One Foot in Front of the Other

This piece is written by NMLFF Ambassador, Hannah Lippe. 

About six weeks ago, I quit my job.  My decision was part frustration with my job, part realization that my skill set is way better suited to just about anything else, and part “bottoms-up!”  Because I gave a good long six weeks notice, I now just have two days left of my responsible employment.  I have a summer position that I’m excited about, but after August 31, 2015, I have no foreseeable income.  I AM TERRIFIED.

I am terrified, but I am also extremely - almost unreasonably - confident that I’m going to make something awesome come out of this decision.  I’m confident not because I have a few good education credentials underneath my belt and a strong network of friends and family to help me out, but because I believe in myself.  A lot.  I believe in my ability to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going. 

That quality did not just pop out of nowhere, and I did not always know that I had it.  I spent a lot of my college years and early twenties dealing with a lot of anxiety.  I was anxious about everything - whether I ran far enough in the morning, whether I was spending enough time with friends, if I would go to the movies with my mom and sister or stay home, even whether I ate at the right restaurant.  Is there even a right restaurant?  Is that even a thing?  Why was I so anxious?  I doubted myself enormously, and I think I believed I would miss an opportunity or make a wrong decision.  

Because of this anxiety and fearfulness, I would make snap decisions to get rid of the fear as quickly as possible.  I would just make whatever decision I could make that would alleviate the sense of being out of control. 

Until I realized that I already had it in me to control that anxiety.  I had it in me because of the skills I have learned through outdoor adventures.  I started running trails in the hills behind my house when I was 14.  I now run trail ultra-marathons, climb challenging peaks, backcountry ski, and do other outdoor adventures.  When I am about to start a trail race, I don’t get anxious.  I get calm, happy, and utterly confident.  When I am in the “pain cave” stage of a race, I don’t get anxious.  I dig in.  I ask myself, “Wait, whose idea was this?” but then I remind myself, “Yours.  And no one else is going to do this for you.”  And then I keep going, one foot in front of the other.  It has really just begun to hit me that in my personal and professional lives, I can channel these qualities as well.

Just this morning, I ran up Mt. Massive, one of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks. I decided the afternoon before that I wanted to camp out at the base and run up early in the morning.  I didn’t have a map, a buddy, or a sense of the trail.  But something else I have learned through outdoor adventures is how to put myself out there and ask for help.  So I went to a bar in Leadville before heading to my campsite and asked if anyone might have a clue what I’m getting myself into.  I walked out of the bar with a map, a trail report, and a phone number from a person who wants to adventure together another day. 

I studied the map, chose my route, collected my gear, and hit the sleeping pad nice and early. I woke up at 4:30am and cruised on to the trailhead, a bit foggy from the early morning start, but ready to power up the mountain.  Everything was going swimmingly until I hit a 1,000 foot snowfield I had to cross to get to the trail on the other side.  Unfortunately, the sun had yet to hit the snowfield, so it was a sheet of ice with the remnants of yesterday’s hikers’ footprints kicked in.  I had a moment of questioning whether or not I could get across this, but I thought, well if someone else did, I surely can, too!  I started across, using my hands on the uphill side for stability and kicking my feet into the established prints as much as possible.  However, about halfway into the snowfield, at the point where, if I fell, I would slide down the icy snow a very long way, I got stuck.  The footprints going forward angled down instead of up, so if I tried to put my foot on it, I would just slide right down.  I couldn’t really turn around without losing my balance.

I started to get nervous.  I tried to move into a different position, anything at all, but felt utterly trapped.  I started breathing more quickly, more and more frantic thoughts running through my head: “If I fall, would it really be so bad?  I might just end up with a mangled leg.” “A mangled leg???  That is a serious problem!!” “But actually.  I can’t go anywhere.  I’m totally stuck.”  “I should NEVER HAVE COME HERE.  WHAT WAS I THINKING??  WHY DID I DO THIS ALONE??”

And then I remembered something a friend told me recently.  It’s some important quote that doesn’t go exactly like this, but the gist is: “Great people know how to sit through their fear for five extra minutes.”  So I sat through my fear there at 13,000 feet, gripping onto the small ice chunks, and just being present.  Yep, I was fearful, but I was also fine.  I had to be smart enough to get through this snowfield safely, but more importantly, I had to be willing to just put one foot in front of the other.  I figured out that, because the snow was so frozen, I could safely use the holes from previous hikers’ poles as little finger grips and pull myself across.  One foot in front of the other.  To the top.

As my days of employment dwindle, and I start to put together my next career adventure, I keep reminding myself of these qualities I’ve learned and practiced out on trails and mountains. I could turn back to my anxiety and fearfulness, but I’m not going to.  I might not have a map. I don’t have control over anything or anyone else around me. I might be scared shitless.  I might question if I’ve made the wrong decision.  I might wonder why I’m doing this alone.  But I know that no one else is going to do this for meAt the same time, I know how to ask for help. I know how to sit through my anxiety and fear.  And I know how to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.