In the Summer of 2022, I took a month off work to backpack part of the Appalachian Trail as a way to reset my focus and take a break from my life. Previous to this trip my life was falling apart. I was trying to hold so many things together and take care of so many people that forgot to take care of myself. What transpired those four weeks, changed how I view my life completely and I want to share some lessons I learned along the way.
- Some days you need to stop and look at every flower, view, stream, and bug that comes along and some days you need to power through to your next destination. Both of these days are important and we need both kinds to appreciate the world and still meet our goals. Practice self-compassion on both days. Some days we need an easy day and if the only goal we achieve is that we get to appreciate and be grateful for what’s around us, then that is a day worth living. Don’t look at the person next to you crushing goals and wish it was you, focus on what you get to see while they are head down and working hard. On the flip side, when you are in the storm and need to push yourself to make your goal, it’s easy to be envious and bitter next to the person smelling the flower, but in these modes is sometimes when we achieve the most. Appreciate both because we need both.
- Hike your own hike. That is a saying that is often repeated among backpackers and hikers and I think it had one of the most profound messages for me. It means that not everyone’s path is the same and you need to take your own path to achieve your goals. When I got dropped off at the beginning in Georgia and took my first steps on the trail, I was terrified. I had no way home and no plan, which is very unlike me. The first person I met hiking said they were planning on a 20-25 mile day… I made 8 miles that day and it was a hard 8. My first night at camp, I was thinking about that hiker and how I hadn’t even gone half of what he was planning. I thought about failure and about embarrassment. But as I progressed on the trail, still doing 8-10 mile days. It turned into gratitude for my body, for my ability to do this, for being outside in nature day after day because this was my hike and I am the one who has to live this life, not the random guy who was probably long long gone. Our lives take different paths, there is no set timeline for everyone. We forget that because we are bombarded with messages from a young age. Go to College. Get a career. Get a house. Find a spouse. Have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. But that’s not for everyone. Live your own life, Hike your own hike.
- Pocket Friends. Now unlike hike your own hike, this is a saying I made up. Pocket friends are the people you meet just for that moment but you share an experience with them that you will always remember.I met so many people and the first question wasn’t “What do you do? It was, ” How are you enjoying this experience?” We were all dirty, smelly, very smelly. We weren’t judged or judging by the material things in our lives that we had but by how we were enjoying the experience. There was a strong chance I would not see these people again and yet it was so easy to talk about life. It was a connection that I didn’t typically find in civilization. We are often so guarded and suspicious of people we encounter or so wrapped up in our life that we don’t notice who is around us. But it taught me to say hello when you catch someone’s eye, to reach out to those who want to talk, to slow down and be genuine with our encounters. A great therapist once said that humanity is hard wired for connection; we just need to let it in.