Category: Taking a risk (page 1 of 2)

Which way to go?

Whenever I go for a hike, I’m always eager to get started, to walk through the beautiful scenery, breathe the fresh air and feel the sun on my face. I’m careful to keep my balance as I walk over rocks and roots so that I won’t stumble.

So as much as I’m enjoying my surroundings, I’m mainly concentrating on my feet…on getting where I am going.

The destination.

DSC_0180 - Version 2Along with this is the aspect of time. If I’ve driven to the mountains for the day, I know my time is somewhat limited, so at some point, I’ll need to either turn around, or only spend so much time at the trail’s end before knowing it’s time to get back. So as beautiful as the lake is, or the view, or the mountaintop, or wherever it is I’m going, it’s not forever.

I can’t stay there. I want to get there, but I can’t stay there.

When I ultimately do turn around to go back down the trail, I’m always struck by how much more I enjoy that part of the hike. I see things from “the other side”. I notice so much more. Everything looks even more beautiful and I often see things I missed on the way up…maybe it’s an unusual tree. Or a lovely small waterfall trickling down the side of the trail. Or a view from a perspective I didn’t note on the way up.

The hike feels more inviting, more relaxing. Because I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do—hike the trail. Now I can really enjoy it.

But only when I’m coming back down the trail.

 Lately I’m struggling with a crossroads. Trying to decide which path to take, or whether to simply be still. My heart pulled me years ago to move a great distance to answer my yearning for the beauty of the mountains. I did it, scared and unsure, but I followed my instincts and took the giant step. There were many who advised against it, just as there were many who applauded my determination.


Now, almost a decade later, I’m faced with some challenges that include, in various degrees, issues about money, aging, a strong desire to do something else with my life, and more. I’m considering turning around on the trail and going back to where I was before.

Mind you, I’m still just considering it. Yet already I’m hearing some of the same things I heard almost 10 years ago. How can you do that? Aren’t you scared? What if it’s a mistake? (And my new favorite):

How can you give up on your dream?

I’m not giving up on anything. I’ve accomplished my dream. I’ve lived it. It’s in my heart and it will always be there. I can come back and touch it anytime I choose.

But I’m not on the same part of the trail anymore.

Already, I’m “heading back” in many ways these days. It’s not so much a slowing down as it is re-evaluating. I’m asking myself:

What matters most to me?

What brings me joy?  

 Can I have more peace of mind?

 What new adventures would I like to participate in?

I’ve been talking with some trusted friends and mentors about their experiences of “going home again.”   One very successful man told me I’m “driving his Porsche.” He said he always wanted a Porsche, and longed for years to have one. Now he’s in a position to have one, but he no longer wants it. Instead, he’s enjoying married life with his wife and stepson. “But you went out and followed your dream,” he said. “You’ll always have that.”

IMG_0799 - Version 2Another wise friend reminded me of words written by author and teacher Parker Palmer, who talks about two kinds of heartbreak. The heartbreak when you are deeply hurt or angry and your heart feels like it’s in shards. And then heartbreak where you heart has to break open in order for the new good things to flow in.

I like that. Because thinking any kind of change won’t be painful is short-sighted.

Of course it is.

Giving up anything you love hurts. Yet, as I think Palmer is saying, it also makes you stronger.

I also like the idea that while I may never really “belong” anywhere—simply because I’ve lived in 4 states in my life—I’ll always “belong” with myself. Place is important, but it’s not what stays deep inside. I think I’ve always had this “place” inside of me, just as I’ve always carried other places with me as well.

Look at a labyrinth:  you begin on the outside, following the wide path around the edges, slowly working yourself closer and closer to the center.  Then suddenly, you find yourself walking back towards the outer edge, going back past the route you just took, yet you aren’t in the same place.

You’re covering new ground.  

And in fact, you have to do that to eventually reach the center destination…before you turn around and walk back to where you began.

When you throw caution to the wind (at least metaphorically) and you do achieve what you’ve always wanted….a new address, a new relationship, a new job, whatever…you show courage and self-knowledge. No one can ever take that away from you.

Where you go from there is your decision. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to change your life and go a whole new way. There’s very little said about deciding at some point to return to your roots, and start life anew.

That’s really rockin’ the wrinkle!

I still don’t know what to do. I’ve been at crossroads before, many times wondering which path looked like the right one. But I can say that I’ve always trusted the trail to take me where I need to be.

And it’s always a welcome sight.

“Wherever you are is the entry point.”


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

      Marcel Proust

“And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.”
    Kahlil Gibran

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

    Yogi Berra

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The bird in the airport.

The bird in the airport.

You know the one I mean.

The little bird you see hopping around near the unused gate. Out of place, confused, yet hopeful. Surely there’s a way out of this giant place, but none of the doors or windows ever seem to open.

file0002082373718How did he get there? What does he eat? Where does he sleep?

I find myself worrying about this little guy, even while dragging myself through terminals with too much hanging from my shoulders and more often than not, too much time on my hands due to canceled or delayed flights.

He seems to make the best of his situation. Scampering about looking for crumbs. Staying out of the way of heavy suitcases and beeping trams. At least he’s sheltered from the outside, no worries of a sudden storm or fierce wind blowing it from a tree limb.

But does he ever feel the sun on his feathers?

 Does he miss flying close to the sky? Has he ever done so?

 Does he sense that there’s something he’s missing, that’s just a few feet away, waiting for him?

Do you ever feel like that? Trapped in the same routine, the same life plan, walking the same path day after day, not even noticing anymore that there is something else out there?

It’s so much easier to just stay where you are. On the couch. At the kitchen table. Sitting by the phone. Places that don’t really connect to your soul; yet have become comfortable and familiar.

Because getting out there…finding a way out to the great beyond…is difficult. And scary. And unpredictable.

165HAnd there’s nothing wrong with sitting still, staying where you are, and finding peace in the familiar. As long as it is what you truly want.

But if you start to feel confined…if you can’t remember how you get where you are…if you’ve stopped listening to what heart and soul is saying….that’s another story.

Hey, it’s hard enough to negotiate the airport, much less free your spirit to take wing.


“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –


I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.


Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers”



Maybe next time you’re in the airport, leave a few extra crumbs on your chair. It might mean the world.


“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”

        Amelia Earhart


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How to survive.

I love to hike and be in the outdoors. I recognize the inherent dangers of the wilderness and always try to plan ahead and respect Nature. Like many boomers and beyond, I’ve learned firsthand how foolish it is to take unnecessary risks or be unprepared.

However, so many people have not; they don’t stop to consider they are not ready for higher altitudes, fast weather changes, and all the challenges that come with backcountry exploration, climbing, or any other potential perilous activity.  And then there are those of us who think we are doing everything right and take every precaution, but still get lost, fall off a cliff, lose our footing, or find ourselves treading water.

IMG_0008It’s fascinating to me why some survive harrowing tales of wandering for days in the desert, or getting lost on a mountain trail, or floating on a raft at sea—while others don’t make it.

It could be a vacation mishap. Or a car that goes off the road and is upside down in a ditch for a week. Or being captured in a combat zone and held prisoner.

Why does one person panic when the boat springs a leak, while another calmly considers a solution?

Why does one person live to tell the tale, while another does not?

Obviously you could ask this question about almost any scary situation in life: getting fired, being served divorce papers, coming home to a burgled house, hearing very bad news from the doctor.

In his terrific book, “Deep Survival”, author Laurence Gonzales takes us on an absorbing journey into why some people endure disasters while others do not.

The premise is that there is an art and science to staying alive.

Gonzales talks about the idea of getting lost. “In daily life, people operate on the necessary illusion that they know where they are. Most of the time, they don’t. The only time most people are not lost to some degree is when they are at home. It’s quite possible to know the route from one place to another without knowing precisely where you are.”

Interesting. We head out on adventures and because we have a map in our pocket, we’re sure we know where we are. But quite often, we just have an idea of where we are going.

file0001976741550Should we veer of the path and then get turned out, we are very much lost.

Again, Gonzales applies the stages of getting lost to areas other than a dayhike in the woods. He cites examples of corporations who have veered off their right path and tried something that almost took them to the edge of disaster.

 Bad decisions can leave us in the woods.   But it’s what we do once we’re there that counts.

As Gonzales found in his research, there are people who, stranded with absolutely nothing, find a way to make it alive…while others have everything they need for survival, but they perish.

Some people just give up.

Survivors do not.

 I really enjoyed this book because I have a deep interest in what it takes to be safe and oriented in the great outdoors. But I honestly think the principles can help us in so many other situations.

Gonzales lists 12 points for staying out of trouble, saying “here is what survivors do”: 

  1. Perceive and believe. Recognize and accept the reality of your situation. You have broken your leg. You are in trouble. It’s okay to go through denial, anger, depression, or more, but now it’s time to “go inside” and accept what is happening. 
  1. Stay calm. Whether it’s fear or humor, use it to stay calm. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you 
  1. Think, analyze, plan. Get organized. If you’re in a group, establish a leader. Come up with steps.
  1. Take decisive action. Be bold while also cautious. Decide on yours tasks and do them well. Handle what you can right now, and leave the rest.
  1. Take joy in your successes. You’re very stressed. You are trying to hold your fear at bay. But you just made a fire. Celebrate it! It helps you stay motivated. 
  1. Sing a song. Recite a poem. Do calculus. Keep your mild stimulated and calm. Have a very long way to walk alone? Count each step, and dedicate it to someone you know. 
  1. Count your blessings. Be glad you are alive! Think about the people you care about and be successful for them. 
  1. Enjoy the beauty around you. Be where you are and take it all in. 
  1. Believe you will succeed. Be careful. Make no more mistakes. And believe you will prevail 
  1. Let go of your fears. You might think you’re going to die. Try to surrender to it, and thus get around it. Get off that mountain anyway. 
  1. Have the will and the skill. You know your skills. Now believe anything is doable. Be coldly rational. Do what is necessary. 
  1. Don’t give up. Survivors are not easily frustrated. They know there will be setbacks. They learn from them and keep going.


Whether you just ran out of water in the desert.

Or your retirement savings have vanished.

Keep your head. Trust your instincts. Believe in yourself.

Be a survivor.

“Knowledge is the key to survival, the real beauty of that is that it doesn’t’ weigh anything.”

     Ray Mears

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Losing our fear of the dark.

Why are we still afraid of the dark?

Not the dark closet in our bedrooms where the monsters of childhood hide. Not the darkness outside when you think you just heard footsteps by the gate and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.

I’m talking about the dark or “shadow” places of our souls…where our doubts and worries and resentments and unfilled dreams live.

Surely all that is part of us is good, or at least worthy of inspection. We know we can’t be Happy Howard or Smiling Susie all the time. And as boomers and beyond, we are plenty aware that while we would like to think we’ve worked on all our “issues”, there’s still a whole file cabinet filled with squirming toads in the back of our minds.

So why are we so scared to admit it even exists?

file0001976741550Are the shadow parts of ourselves something we should fear and avoid, or embrace as an invitation to live a full life? To be fully human, and know that light always follows darkness?

Writer, professor and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor explores this quandary in “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” She says:

“If you are my age, you are losing a lot more things than you once did—not just your keys and your vision, but also your landmarks, but also your sense of sense. You are going to a lot more funerals than before. When you read your class notes in the alumni news, they are shorter and near the top all the time. You know full well where this is heading, but you also know you are not ready yet. So how are you supposed to get ready? …. It is time for a walk in the dark.”

 “You have knocked on doors that have not been opened. You have asked for bread and been given a stone. The job that once defined you has lost its meaning; relationships that once sustained you have changed or come to their natural ends. It is time to reinvent everything…it may be time for a walk in the dark.”

Everyone’s “walk” will be unique to what they need to explore, resolve, or even admit to. Is it a passion you let go of?

A love that got away?

A resentment that past abuse or mistreatment robbed you of what you could have been?

The death of a beloved friend or relative?

Or fears about taking the next big step in a relationship or career, or a major change of life?

Taylor talks about how she really does enjoy being outside in the dark. I can relate. We forget how the night can welcome us. How uplifting it can be to study the stars, see a comet grace the sky, or hear an owl’s call under a full moon. As children we loved playing in the dark, that’s when games really took on magic. And when ice cream tasted better. It felt friendly and safe.

8bc72ed7Even now, if you haven’t in a long time, try sitting outside in the dark some evening. Feel the breeze. Watch the clouds if there’s enough moonlight. Listen to what the night is saying. Maybe it’s all trying to tell us that we’ll always face times when walking through a dark forest is the only way to get to our destination.

And the only difference between the lovely woods and that dark forest is lack of light…not a new evil presence. So instead of immediately turning on the flashlight, what if we just trust our senses to get through the dark patch, knowing it might get easier each time we did?

In other words, if we let our eyes adjust to the dark…who knows what we might see?


“What makes night within us may leave stars.”

Victor Hugo





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