It was, after all, a celebration.
I’d finished grad school, and friends and I were celebrating by backpacking through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
We were doing a stretch of 72 miles on the A.T., 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, might be tough.
Before we could hike the A.T., 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.
For what seemed like forever.
My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. My joy turned to worry as I thought about the days ahead. “Am I going to be able to do this?”
Doubts roared in my ears, competing with a pounding heartbeat and labored breathing for my attention.
I’m a slow hiker on the best days. That day, I was so far behind, my friends thought I’d turned around and gone home.
I thought I wasn’t going to make it at all.
Grand Adventures are always fun – at first.
There’s anticipation, the rush of excitement about Great Things 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. 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, designed a new product, planned an event or launched a new program, 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 the excitement 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, 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 a program that no one buys – or the sales come 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 can carry it for you. You have miles to go before you can sleep.
And you’re wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea.
Just as I did on that long steep stretch, you 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.
On every backpacking trip I took, I tucked my driver’s license down into a little pocket of my pack.
Because on every trip, there would come a time when I would think…
“I’m gonna die. I’m just gonna sit down, right here beside this trail, and die. 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. :)
But I didn’t die, of course.
Instead, I’d lean against a tree for a minute. Or find a rock where I could rest my pack for a second. Or turn to a friend for a little encouragement.
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.
I called it “target hiking” – a method that helped me up and over some high mountains and many tough spots.
Short rest. Close target. Walk. Repeat.
And here’s the best part.
When I reached the top, it was worth every hard-earned,
sloppy, struggling, stumbling step.
And I knew in a heartbeat I’d do it again as soon as I could.
And that’s how it is when you run a business.
Great joy. Great despair. And the knowledge you, too, would do it all over again.
So, if you need to – lean. Cry a little. Cuss a little. Call a friend. A coach. A mentor.
If you need to – rest. Take a nap. Go sit outside. Turn off the computer and turn on some music.
But then get back to work.
Just pick out a tree – your target, your goal – to aim for next, and go a little farther.
The trail will level out; you’ll reach your goal.
And your success will be worth every hard-earned, sloppy, struggling, stumbling step.
I can’t wait to see you at the top.
Photo Credit: David Fulmer, Jody Claborn on Flickr