Casey shares that he used to live in Salt Lake City for a short time, and that he loves Jackson Hole, and that he runs marathons. He says he’d love to do more adventures and exploring in Wyoming. I give him my blog urls, and mention that I’m also an adventurer and that I have written about many great Wyoming adventures and to check out those blogs for some ideas about my backyard, the Wind River Range in Wyoming. We exchange business cards and say goodbye.
And then, I’m off. The River Walk is spectacular. Trees are adorned in golden leaves, the river is blue, and skyscrapers, are across the river, in Canada, and also behind me as I don’t waste any time putting distance between the Renaissance Center and downtown Detroit, and me.
I see the point where Casey said to leave the River Walk to find Atwater’s Brewery. It’s a big old building, all right, and as I walk around looking for the entrance, I see huge open doors and all of the brewing going on in the back. The curious, travel blogger in me can’t help myself. I walk in and grab what looks to be a pretty hip and cool guy to ask some questions. I introduce myself, and meet Kyle, a brewer. Kyle is generous and enthusiastic. Passionate about his place of employment and his craft. He lets me record a short video clip of him checking the brew and providing me with some education in the the process. He then walks me into the Brewery and insists that the person behind the bar gives me a Dirty Blonde to enjoy –Atwater’s most popular brew. I also sampled two other recommended favorites, Vanilla Java Porter and Blueberry Cobbler. I drank all that with no food. Oops. But boy, life is good! I have places to go still, though, so I head out to continue my tour.
Unfortunately, it is Monday, and it turns out that, except for the brewery, all of the attractions Casey recommended are closed on Mondays.
I continue exploring on foot nonetheless to see what might turn up. It’s all new to me so I’m eager. I walk for a very long distance before realizing I don’t feel very safe. You know that feeling you get where your hair sorta stands up on your neck? That. Things just don’t feel right. There are abandoned shops and empty lots everywhere, and nobody except for two people appear every now and again. I don’t know if it’s my wild imagination, or if it’s really cause for concern, but these two individuals, who are not together, seem to pop in and out of view sporadically. They’re not just walking down the street like I am. This feels a little too adventurous and not in a good way so I try Uber. There are no cars available for my vicinity. I try for a cab. Nothing. In fact, I can’t see any moving traffic, let alone cabs.
First, let me be clear that it’s likely I wasn’t in any danger. The two people who popped in and out of sight were probably not criminals and simply taking different, less direct routes than I was. But it didn’t matter because my intuition was not letting it go. I worried about my irresponsibility and remember the boys and my responsibilities. With not many options, and in a place that is unfamiliar to me, I text Casey. I apologize for bothering him but explain that I’m feeling a little lost and uncomfortable and hoping he might be able to offer me quick advice. He responds right away and asks for my location. I share my location, adding “there’s just a bunch of deserted buildings, and I can’t find an Uber car anywhere.” He told me, in so many words, to be careful and gave me a nearby address for a corner of two streets that is about 3 blocks from where I was at. He instructed me to walk there directly, and to text him as soon as I got there, and then try for an Uber, assuring me he would be on standby.
I call people like Casey “trail angels.” They are individuals who appear as if out of nowhere right when you need help and then show you the way. (I run into these angels frequently in my travels.) I did as Casey suggested, and located and requested an Uber ride. I texted Casey to assure him I had made it to the location, and that an Uber would be there in a minute or two. Relieved and feeling no longer lost, I thanked Casey with all of my heart. I wished him well and told him to look me up if he ever gets out to Wyoming, and that I will help him when he’s in my neck of the woods.
A minute later, just in time to prevent me from launching into the wrath of Shelli self criticism, the Uber driver arrives. He is Richard. I start in with my friendly nature and start asking questions.
I have learned that people love to be seen and heard. I think one of the greatest gifts we can offer people is to ask them questions and then to listen to them. Most of us are terrible listeners, and most of us are not interested enough to care to be curious and to ask questions.
I learn that he’s a pretty famous (not his words, he is modest) gospel singer in a group called Faithfully Four. (He has played for the Clarkston (?) Sisters, and some other well known gospel and blues bands. He’s not online, but he tells me to please be sure to watch for him in a year or so. He plans to get online.
He is very humble. Everything that he’s proud of I have to work to get. He talks enthusiastically about his 3 grown daughters. He used to work for Chrysler. He transported vehicles for them. He worked 12 hours a day and made $2,100 a week. He gave it all up so he could sing and have a positive impact on people and “spread the good word of the Lord” and also be home to help his wife get kids fed in the evenings and ready for the school in the mornings.
We are about a block away from my hotel when he mentions that he is a triplet, and his brothers are Tom and Harry, “so we’re Tom, Dick and Harry.” I ask, “Seriously?!” “Yes, that’s right. I swear to God. We’re Tom, Dick and Harry. So there you go,” he says with an ear-to-ear grin.
We arrive in front of my hotel in Birmingham. I thank him for the ride and the conversation, and promise that I’ll check out his music and be pulling for him. As he closed my door for me, he remarked, “young lady, you are my first-ever Wyoming customer.” I smile, and respond saying, “Wonderful. And would you believe that you’re not the first to tell me that today?” We both chuckle.
In just one day, despite traveling and exploring alone, I had made so many meaningful connections. Each of the people, and our encounters, had made my day richer, and worth remembering. I loved seeing the Renaissance Center, the views along the River Walk, drinking the delicious beer at the brewery, and seeing sights in Detroit. But mostly, I loved the experience of these encounters with the people I met along the way.
I listen to tons of podcasts and read several books in a given year. These are a tremendous source of knowledge and inspiration for me. I am grateful for, and better because of them. But I grow weary of the fact that I only get to hear interviews and conversations with people who have made millions or started and sold big-name companies, or who have written at least one book, usually a New York Times bestseller. As if you only have something of value or inspiration to warrant our time and attention if you’ve written a book or if you’ve started some major corporation.
In other words, if you haven’t done these things, you are basically a nobody.
This is a problem for me. These “nobodies,” including the ones referenced above that I met during my travels to Detroit, inspire me to no end.
Tim Ferriss, on his fantastic podcast (which is one of my favorites), often asks his guests, “When you think of success, who comes to mind?” I love that question, because most of us, if we were to consider our answer to this question, would find that very often it’s not someone who is, or was, well-known or famous.
As for me, I am more inspired by simple, ordinary, regular – “normal” – people who are daring enough to turn their ordinary life into a life that, for them, is extraordinary. These are people who could become famous by writing books or starting corporations, but who instead may choose to live in a community where he or she can get to know his/her neighbors, to help one another, to pick up their kids from school, and to live what, for them, is an extraordinary life.
These ordinary people are my people. And I want to hear their stories.
Prevention magazine is doing a feature article in their March edition about me and one of my transformational hiking experiences. The magazine’s writer interviewed me in several parts, and Prevention sent a photographer out to hike on a wintry cold day in early December with me, and some past Epic participants and friends.
I know this is great news, to be featured in a national magazine. But, as I wait for the article to be published, I’m also feeling terrified, and, well, exposed. The magazine comes out in mid-February, and I’m seriously strategizing about how I can run and hide for several months when it does… Not really, but maybe?
The article will touch on a time in my life when I was depressed and in quite a “rut.” Some people who have heard my keynote presentation know a little about this. My husband, of course, knows a lot about it, and my close friends know a little about it. But many who know me will learn about it for the first time.
After the first interview, I was left feeling exposed, thinking, “the secret’s out.” Make no mistake – I chose to be forthcoming and vulnerable for the article. After all, a story about a woman doing an epic hike in the Grand Canyon isn’t a very interesting story, not to mention it’s been told a million times already. My hope was to share some insights into what I think is a reality – that even when we’re living the dream, there will not only be heights, but also, depths.
I don’t want to let the cat of the bag, and I haven’t seen the finished article that will be published. But suffice it to say that for some years I was living and operating on “autopilot.” I was working too much. I was distracted and preoccupied. I was tethered (addicted?) to my cell phone. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or emotionally. I was drinking wine on too many weeknights. I was depressed. It makes me sad to admit it, but the fact is for some years there, I wasn’t paying very good attention in, or to, my life. I wasn’t present, and as a result, missed out on quite a lot…
Thinking about all of this caused me to recall an adventure I had 15 years ago that illustrates perfectly the state I found myself in upon realizing just how far down I was in my life.
On October 1, my husband, Jerry, and our friends, Chuck and Karla, and I drank coffee as we drove about an hour in our 4-wheel-drive truck through deep snow to the Christina Lake trailhead. It was still dark out since this adventure was my idea, and I like to be out on the trail when the sun comes up. When we parked at the trailhead, we remarked at the still star-filled sky as we put our snowshoes on. It was cold so we made quick work of it and were soon on our way.
We snowshoed into Upper Silas Canyon. We took turns breaking trail for about 3.5 miles before stopping for a hot drink and a snack at Upper Silas Lake. The lake was stunningly beautiful. Perfectly nestled in a landscape blanketed by white fluff, and surrounded by powder-sugar-covered pine trees, Upper Silas Lake was mostly frozen. We wanted to enjoy the scenery longer but it took only a few minutes of not moving before we were all shivering again from the cold. Eager to get warm again, we started our return hike.
Our return hike was mostly quiet. As is often the case on a return hike, we were each in our own worlds.
We were about almost back to the trailhead when all of a sudden, as if out of nowhere, there were hunters, scattered, each one hiding and moving carefully and quietly from tree to tree, with a rifle in hand. They were quietly hunting and looking for, and maybe even actively stalking, their prey.
We were suddenly vulnerable and exposed. Caught, and unaware.
It hadn’t occurred to us when we embarked on this adventure that it was opening day for hunting season. We didn’t have orange on, and we were not making very much noise as we snowshoed through the woods. Suddenly we were in the sights of several people with rifles.
This is what it was like for me after we sold our first company and I went from being completely consumed and time poor to having time on my hands. It was as if I suddenly “woke up” to my life, and upon doing so, I noticed numerous threats. It felt as if they had appeared out of nowhere. Almost as if I had been stealthily stalked… The reality was I was on autopilot and consumed. Somewhere along the lines I stopped being alert and wasn’t paying attention.
The waking up was painful. It was a reckoning, and there was regret I contended with for a few years before turning things around. Thank God I woke up. What a difference it has made.
Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, and often dubbed “The Mother of Mindfulness,” so perfectly suggests, “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing either mindfully or mindlessly, and the consequences of being in one state of mind or the other are enormous.” In the early 1970s, Langer studied “mindlessness.” She found then, and continues to find, that mindlessness is pervasive. “Most people are just not there, and they’re not there to know that they’re not there.”
“Not there” describes where I was during those few years. (Check out this exceptional conversation between Krista Tippett and Ellen Langer about “actively noticing.”)
Jack London says in his famous Credo, which I think are words to live by: The function of man is to live, not to exist.
What I have learned is that when we’re paying attention – and awake – we live. When we’re not, we’re simply existing and marking time.
Thank you for reading.
NOTE: I’m recruiting right now for my Epic Women program, which bundles individual life coaching, wellness and a guided 4-day Epic backpacking expedition. Please let me know if you’d like more information about that, or to schedule a call with me to learn more.
Every new year I choose 3 words that I want to guide me. (This is originally Chris Brogan’s idea)
Our family’s 2017 words are Challenge, Adventure and Service.
My personal 3 words for 2017 are: 1. ONE (Single task. Do only one thing at a time. If I’m writing, I’m writing. If I’m reading, I’m reading. If I’m in conversation with someone, I’m in the conversation. If I’m folding laundry, I’m folding laundry. If I’m driving, I’m driving. If I’m eating, I’m eating. You get the gist. It’s about focusing, and eliminating distractions.)
2. PRACTICE (Practice everything, including juggling, harmonica, reciting favorite poems, mindfulness, mobility training, etc.)
3. HELL YEAH ~oops a 2-worded word~(Saying Yes to memory-making experiences, which for me, tend to be the spontaneous ones. I started implementing this in late 2015, when I slid down the Popo Agie waterfall for the first time since I was a teenager; other examples include getting in the hotel pool and playing ball with my sons, going down big water slides, saying yes to our 30-day Europe trip even though we weren’t sure we could afford it, and spinning cookies/donuts on Jan. 1 of this year.This is also similar to living according to Derek Siver’s “No Yes. It’s Either Hell Yeah or No” philosophy.)
What are your 3 words? I would love to hear them, so please think about this and share them in the comments.