My sense of direction has always led me one way: to the mountains. When I tell people about going into the backcountry they either understand, don’t, or perhaps they never will. Recently I returned to the mountains of my childhood, disappearing into the Tetons for six nights. The truth is I find I am most like myself when I am far from the likes of Instagram and the beeps of cell phones. After returning from the mountains I began to think about how the mountains have reinforced some of the biggest life lessons for me. Here are 10 of the most valuable life lessons that I carry with me.
- Pay Attention. The mountains are serious and ever changing. By paying attention you learn to stay present in the moment. And this is where you find beauty.
- There is always a voice in your head that says, “You can’t”. It is by pushing past this voice that you gain confidence and value your true potential. Sometimes on the last pitch my legs scream and I want to quit. In that moment I want to do something easy. But when I push past my inner dialogue I feel stronger than ever before.
- Leave your safety zone. There are few adventures happening on your living room couch. Stay curious, stay engaged, and leave your comfort zone in order to discover what is new. I believe adventure is the fuel that ignites life. Putting yourself out in nature changes the way you see yourself and the world you’re in. You gain broader prospective.
- Surround yourself with likeminded people. In the mountains there are times you need to place your trust in others, and some rise to the occasion while others become dangerous. I have found this divide highlighted on my backcountry trips. Spending time in the mountains has made me gain appreciation for the true mountain partners whose judgment I trust and rely on. Having partners like this are essential in all facets of life. Be careful to surround yourself with people who support your goals, understand your dreams, and who can be trusted at the other end of a rope.
- It’s about the journey, not the destination. If you place too much emphasis on the summit, you will not see the wildflowers along the way. Although the end goal is the driving motivation it is always the experience along the way that I have found most rewarding personally. If you are solely consumed by the goal you will miss many of the small details.
- Take one step at a time. No matter how steep the approach or how technical the drop always be mindful of where you are. Take one breath at a time, and pay attention to each footfall. Every person must move one foot at a time. At times it is too hard to think past the next footfall, and sometimes that is enough. Just keep moving forward.
- Learn to prepare. Be ready for the unexpected. The mountains constantly test your ability to be prepared and to think clearly. I find moving through the mountains is a constant reminder on taking only what I need but also having the planning and forethought to know what I need.
- Be patient. Have the ability to rest, and to be still. In the digital daze of our modern world it is essential to stay centered and be patient. Rushing often leads to the wrong decisions. When you need a break, take it.
- By pushing yourself, you discover true potential. If you just try, you might surprise yourself. You can accomplish some remarkable things if you set goals and propel yourself forward. Sometimes it is essential to push beyond the fears that hold us back in order to find something truly amazing within.
- Listen to your instincts. In the mountains people test themselves. But the most skilled mountaineers I know test themselves, but also are mindful to listen to their instincts. That sixth sense that keeps them safe. It is the inability to abide this voice that often creates disaster. I find value in paying attention to this inner voice in daily life.
Being in the mountains has given me experiences that will guide me my whole life, giving me major lessons in who I am, and what I can achieve. The mountains are a place to seek, to reflect, and to grow. They have taught me life skills, how to pack light, choose partners, be prepared, and meet my goals. In hard times I often reflect on times in the mountains to remind myself I am capable. And I’m quite sure my sense of direction will continue to lead me one way: to the mountains.