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Exploring Our Edges

May 5th, 2013

At Mt. Whitney's high camp.

People don’t hire a life coach so they can keep operating in their comfort zone. Rather, people hire a life coach to dare them to leave their comfort zone. Change cannot be made in the confines of our comfort zone, within the confines of our fears. So we have to dare to explore the edges, to dare to enter a space that is full of uncertainty.

To grow and develop — and follow our bliss — we have to explore the edges of our abilities. We must level up, and I’m so compelled by its value that I’ve built Epic Life around the concept.

Every year I “sign up” for at least one major adventure — what I’ve come to refer to as an Epic Adventure. It could be a hike that covers a greater distance than I’ve ever hiked in a 24-hour period, such as the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim day hike I did in 2010, or the 50-mile traverse day hike of Zion National Park I did in 2011. Or, it could be climbing the Grand Teton, or Mt. Whitney. Or, many times it’s not outdoors-related at all but it’s still an epic adventure. It could be a proposal or call I make to a high level executive or corporation, or a speaking gig to a high profile audience I dare to accept.

That said, I do make lots of room for epic outdoor dventures because so much growth happens and in a setting that will inspire me for days and months and years.

In leveling up, at some point during the adventure, I am not enough. I will not have what it takes. This is scary and uncomfortable. This is when I will find myself asking “whose idea was this?” and remember that it was mine. It’s also a powerful point in the adventure because at this crux, I can make a choice: I can quit, or I can continue — learning the skills I need along the way. The adventure becomes a journey of personal discovery as I’m forced to explore the edges of my abilities — to see what I’m made of, and also to discover what’s possible.

If we are to live our best, most epic life, we must dare to live and operate at these edges often.

Living at the edges is not unique to outdoor adventure. Often we are at our edges at home and at work.

Exposure. Or, scrambling up the last section of Mt. Whitney's Mountaineering Route.

Think of some of the most nerve-wracking moments you’ve experienced — especially ones that you consciously chose to be a part of. I remember when my friend, Debbie Cohen, chief of people for Mozilla, so generously offered to host a brunch at her San Francisco home for women corporate leaders in her circle so that I could practice my pitch/presentation for Epic Life. I would have been nuts to say no, right, especially given corporate women are my target market. So I said yes. But as the event drew closer, I started negotiating with myself, and looking for a way out. It was all too much. It was too big. What was I thinking? Despite this second-guessing, I hung in there with my commitment to the brunch presentation.

On the morning of the presentation, as women starting arriving at Debbie’s, with about five minutes to go before my presentation was to begin, I retreated to a guest room and became paralyzed in fear. I can experience those emotions of stress and fear by recalling the experience. I was hunched in a chair trying to get myself together, to get “in state.” But instead I was freaking out, nervous and sweating. Hiding, really. I second-guessed myself and my presentation, and Epic Life. “What if these women don’t find what I have to say compelling? What if they’ve heard it before? What if nobody but me cares about what I am here to say?” And so on. Finally, it was time to present, and so I left my hiding place and entered the living room to give my presentation.

The presentation went well and the women were lovely. They provided enthusiastic support for my message and my business, while providing valuable feedback. Even if the presentation were a bomb, the experience of leveling up (raising my game) would have been beneficial in that it caused me to develop new skills and to “cowgirl up.” The experience made me better. And I’m grateful to Debbie, one of the biggest champions of people I know, for giving me the opportunity to rise up.

Just daring to level up is the equivalent of standing on a summit of a mountain. While I love standing on the top of a summit, in my humble opinion, daring to start up the mountain in the first place can be more significant than standing on top of it.

An example of leveling up in my personal life would be the fact that our oldest son, who just turned 13, will be going on a jet, alone, to a junior leadership conference on the East Coast for a week. That will not be easy for my husband and I, and Wolf’s brothers. I will be a mess putting him on a plane. Yet, it will be an amazing experience for our son.

Ascending the couloir, while being short-roped into my summit team.

There are many more experiences like this that I could list. I challenge you to reflect on your own experience of living at your edges.

Regardless of how different our experiences may be, the emotions related to each are the same: fear, stress, anxiety. During these times at our edge(s), we yearn for safety.

Recently, I had the tremendous honor of climbing Mt. Whitney with Backpacker magazine editors and readers who raised a combined $250,000 for Big City Mountaineers, an organization that provides wilderness mentoring and experiences for disadvantaged urban youth. (Thank you to Sierra Mountaineering International for the phenomenal guiding)

It was an amazing opportunity to raise money and climb a mountain for such an important cause. And, sure, climbing Mt. Whitney would be an awesome adventure that would give me another interesting story to tell. But more importantly, the adventure would require me to be at my edges. Frequently. So of course, I said yes when my friend, Jon Dorn, informed me there was available space on Team 4, and invited me.

Ascending "The Ledges" on Day 1.

Yeehaw! (On the summit of Mt. Whitney.)

Since returning from the adventure, I have reflected on the many times I was operating at, or beyond my edges during the adventure.

They include:
–Backpacking with 11 strangers. (I knew two of my teammates; the other 11 would be people I would meet in person for the first time) As usual, per these epic adventures, I left Mt. Whitney with many meaningful new friendships.
–Being in unfamiliar country. It would be my first time to the area.
–I had to wear rigid, really warm mountaineering boots. This may not sound daunting to most, but to me, someone who typically hikes in trail-running shoes and who has blister-prone feet, it would be uncomfortable for me.
–The Ledges. On our hike in, shortly after leaving the Mt. Whitney hiking trail, we’d have to ascend “The Ledges,” which were composed of about 400′ of granite slab(s) we’d have to use hands and feet to get up and over.
–Loaded. I would be hiking with a 44-pound backpack on my back. (Normally I hike with 15 pounds on my back)
–”Wag bag.” Alert! (Sorry for the gross nature of this item) This perhaps was the most difficult (uncomfortable) aspect of the entire adventure. We were each given a wag bag at the start, and instructed that during the adventure, “#2″ had to be done in the bag — our same bag — and hauled out with us at the end of the adventure. I totally understand and appreciate the need to do this. If it weren’t for the wag bag requirement, the High Sierras around Mt. Whitney would resemble a poop landfill. Still, it is not natural to poop in a bag, over the course of 4 days, and then haul it out. Talk about leaving your comfort zone… By the way, clients and future clients, as far as I know there won’t be any wag bags on Epic Life’s adventures.
–”Self conscious sleeping.” Sonja, one of my two tent-mates, gets credit for this phrase. I, too, would call myself a self conscious sleeper. In a tent with two other women, I worried about snoring or talking in my sleep. As a result, I didn’t sleep very well.
–Ice axe, crampons, helmet, short ropes. These are things I hadn’t used in combination before, and the fact that we’d be using them at all meant the stakes were higher than they are on most of my outdoor excursions. The terrain was steep, frozen in areas, and loose in others. Using all of these tools was a new experience for me.
–”Shitty shit.” This is the term we coined for the loose scree that was on a very narrow and steep couloir that we ascended and descended on summit day. One thing that hiking on the scree reminded me of is that even if you take your steps very deliberately, it’s still possible the entire earth below your feet will give way. It’s the same in life when we dare to go off-trail, or/and higher.
–Class 3 & 4 climbing. The last “obstacle” to Whitney’s summit was a 400′ foot rock climb/scramble. While this section was not that difficult for me, personally, the exposure was significant, and therefore left me feeling apprehensive.

All of the above were opportunities to practice being uncomfortable, to practice leaning in and daring to go beyond my comfort zone. The result of doing so is self discovery. I return more, and better, than I was before.

What is an edge you want to be dared to explore?

(I want to give a special thanks to Jerry and our sons for their continued love and support, and to all of my family and inner circle of friends, to Jon Dorn, and also to Debbie Cohen and Kate Roeske-Zummer for daring me — and to all of my family, friends, colleagues and clients, who make me better, and who generously donated to the Mt. Whitney climb! Also, thanks to Mike Lilygren and NOLS, who helped me “gear up” for the adventure. THANK YOU!)

  • Robin Hopkins Guse says:

    Shelli! Love your self-reflection and the role-model you are. This is why I trust you and am willing to lean in, think bigger than I am, and reach out towards my edges…sometimes holding on…sometimes letting go! Namaste, R

  • Tammy says:

    Shelli -

    Great account about exploring your edges. I find leaving your comfort zone to be so rewarding and this time around, I’m glad I got to meet you and the rest of our team. Keep finding your edges and pushing past them, it’s what life is all about.

    Tammy

  • Holly Copeland says:

    Thank you, Shelli for this account, and by continuing to find and explore your edges. You are a tremendous example for all of us! Holly

  • Kate RZ says:

    This is so inspiring – and I am excited about our own adventure this year! BIG DARES = BIG REWARDS of the inner kind. Breathtaking shots too!

  • [...] up would be The Ledges. I knew from my experience climbing this mountain last year that The Ledges would be one of the most notable features of Day 1′s backpacking. Leann, [...]

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