After 16 hours in the car over two days,
I wanted to challenge my body
and get into nature.
I looked up hikes near me in El Paso Texas, searching for something that would take at least a few hours and provide a real challenge. I had been processing a lot of heavy emotional stuff and my gut told me I needed something really hard.
Nevermind the fact that I’ve never hiked alone before and don’t know wtf I’m doing, I found a trail, downloaded the All Trails app, and got started.
About 60 seconds into this hike I realized that I was the only person on the trails and that, as a solo female, I should have brought a knife or pepper spray or something. I had been nervous about rattlesnakes and getting lost or hurt, but it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I was heading out into the middle of nowhere on the border of Mexico alone, and that possibly I was being very, very stupid.
I stopped and stood there, and felt all this fear come up in my body, tensing my muscles and turning the sunny dry landscape into a scene from a horror film. I imagined my mom finding out how I died.
I thought about heading back to my car, driving back to my hotel, and getting a workout in the hotel gym there where nobody was likely to rape or murder me. After a minute I decided, quite literally, that I would rather be raped or murdered than live my life in fear.
This is a decision I made a long time ago, and I stand by it. Scary things happen, especially to women, but I refuse to let that dictate how I live my life. (Note: this is not a suggestion for anyone else, just what I decided for me.)
So I set off, determined, but still uncomfortable. For the first hour or so all I could think about was what I would do if I ran into a man or group of men in the middle of nowhere.
I was irritated, since I had set out to do some important emotional processing, and instead found myself considering if I would still go into a freeze response at this point in my life, or if I would go into fight mode and get myself killed instead.
I was still thinking about this when I realized the trail was completely unmarked, and getting hellishly steep, and covered in rock skree that slid around so much I had to put my hands down to climb it. I remembered the rattlesnake warning on the internet, and thought… well, now would be a really good time to turn back. I’d been out there for an hour and only covered one mile, surely that was plenty?
Something deep in my gut told me I needed to keep going though. I needed to overcome this fear, to feel it and conquer it, and succeed at what I had set out to do.
So I kept going.
I thought about turning back many more times over the next few hours as the trail turned out to be extremely difficult. My legs were complete jello, my hands had little cactus prickers in them, my feet were covered in blisters, I had no idea where the trail was, and my phone was close to dying.
I swore a lot, I talked out loud to myself, and I seriously questioned my decision-making skills in life.
It was fucking glorious.
On the second peak, back in the sun, I was suddenly overcome with euphoria. The views were gorgeous, I realized that even if my phone died I would still probably be able to make it back to my car, I had run into one older gentleman who did not rape or murder me, and I had yet to see a rattlesnake.
The next hour I spent awash in pride and joy, so grateful I had listened to my heart and soul and kept going, and feeling like I could conquer the world.
I started thinking about how true confidence is built in these moments, when you do things you didn’t think you could do, and when you choose to keep going.
Interestingly, I wasn’t proud of the fact that the hike had gone well, since that wasn’t exactly in my control. Instead, I was proud that I had chosen the brave thing instead of the safe thing.
Which, really, has been the defining quality of my own personal sense of self-worth throughout my life.
Many of my clients tell me that their idea of “success” in life is a feeling-state, a feeling of calm, happiness, gratitude, or a lack of fear. They say that when they “achieve confidence” they think they will no longer feel anxious, self-conscious, afraid, jealous or insecure.
But, first of all, you cannot stop yourself from feeling fear, or anxiety, or anything else. Feelings are not in our control.
And second of all, it is, in fact, through the very facing of these feelings that you gain access to the pride, empowerment, and confidence that my clients crave.
If I hadn’t been afraid when I began this hike, I wouldn’t have been euphoric when I finished.
If you want a strong, stable sense of self-worth it must come from something which is always in your control, so I highly recommend basing it on behaviors rather than feelings. For me that has always come down to courage.
Since I was 18 and went skydiving, I have methodically explored my inner world to identify what scares me most, and then gone and faced that exact thing. In this way, my sense of self is built firmly upon stable ground, and I can tap into confidence anytime I want by making choices that align with my deepest value.
Fear always accompanies me on my courageous acts. If she didn’t, the act wouldn’t require any courage, and wouldn’t be meaningful to me. (And if I waited for her to leave before taking action, I would never have done anything at all.)
In this way, I am deeply grateful to my own fear, because she has given me the greatest moments of my life.
The other day Fear hiked with me for at least the first 2.5 or 3 miles. At a certain point on the hike though I looked around and realized she was gone, and in her place were Confidence, Gratitude, Joy, and Pride.
That’s how it always works.
Yours in courage and pride,