The Outward Bound trip I went on this summer was one of the most enjoyable—but difficult—things I have ever done. From rockclimbing to backpacking, there were all kinds of fun activities. Besides not having a shower or toilet for two weeks, there were also challenges I didn’t anticipate when I signed up.
Near the end of our trip, we found ourselves starting on our day’s expedition at nearly 7:00pm (a cushy departure time is normally something like 9:00 or 10:00am). That day, there’d been a flooded stream raging river that separated our group holding up our start. Without going into the details, we were getting a very late start on a six mile hike—and the skies were threatening another storm.
Everything in me screamed “I want to go home.” I’m a scaredy cat by nature and while I love thunderstorms when enjoyed from the comfort of my apartment or some other safe indoor location, one of the last things I felt like doing was hiking in my yellow Helly Hansen rainsuit while worrying about being struck by lightning. As much as I was worried and thought that I should plop my butt down in lightning drill (AKA perch myself on top of my backpack on my rubber mat to keep myself safe), I was praying the storm would stay far enough away that we wouldn’t get even more held up along the way.
I was grateful for the downpour for at least one reason—it hid my tears. The rest of the night is largely a blur: we got lost, thought we got lost, argued about whether or not we were really lost, and used our headlamps to refer to the maps we carried in our bags for what felt like hundreds of times; we stopped for dinner—a spread of chex mix along with tortillas that most of us filled with salsa and cheese, afraid of the gastrointestinal ramifications of consuming questionably rehydrated black beans; we paused for a while when one of our cheeriest gals fell and hurt her leg and we had to dig out the first aid kit to patch her up; our hearts raced when our leader saw wildlife and alerted us, “Animal! Animal!” But also, eventually, in the midst of what I could definitely describe as “miserable” or “scary” and definitely “soggy” (it didn’t stop raining the whole time we were hiking), we found a rhythm. At some point, I realized that crying wasn’t helping the situation and that if I sat down nobody would carry me or come to save me I really had no option but to keep going. At that point, dwelling on all the things that sucked about the situation became pointless. I ended up having some of the best conversations of the whole trip that night and when we strolled (ha!) into the puddle where we were supposed to find a spot to pitch our tents our campsite well past midnight, we’d experienced what became the highlight of my trip and we’d earned bragging rights to take home along with our suntans and bug bites.
Why am I telling this story now?
Because as cheesy as it is, I think there’s a lesson here: oftentimes, the things that are the most difficult are the ones that end up benefitting us the most. The most uncomfortable experiences we go through are what turn out giving us the best lessons, memories, and triumphs.
I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever felt as “legit” as I did that night in the stormy woods and like I said, I count the experience as one of the highlights of my trip.
Right now, there are a few situations in my life where the “I wish this was over!” sentiment I felt at the beginning of that soggy evening is coming up for me. I know I’m not alone—from fellow students who just want their degree already to people who want to give up yoyo dieting and find their happy weight…yesterday, it’s easy to despise where we are and just want to be done with it—whatever “it” is. It’s not fun to feel like you’re 15lbs overweight or to be in a program that’s hard (I’m speaking purely from experience here).
But what I’d offer (and what I’m trying to take from my Outward Bound fun) is that this experience—as much as it might be uncomfortable—doesn’t have to suck. What if while you’re slaving away for that degree, you find all the ways to have fun along the way instead of focusing on all the reasons it sucks? Rather than killing myself to try to get the best marks, what if I focus my energy on learning as much as possible, meeting as many people as I can to network, and building the skills I see myself using beyond academia along the way? And what if the process of giving up emotional eating and getting to your happy weight becomes a kind of adventure and opportunity instead of a struggle? Rather than beating myself up for still working on this, what if I recognize how powerful it is that I’ve put in the work and am not slapping a quick fix band-aid on the problem yet again?
I’m a firm believer in feeling your feelings and honouring your emotions, but I also believe that we can choose our attitude and our beliefs about our situations. Unfortunately, I lost one of my cycling friends on Thanksgiving weekend. Last weekend, there was a celebration of life for her. On the cards from the service was a quote that Kelly lived by: “Happiness is a choice.”
At a time where I could easily start feeling sorry for myself (school is hard and I got a bad-ish mark last week, my jeans won’t zipper, whahh whahh whahh), I was reminded of the power of a positive attitude. As cheesy as it might be, there’s a reason I keep the “We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.” quote kicking around my “About” page. Life is way too short to get down on ourselves or to get sucked into thinking about giving up. Just like my hiking “fun” and the realization that I couldn’t give up–if I sat down in the middle of the trail I’d only piss off my fellow hikers and there was no helicopter that was going to come and rescue me any time soon–recognizing that being frustrated or uncomfortable isn’t a reason to give up, but actually an opportunity to find a way to take something away from this experience–is powerful. With that perspective, I have a choice between being miserable or finding a way to forge on and to find a way to be happy, even if I’m feeling soggy (or fat, frustrated, whatever).
I’ll choose happy.
What is a challenging situation that’s made for a lesson, a fond memory, or something else positive in your life?
Where are you choosing an attitude that isn’t serving you? What would it be like to choose happiness instead?