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Four things that hiking taught me about work, life and myself

This post is an attempt to talk about four principals that have been stewing in my brain for sometime now. It’s a set of concepts that came to me in the days after a health event that put me on the doorstep of becoming a runner and, soon after, a backpack hiker. I believe that there are many paths to self awareness. This is where my trek is taking me at the moment in my professional, personal and outdoors life.

I was never a Boy Scout. Memory is squidgy on why I never followed through with the Scouts actually. And yet, probably to my parent’s chagrin, I dropped out of the program shortly after Cub Scouts when I was a kid. Well, that and soccer, football, choir, and band. Loved track & field though. I think I am more of a loner than a joiner actually. Not anti-social so much, but inclined to keep company by myself usually while enjoying the metered company of others.

All that aside though, I love being outdoors even though I have lived pretty much every minute I could in front of a computer screen through my 30’s & 40’s, or in a restaurant, or in a kitchen. Some of my friends were shocked one day in the mid 2000’s when I was outside one time, after having broken my arm in a biking accident, I was bicycle commuting every day at the time, when I think I said something like “I love being outside in the sun.” Alcohol may have been involved. But I was met with dismay and laughter in that inconsistent statement I uttered aloud.

Change demands honesty.

Fast forward to four years ago. A serious health challenge. Three great job changes. My marriage and a new openness to many permutations of friendships across multiple fulcrums along the past, present and future tenses. I guess the constant lesson has been change. Maybe some forgiveness in there and willingness to learn from mistakes and then let them go like those paper lanterns that float off into some night sky down a river.

I can’t change what I’ve done, or not done, in the past, but what I can do is get real honest about the need for change. Yeah, sounds nice, but not so easy. Some changes take more effort than others. Like hiking 100 miles with my buddy Doug last year through the Olympics. That challenged both of us and we found that we needed one another at various points along the way. Changing my diet to be a lot more heart healthy has been an iterative process as well. Salt, fat, sugar are the key factors to manage while increasing consumption of fish, whole grains and vegetables. I think about this a lot actually. And while, playing with fire, there have been pizzas, I remind myself of something my dad told me. “It’s not the thing you do occasionally that will kill you, it’s the things you do every day.”

Honesty requires self forgiveness.

I was supposed to go back to Burr Oak State Park to do a group hike with some new friends this weekend. Didn’t happen. My motivation just was not there. It could be that I am waist deep in learning new skills as required by my new job. Maybe it was a bout of winter blues… it’s been very cold here in Ohio recently due to the polar vortex. It might have been some emotional drainage from working on the AHA Support Network. I say that because I tend to mull over things slowly. I cry in movies. My suspension of disbelief skills are strong I suppose. While this was more of a choice than a failure, I realized I disappointed myself and needed to give myself a break. It’s like that at work as well at times. If more of us became aware of those moments and chose to not be so critical of our shortcomings and instead perform an act of kindness instead, we’d be a lot healthier in the long run.

Self forgiveness yields wisdom.

My 2019 hiking schedule is beckoning. Like I told dad and mom recently, I want to use every damn minute I have doing things that take me places I’ve never been. With Burr Oak fresh in my mind, I’ve got to be less type A about this year’s goals though and just do what I can when I can. Boy Scout or not. I won’t let fear of not knowing how to properly navigate, with a map, get in my way. Or learning how to cut enough firewood for a small campfire when it’s available and allowed. Fear of meeting people that may or may not be hostile – choosing to be present and open. With anyone. Allowing ourselves the time to truly know ourselves is imperative to growth.

Facing fear provides true sight.

There are moments on most of my hikes that I have the opportunity to just get lost. Fear again. That said, I am researching a 323 mile hike through the Daniel Boon National Forest called the Sheltowee Trace. It’s the through hike that might actually be attainable for me. I know sort of what to expect after spending nearly a week on the trail last year with Doug in the Olympics. Yet, this breaks down to three full weeks at an aggressive pace. Backwoods skills being beginner not withstanding. There’s fear of being outside of the safe range of a 911 call. Getting seriously lost or injured. The specter of loneliness. And yet I know all this and keep coming back to this device of getting as far backwoods as possible for these exact reasons. The memories forged outdoors, while there may have been anxiety, are full of the experiences I had. The time spent just being in an environment totally devoid of structure. The smell of rain on the forest floor. The taste of water from icy cold glacial mountain rivers. The chill of the air on my skin at night while being dumbstruck simply looking up at the Milky Way.

It’s when I think of these four principals that I know I am on the right path for myself. I also think that, while this post is about my own treks outdoors more often than not, that there is business, and life, value beyond my own application of these precepts. In an era of distraction, multi-tasking, and ambition, we need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. So here’s to honesty, forgiveness, wisdom, and sight.

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