Every single climb that you will ever complete in your life is fueled by the most powerful substance known on this planet. No, I'm not talking about the three extra-strength 5-hour energy bottles that you just drank in an effort to give yourself 15 hours of continuous energy (it doesn't work, by the way). The "substance" that I'm talking about is your thought. Your ideas. The visions that you create while you are lying in bed at night, dreaming about who you want to be. The flash of inspiration that you got in the car on the way home. The glimpse of a photograph of a beautiful location that made your brain think, "I want to go there". The entire world can be changed, your entire life can be changed, with one simple thought.
I want to be more.
I want to do more.
I want to go there.
I want to climb that.
I want to change this.
Every single thing that you have ever accomplished in your life is a result of deliberately thinking that you wanted that "thing" to happen, and then taking definite steps of action to make it so. When you decided to eat lunch today, you visualized what you wanted to eat, and then you went through the steps to make it happen: you took the specific food that you wanted out of the fridge, chopped it up, sauteed it with some spices, and ate it. You can't have a vague wish (i.e. "I want something to eat") and just expect food to magically appear, hovering in front of your face (although that would be nice). You have to see it in order for it to happen.
Mountains are no different. You can't put a wishy-washy thought out to the universe like, "I'd love to climb a mountain", and expect a mountain to come find you and scoop you up. You need to decide, with definite purpose, that you want to climb a mountain. You need to pick which mountain you want to climb, and then you need to take a step towards figuring out what you need to do to make that happen.
Here's the thing: When I started mountain climbing, I had ABSOLUTELY NO FREAKING CLUE ON THE EARTH what I was doing. I didn't know what I didn't know. But I knew how to take one step - I knew how to ask other people what I needed to bring. I knew that I needed to find somebody more experienced to help me. Knowing that I needed to bring toilet paper with me on my first climb might have been helpful (in retrospect, this was very obvious), but all I really had to do was take the steps that I knew how to do. In my case, I needed to rent crampons and an ice axe and learn some basic skills. I found a more experienced climber, who helped me ascend my first major peak, but really, it all started with a vision. I had seen Mt. Baker when I first moved to WA, and it was so big that I thought it was a cloud. Having lived on the East Coast my entire life, I didn't know that mountains could look so... glacier-y. That very first time that I saw Mt. Baker, I envisioned myself on the summit. I remember thinking, "What would it take for me to get there?" I never let that vision go. I saw it and believed it was real. Two years later, I was standing on the summit of Mt. Baker in my ridiculously dorky mountaineering attire. I had turned a thought into a very real moment in my life - a moment that I will never forget.
I'm going to get real and vulnerable with you for a minute: There are many parts of my life where I have felt like a complete and utter failure. I grew up as the oldest of three girls, and I fell into the trap of, "needing to be perfect". All. The. Time. I pushed myself HARD to be the best at everything. Anything less than the best was completely unacceptable. Up until a few years ago, if you had asked me what my greatest fear in life was, I would have told you that it was, "being a disappointment." OUCH. How can anybody possibly live with those expectations? I held myself to such a stupidly high standard that any failure was seen, in my own eyes, as being a catastrophic disappointment. I hid my feelings, disguised my shortcomings and maintained such a facade of strength and awesomeness that nobody had a clue that I was secretly living a life of self-loathing, fear, and lack of confidence.
At the time, I used the mountains as an escape, albeit an unhealthy escape. I neglected my already-crumbling relationship, family drama and my disgust with myself by, "running off" to to the mountains - because it was the only place that I felt powerful. The mountains taught me how to overcome fears, how to be OK with imperfection, how to take a dream and make it a reality. The mountains taught me how to be still - how to take a moment to simply breathe and to savor life. The mountains kept me going for a few years, until even the awe-inspiring power of the greatest mountain in existence was not enough to soothe my growing discomfort with my life. As the mountains had raised me up, they also broke me down. I had the absolutely incredible opportunity to travel to the Himalayas in 2011. While the 18 days that I spent trekking through Bhutan were some of the most incredible days of my life, the depth of the pain that I felt in my soul was agonizing. Simultaneously, I came home to a relationship that was falling apart and I found out that I was losing my job as a Park Ranger. I looked at my life and wondered, "How did I get here... and why do I feel like this?" I could no longer maintain the bada$$ charade. The earth rumbled inside me, and it call came crashing down.
Mountains represent some of the most awe-inspiring and impressive forces in nature. Imagine the force needed to push actual continents of land together so that, over time, they rise up into mountains that reach thousands of feet into the air. Imagine the heat and energy of the liquid magma that bubbles from the core of our planet to build massive volcanoes. These are the most powerful, energetic events on earth - and yet, they were not strong enough to help me anymore. To push forward, I needed to find something even stronger than the strongest thing that the world has ever known - I needed to find that power within myself.
I stopped hiking. For six months, I barely hiked or climbed a mountain. I lamented, I felt lost. Without the mountains as a crutch, I had to face reality for the first time in my life. I didn't know who I was without the wilderness, but I had a feeling that if I could find that person, she would come back even stronger. I started taking steps - slowly at first, but still moving forward.
Climbing a mountain starts with an idea. You see yourself on the summit - you visualize yourself standing there, feeling the breeze and the sun on your face. You believe that it is real. And then, you do the second most important thing of all - you take one step. And then you take another step. And then you take another step. When you climb a mountain, you must first see yourself on the summit, but you can't possibly imagine the route to get there. You might have a good idea of where you are going, but until you are actually moving, you can't see all of the steps that it is going to take for you to get there. Sometimes, the trail is obscured, sometimes the summit is socked in and you can't see anything, but you can always see the next step. If you try to imagine every single step at the same time, you'll be paralyzed by fear and you'll never move. Mountains are not climbed in a leap - they are climbed one, tiny, manageable step at a time.
Hold your vision of where you want to go, what you want to do, who you want to be in your heart. Take a step. Take another step. When the summit is obscured, it doesn't mean that you won't get there. Pause, take a breath. Look for the next step. Take it. Some steps are much scarier than others, because some steps have more exposure - a greater risk of a fall. Often times, these steps are terrifying to look at, but when we reflect on our climb, they don't seem as scary - in fact, they end up being our favorite parts of the story. Fear will cause you to hesitate and over think the next step. Get out of your head and feel your way through the moment.
When you start any climb, particularly if you've pounded three 5-hour-energy drinks (seriously, don't do that), you are going to start with massive amounts of enthusiasm and energy. As the day wears on, you're going to start to feel tired - your feet will hurt, your back will get sore. Your brain will start telling you things like, "It's not worth it", or "Just go home, what the heck are you doing here anyway?", or, "You don't deserve this", or "You aren't strong enough." In those moments, you must dig deep and FUEL yourself. On a mountain, we use those moments to grab a snack and give ourselves that extra energy to push harder. In life, we must fuel ourselves with the things that revive our spirits and reconnect us with our creative flow and our deeper purpose. If you find yourself feeling discouraged with your progress, uninspired or, in general, unmotivated to continue with your mission - fight for yourself. You are worth it. Your dreams are not silly or ridiculous. You are a wonderful creature with unique gifts and you were put on this planet for a specific reason. You have the power to change the world and to accomplish absolutely anything that you desire. Meditate. Do some yoga. Dance to some really loud, ridiculous music (confession: I'm a closet Britney Spears fan). Do a hard workout. Pray. FUEL your mind so that you can get back in the game. See yourself accomplishing the specific goal that you desire. See yourself on the summit. Feel it. Breathe in that mountain air, and know that the summit is sitting there, waiting for YOU.
Disclaimer: I'm not there yet. I never will be, and here's why...when you climb a mountain and stand on the summit, it's pretty exhilarating. But, when you look around... what do you see? Yep, more mountains. There are always more mountains to climb. I don't mean this to sound discouraging, because climbing mountains is pretty much my favorite thing to do. It's really, REALLY exciting once you realize the limitless nature of the awesomeness that you can produce in this world. You will always have changing and different visions and goals for yourself. Each time you set out on that climb, the mountains make you stronger - a little less hesitant, a little less fearful. You have to take that strength, internalize it, and use it to push harder to the next level, whatever it might be for you.
If you're feeling stuck in any area of your life, sit down and write your vision for what you want to do. Be ridiculously specific. If you can't see the specific summit in your mind, you can't climb it. Then, take ONE STEP. Don't drown yourself with, "I don't know how to do this", or you'll never even start. Nobody knows how to do something that they've never done before. Just like I didn't know to bring toilet paper on my first climbing trip - now, you better believe it, I've never ever forgotten toilet paper ever again. Just take one step. That's it. When you feel your energy draining, fuel your brain. Keep your energy high, and know that you are stronger than all of the mountains that have ever existed on this planet. You are the mountain - the only thing you ever truly have to summit in life, is yourself.