How to keep going when you really want to quit.

It was, after all, a celebration.

I’d finished grad school (finally), and friends and I were celebrating with a backpacking trip through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We’d decided to tackle a stretch of 72 miles on the AT, a world class trail running 2,180 miles from Maine to Georgia, following the ridge line north to south, through one of the most beautiful places on earth.

That section of the Appalachian Trail is also considered among the steepest. So perhaps I should have known that my first day, carrying a fully loaded pack weighing in at forty pounds, was going to be a little rough.

Before we could hike the AT, we had to get to it, starting with a steep climb up the aptly named Snake Den Trail to reach the ridge. And those first few miles were straight up.

Unrelenting.
Brutal.
For what seemed like forever.

My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. My initial joy quickly turned to worry as I thought about the days ahead. “Am I going to be able to do this?”

Self doubt roared in my ears, competing with a pounding heartbeat and labored breathing for my attention.

I’m a slow hiker on my best days. That day, I was so far behind, my friends thought I’d turned around and gone back to the car!

I thought I wasn’t going to make it at all.

Grand Adventures are always exciting – at first.

There’s delicious anticipation, the rush of excitement about all the Great Things that are to come. I was so excited about that hike I could hardly sleep the night before.

Eight days of mountaintop views, sweet air, singing woods. Hours of shared stories, campfires and companionship.

The thrill of seeing parts of the world most folks never see. The pride of accomplishing something most folks would never try.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

But here’s a hard truth.

Any Adventure – any accomplishment – worth the effort, is going to test you.

There will be cycles of great joy, and great despair. Days when you’re on top of the world. Days when you’re ready to pack it up and quit.

If you’ve ever started a business, created a program, designed a new product, planned an event or launched a non-profit, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s fantastic – at first.

You, too, have visions of Great Things to come. You, too, can barely sleep for all of the ideas buzzing in your head. You’re filled with what’s possible, the people you’ll help, the income you’ll earn, the masses who are waiting for exactly what you have to offer.

And then comes the despair.  

The work involved is so much more than you expected. You don’t have any clients, or you have so many you can’t keep up. You pour your heart into creating a program that no one buys, or the sales come in faster than you can deliver.

There’s so much to learn, so much to do.

And suddenly, you’re working 24/7. You’re pushing uphill. Your feet hurt. The pack is unbelievably heavy and no one’s coming to carry it for you. You have miles to go before you can sleep.

And you’re wondering why in the world you ever thought this was a good idea.

So just like I did on that straight up stretch, you begin to worry. “Am I going to be able to do this?”, you ask.

Yes, dear one, you are.

The key is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, when everything in you wants to quit.

Listen. On every backpacking trip I took, I tucked my driver’s license down into some little pocket of my pack.

I did that because on every single trip, no matter how hard it was (or not), there would come a time when I would reach a point where I’d think….

“I’m gonna die. I’m just gonna sit down, right here beside the trail, and die. That’s it!  I’m done. I cannot go another step…”

I carried my driver’s license so that “they” would know who I was when they found my bones beside the trail.

Every trip!

I didn’t die, of course. Instead, I’d lean up against a tree for a minute. Or find a rock at just the right height so I could rest my pack and lift the load off my shoulders for a second or two.

The one thing I didn’t do was sit down  ever – because getting back up would have been too much.

I’d just lean a little. Breathe a little. Take a sip of water. Pick out a tree somewhere up ahead for my next stop.

And walk.

I call it “target hiking” – a method that’s helped me up and over some pretty high mountains and many tough spots.

Short rest. Close target. Walk. Repeat.

And here’s the best part.

When I got to the top, it was worth every hard-earned,
sloppy, struggling, stumbling step.

 Always.

And I knew in a heartbeat I’d do it again as soon as I could. :))

With all that you have on you – kids, relationships, growing a business, running a life – all that you are pushing yourself to do, you, too, will have those moments.

Great joy. Great despair. Over and over again.

So, if you need to, lean.
Cry a little. Cuss a little. Call a friend. A coach. A mentor. And if you need an extra boost, call me. I may be able to help.

If you need to, rest.
Take a ten minute nap. Get up from your computer and go sit outside. Turn off the news and turn on some music.

Then – get back to work.

Just pick out a tree – your target, your goal – to aim for next. Then walk just a little farther.

The trail will level out eventually; you’ll get there soon enough.

And your success will be worth every hard-earned, sloppy, struggling, stumbling step.

I can’t wait to meet you at the top. :)


Photo Credit: Mat Honan, Boqiang Liao on Flickr

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