If you’ve been reading my newsletters these past few months, then you know I did something quite unusual in September: I went camping in nature on my own for 3 days and nights. Prior to committing to this initiation in nature, I had previously only camped once as an adult—and that was with my husband and the full support of two experts who packed and carried all our gear. This time around, I was on my own.
- Why did I decide to step way outside my expertise and comfort zone and do this?
- In what ways did I push my boundaries and handle the challenges I encountered?
- What lesson did I learn from stepping out of my comfort zone?
Read on to learn more, and perhaps you too will be inspired to create your own stretch experience to cultivate your resilience and grow as a leader.
Back in February when I first came across information about the nature solo, every fiber in my being said: YES! DO THIS! Rationally it did not make sense. I owned exactly zero pieces of camping equipment, had almost no camping experience, and had never spent a night alone in nature. Oh, and did I mention that I had only recently finished physical therapy and was still building back my strength after struggling with some upper back problems? Would I seriously commit to haul all my gear at 7,000’ altitude and live on my own in the wild for 72 hours? Yet, the solitude, the call of the land, and the waiting gift of no emails and no responsibilities, was seriously appealing to me. After a brief conversation with my husband to confirm he was 100% supportive and happy to steer the household ship for a week, I signed up.
What Boundaries did I Push?
Each of us has our own comfort zone, and so our boundaries will also be different. Yes, I had previously climbed Kilimanjaro, and yes, I had previously lived and worked in China, but that was all years ago before children and being my own boss. In this case, my boundaries were more internal. The following questions and self-doubt arose in my mind:
- Could I trust myself and my capabilities?
- How would I handle any fears that arose without a friend, peer coach, or partner I could talk to?
- What about no cell reception coupled with wild animals?
- What about the complexities of back-to-school season?
- Am I really going to leave my husband and kids on their own just 3 days after the school year has begun?
It turned out that the six months of preparation were all part of self-discovery and overcoming self-doubt. Each time I researched and purchased another piece of equipment, I would pause: am I really doing this? I’m not someone who camps, and yet here I am getting ready to do this! I had to remind myself of the full support and excitement my husband had for me, and practice letting go of any fictionalized scenarios that would start playing out in my mind. Ultimately, the bigger boundaries I pushed were woven into the challenges I faced on the ground – or I should say on the mountain and boulders of the northern New Mexican desert-meets-forest terrain where I camped.
How I Managed The Challenges, Fears, and Rain
Most of the challenges I encountered were internal: struggling with my own thoughts, fears, and doubts, most of which were not real. When I first signed up for the nature solo, my understanding of the “wildlife” in the area was that there wasn’t much – and definitely no bears or wolves or anything scary like that – and that in all the years of people camping on the land there had never been a problem. Soon after arriving at the base camp, however, in the preparatory debrief I was told that due to the prior year’s fire that burned the 300,000+ surrounding acres, there were now many more animals on the land, including lynx, bobcat, coyotes, bears, deer, elk … and many more animals. I imagine if there had been a video replay of that moment, my eyes would have looked like they were four times their usual size. Gulp. I was given instructions on how to keep any food in a sealed container far away from my tent, and how to dig a latrine and bury waste, all to keep the animals away.
Prior to departing on the trip, I had been advised to do some research on how to hang a bear bag, an odor-proof bag (or can) that bears cannot reach. But since there were no bears, I did not bother to learn how. Without a cell phone or the internet – did I mention that I was completely free of technology for those 72 hours? – I tapped into my early childhood tree climbing and knot-tying skills to MacGyver a solution. [MacGyver is a reference to a 1980s US television show that featured a main character who could make or repair anything using incredible ingenuity and creativity.] In the process of scaling the trees with few branches, I did earn quite a few scrapes and scratches that first morning on my campsite, and was grateful to have taken along a first aid kid that I quickly put to use. But, I did it! And it worked well as a solution for my whole time on solo, and those two trees between which hung my rope and bag of food, quickly became my outdoor kitchen and bathroom area, which I visited at least 3 times a day as part of a daily routine that quickly and very naturally took shape.
During part of the trip, wild animal sounds, torrent rainfall and the darkness of the dead of the night induced feelings of sheer terror inside of me. My adrenaline, fear and racing mind were my biggest enemies. Using tools such as yogic breathing practices (pranayama), visualization, mantras, self-story-telling, singing, and more I attempted to manage my fears. After six long hours of a cacophony of grunts, growls, snorting, and squeals, I thankfully made it through the night alive without actually seeing or being directly bothered by an animal. Then came the pounding rain for 24-hours straight making it challenging to do anything including eating. I did feel well prepared with my rain gear, the tent’s rainfly and an extra camp tarp my intuition kept bugging me to buy (thank you gut!). But the reality of living life fully outside when it was raining was rather perilous, and made me grateful for the cozy home inside my tent.
I laughed a lot at myself that next morning and felt great relief at being able to discover that I had only been prey to my own fears, not some fictionalized coyote-bear-deer-monster. I took further pause to pat myself on the back for braving the elements and inclement weather. For me, this was a real lesson in the power of the mind to make things up and make situations worse. It had me thinking about the quote from Seneca, “We suffer more in our imagination more often that in reality.” I know it is something that my coaching clients frequently struggle with when they are stressed, lacking confidence, missing information, or struggling with the shenanigans of their own mental saboteurs. It’s an important lesson to learn: when our brains and bodies go into that ‘Fight or Flight’ response, we need to use the tools I mentioned above to regulate our nervous systems and quiet our mind, body and spirit.
How I Grew
My confidence and trust in myself grew tremendously throughout the preparation and actual solo experience. The experience of facing my fears, being able to laugh at myself, and successfully handle all the challenges that arose has resulted in me appreciating and loving myself more. As I was able to observe a need, creatively utilize what was available to me in my surroundings, and take action to either solve a problem or create something new, a type of seamless creative flow was affirmed. I’ve noticed since I returned that I am clearer and more decisive, and also, I am approaching new challenges with greater ease and less worry.
Nature used to be something I went to on a hike, or looked out the window to see. Now, I know in my bones that I am nature and nature is me: we are not separate; we are one. I have a more innate sense of the time of day and a sense of changing weather. In fact, I am no longer annoyed at the weather, nor consider rain an inconvenience. I simply notice what the weather is doing and live in sync with it, changing my attire and footwear if needed. I feel incredibly closely connected to nature now.
Overall, I feel inspired and impressed by nature, and am noticing a renewed interest in bringing my rising leader clients closer to nature as a way to grow their self-awareness, confidence, and problem-solving skills. While I have no current plans to revive my Bali retreats, I do notice some type of seed has been planted within me that I anticipate will bear fruit in the form of a new offering for clients in the future. As numerous life and career transformations resulted for my clients who accompanied me to Bali over the years, imagine what might result from a leadership growth retreat that involved some type of nature solo? Hmmm….