Travel

With the wind whipping, snow slipping under my feet, and a view of the plunging cliff to my left, I had a full-blown panic attack on the side of the Grand Canyon.

But before I get into that, let’s rewind a little bit. During my sophomore year, I decided to detour from the beachy college spring break that I initially wanted to one that would be a complete adventure. I had never been to the American southwest and was looking forward to experiencing the open skies I had heard about and seeing the Grand Canyon in its entire splendor. Anyone who knows me can tell you that nature, hiking, and the outdoors is way out of my comfort zone, but I figured, why not try something new?

After a few days of exploring the sites around Phoenix, such as the Heard Museum and the Superstition Mountains, the plan was to drive toward the canyon and tackle its Bright Angel Trail, which the brochures listed as a difficult trail. From our entry point into the canyon to our destination point called Indian Garden and back would be a 9-mile journey. Why we chose this trail as novices, I will never know. But, that was the plan.

Waking up the morning of, I was uneasy knowing what I was about to do. A girl who had never even camped in her backyard before was about to hike one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  Before I had time to talk myself out of it, gear was on my back and spikes were on my shoes. Yes, spikes. Did I mention the Grand Canyon’s high elevation created snow and ice on the trails?

grand canyon

Now, we’re back at the beginning of the story. The first mile down the canyon was simply treacherous. I was slipping across the icy, narrow trails and trying, but failing, to not look over the 4,380-foot cliff immediately to my left. The deafening gusts of cold wind were clouding the encouraging voices of the people I was with and intensifying my fear. I couldn’t master using the snow spikes and I was convinced this adventurous spring break was surely going to be my last. It was then I felt my face go hot and all I stopped dead in my tracks. I sat down right where I was and just cried.

Okay, I did a bit more than cry. There was some hyperventilating and uncontrollable shaking, too. I finally understood what an “anxiety attack” was. There were hikers piling up behind me, but I didn’t care. I had no plans to move out of my fetal position and didn’t let anybody touch me. With the help of my then boyfriend, I realized there were only two choices: hike back up and let my fear get the best of me or keep going because we didn’t fly all the way to Arizona for nothing. Truth be told, I wanted to turn around, but something in me (likely, just my ego) told me I would regret it.

After about 20 minutes of calming and pep talk, I slowly got back up and continued on. Everything from this point was nearly smooth. At about two miles down, there was no more snow and, in fact, it was dessert-like and scorching. We made it to our picnic spot and turn around point, and headed back up on the same trail. Hiking back up had its own issues, but that story is for another time. What I will say, however, is once we reached the top of the canyon; we literally kissed the flat ground.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is surely the most terrifying, but rewarding, thing I have ever done. Its power is breathtaking, in all senses of the word, and humbling. You never realize how strong you are until you’re put into a challenging situation. Regardless of the temporary strife it caused me, the canyon was absolutely beautiful. What is beauty without a little bit of pain?

Images by Aysia Woods

EducationSkills

We live in a success-glorifying society. We also live in a world in which people now have nine-second attention spans. So what do we get? A life that demands increasingly profound achievements coupled with the need for immediate social recognition. We condition ourselves to perform at our best when we are successful, happy, and strong. So when life throws the unexpected at us, we second-guess ourselves, stumbling through negative situations and berating the choices we have made. Have you ever really considered why we are so fueled by success but shaken by setbacks? Or why it’s so difficult to go through life when we have hit a low point? One root cause of this is the underlying fear of weakness. An even bigger problem is the fact that people associate weakness with vulnerability. Breaking news, folks: they’re not the same thing.

Vulnerability ≠ Weakness

For those of us on the constant chase for perfection, it’s a call to action to recognize that there is a huge difference between being vulnerable and being weak. Rather than suppressing your vulnerability, own it. Moments of regret, anger, or confusion should not be seen as moments of weakness, but rather moments of redirection and potential for clarity. Re-think those times in your life when you felt like giving in or giving up. Sometimes it’s during those perceived “weaknesses” that we are exposing our true strength to overcome.

Forgiveness ≠ Weakness

Forgiveness should not be seen as acceptance of defeat. People think that if they give someone a second chance, or if they are the one asking for amends, that they are compromising their own beliefs. This is not the case, however, if you allow yourself to view forgiveness as a way to both take control of a situation and let go of negative feelings. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the future.” – Bernard Meltzer

Not Knowing What To Say ≠ Weakness

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s during an important meeting or an intimate conversation with a friend, we’re sometimes caught off guard or can’t verbalize our thoughts properly. Don’t beat yourself up over not having a scripted life. It doesn’t make you any less of an employee or a friend. It takes courage to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Take the pressure off yourself of trying to always be polished and ready. Some of the most powerfully-minded people are the ones that can embrace quiet moments.

Making Mistakes ≠ Weakness

Imagine if we lived in a mistake-glorifying society. Mistakes would be recognized and worked through in a more transparent way. People would be just as candid about their failures as they are about their successes. When you mess up, when you do the wrong thing despite what your gut is telling you, when you thought you were being helpful, when you show up late or don’t show up at all, you feel like your weaknesses are on full display for the world to see. Realize that you can blame your weaknesses, saying you didn’t have the right resources. Or you can separate your vulnerability from weakness entirely and identify it with the strength to change instead. You may have done something wrong but you are ready and willing to learn from it.

Vulnerability = Strength to Change

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

Image: Dustin Scarpitti

Education

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Building up courage after failure can be difficult. Overcoming the disappointment of failure seems impossible. Learning to try again after failure is hard because your attempts are weighed down with doubt and hurt. Trying again requires facing your mistakes so you do not repeat them. It can be daunting, but it can be done.

I experienced failure during my sophomore year of high school, when I fell very ill on the last day of finals. By my last final of the day, I had just managed to sign my name at the top of my math test when I ran to the bathroom. I stayed there until school was out because I was too sick to go back to class. Because I couldn’t go back to class, I failed the class and would have to take it over. It was crushing. I felt sure that I would have passed the test and the class had I not been sick. Yet, this is the way things happened.

Though my failure felt out of my hands, what happened next was all up to me. At our school, we had the option of making up certain classes by taking them over again in the regular school year, summer school or at the local college. You do have to make them up eventually to continue advancing. I put it off for a long time. I felt like it was a waste of my time since I had already taken the class and was about to pass it. It seemed like I would just be learning things I already knew. To be really honest, I was worried about putting in more time and energy and failing again. I was afraid of people learning I was a failure without an “excuse” this time.

I finally opted for a summer course at the college because I could not avoid it anymore. Instead of feeling bad for myself and sitting in class regretting why I had to be there, I mustered up the strength to give the class all my attention and energy, and I focused and followed every rule and instruction. I was never late and never missed a class. I gave it my all because I did not want to have to go through the same thing again. In the end, I had the highest grade in the class. I could finally put the whole thing behind me. It was a relief but more than that, I felt good about myself. I didn’t feel like a failure anymore because I proved I could do what I set out to do.

It wasn’t easy, but along the way and through my own experiences, I learned many lessons from failing:

  • Do one thing everyday that challenges you. There have been times I was afraid of failing so it took me a long time to get stuff done. It’s hard to commit to following through if you are scared. Learn to embrace the hard challenges.
  • If things don’t go right the first time: try again. Even if you have to keep trying, your efforts will eventually pay off.
  • Try to find someone in your life who will be brutally honest with you. It’s great to be self-motivated but I also have people in my life who don’t let me get away with everything.
  • Make peace with the idea that not everything will go your way all the time. It’s okay that it hurts when something bad happens, but you will not fail at life if you get a bad grade on a test. Don’t wallow in what you did wrong. Learn from your mistakes. You have to work hard and give it all you have to make it right the next time.

Through my life, I’ve found the things you put off have a way of coming back. Being afraid of failure has a way of holding you back. It is not just a matter of being held back a grade because you did not pass. Failing has a way of making you feel stuck. If you think that your efforts will get you nowhere, you won’t see the value in trying. An important thing to remember is that you can have failures in your life but no one is really a failure as a person. You can fail but you can always try again. So, face your failures. If there is something still gnawing at you, deal with it. Don’t let your failures hold you back because you have a lifetime of bumps and obstacles that will knock you down more times than you can count. What will set you apart and make all the difference is when you get back up and try again.

Image: Unsplash