Lessons from the Grand Canyon

2016-03-03 11.13.05

Me and my brother Len

After hiking 8 hours and 10 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon my lungs were parched, my legs ached and my feet were swollen.  The only thing I could think was – – – how the hell was I going to get back up to the top?

A year ago my husband and I made reservations with 8 other people to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, stay for two nights, and hike back out on the third day. As the months passed I kept wondering” can I really do this?” Looking for proof that I could, last July while in Colorado we hiked 17 miles with an elevation of 2600 feet in one day. Wow I thought, I CAN do this! Little did I realize at the time, I was being a little too optimistic!

At dinner the night before we were to hike down to the bottom of the canyon our group started discussing the trail. My daughter announced that the elevation was 4500 feet, and a total of 10 miles one way. “Hold on, what? I thought it was 2400 feet and 8.5 miles, when did that change?” Clearly I had not done my research well enough.

The next morning I was excited, and terrified all at the same time. As we descended I kept looking down at the path with a feeling of overwhelm at the task ahead. On a few particularly steep sections I slipped, my feet going one way and my backpack hurling the rest of my body the other way. Thankfully as the cliffs edge neared my body stopped. Heart pounding I pulled myself up and continued my trek. The trail was challenging and my pack felt heavy. My knees were aching and legs shaking as I descended the steep incline, many times wondering – how much longer will this take? The thought occurred to me more than once, why didn’t I prepare myself better? By mile 8 I was more than ready to be done. I was thirsty (my water had run out), overheated, and my legs shook.

When we reached camp I was grateful to finally be there, but also immediately worried about the hike out. If down, which was supposed to be easier than up, was this difficult, what would going up be like? As the evening wore on and I hobbled from dinner to bed I thought “tomorrow will be better, I’m sure.” But as I climbed out of bed the next morning my knees ached, my thighs seized up, and I could feel muscles I didn’t even know I had. All I could think to myself was “how will I ever make it back up that canyon?”

On that second day we took a few short hikes to see the beauty of the canyon and Colorado river and “work out the kinks.” While the view was breathtaking, the aches in my legs were relentless. As I contemplated the hike out the next day I was scared. What if my legs give out? What if I fall? What if I just can’t do it? It finally occurred to me that I was among a large number of people who hike regularly, maybe one of them had some helpful suggestions for making it back up. My inquiry yielded varying responses – anything from “I just power through it” to “I enjoy getting through the pain, so I just go for it.” I was not feeling comforted by this feedback! I then asked my brother who is an avid hiker and he said; “I stay completely present to each moment and each step. While I’m clear about my destination I don’t focus on the end or the next turn or getting it over with. I simply stay present to the steps in front of me.”  Coming down that was clearly not my approach.

As we set out the next morning to hike back up, I was relieved that my body was not quite as sore and achy as the day before, although I was still moving slowly, and my knees continued to feel weak. “I can do this!” I told myself. I remembered my brother’s advice and set out determined to use his suggestions to make this day a success. As we set out I assessed the path before me to ensure a safe assent. In the first few miles my brain wanted to focus on how far I had to go, and how long it would take, and what other people were doing, or how heavy my pack was.  I told myself “stay present Vicki – what is right in front of you? What is the experience you want to create as you are walking?” As I contemplated these question, I began to focus on what I was grateful for – starting with the ability and opportunity to be on this amazing trek.  That expanded to this magnificent canyon, and the wonderful people I was with. From there I began to focus on all the people in my life for whom I’m grateful.

Before I knew it we were at mile 5 – wow time seemed to have passed quickly.  In the last five miles as the trail became much steeper, and even icy in parts, I could feel my body start to get tired, and my legs begin to ache. I kept reminding myself not to think about how far I had to go, or worry about how long it would take to get past the next turn. I decided to continue to focus my thoughts on what I am grateful for, and appreciating what was right there in front of me.  I started thinking the people who built the path, and the ones who keep it safe.  I let my thoughts go to all the people in my life who have in some way, small and great, contributed to me being on this journey.  As those thoughts of gratitude consumed me, my body stopped feeling tired, my knees didn’t ache, and I felt a renewed sense of energy.

At 1:00 PM, after six and half hours and 4500 feet, I reached the top of the canyon. I’d made it and I was elated! It ended up not being as difficult as I thought it would be, and overall really enjoyable. As I reflected on the day it occurred to me that my experience of this hike was not dissimilar to how it is in business. Here are the lessons I learned from my adventures hiking the Grand Canyon.

Be prepared before you launch.  I was not clear about what the hike actually entailed, and thus, was not completely prepared. As with each phase of business growth, bring clear about where we are starting out, and where we want to go, and what the path is going to look like helps us be more prepared for the journey.

Be present to the task at hand.  On my way down focusing so much on “getting through it” had me not be present to the task at hand, made me be reckless, and left me not enjoying the journey.  Like running a business, when we are so focused with “just getting past this part” we diminish our enjoyment, and make unnecessary mistakes.

Ask an expert before you begin. I notice a pattern in my life that I tend to ask for advice once I’m already all the way “in” and not beforehand when I could really use it – this journey was no different.  Getting input from those who have walked this path before can help make the path easier and more enjoyable!

Our thoughts create our reality.  As my thoughts focused on gratitude, the pain in my knees went away, my tiredness diminished, and my experience of the trail became completely transformed.  It’s easy to focus on just what’s not working rather than what is working.  If you want to have a different experience, change your thinking!

Hopefully my lessons can help you in your journey and make the path clearer for setting yourself up for success!

Vicki

2 Comments

  1. Leonard Miller

    As always Vicki – you have extracted lessons and blessings from a challenging path you are on. You WANT to find the way, you accept your difficulties, and opportunities for growth, and then seize them with a passion that creates value – no matter what.
    It is THAT process that you live and teach – be present, be grateful, be aware of opportunities to create value for others.

    • Vicki Suiter

      Thank you Len for seeing my mission. 🙂

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