A Wilderness Lesson: Confidence

Dat Wolfpack
On May 19th, an overall nice, clear Sunday morning, I drove a van full of ten fairly clean Gordon College students up to New York's Adirondack Park. Twelve days later I stood in a tree waving goodbye to my sweaty, experienced group of kids, my Wolfpack. I held back tears as I began to recognize just how blessed I had been by that group through all our crazy adventures.

I wish I could describe the whole story of our two week hiking adventure in one blog post. But since I have not been able to cut down my trip's story to less than an hour in conversation, I know writing its entirety in one straight shot would be impossible. Well, at the least, very tiring. Let's just say there was a snowy hiking day the kids fondly called "hell day," more commonly known as the the bushwhack to 1800. That day alone has pages worth of material and memories to write about, including breaking stoves, the random discovery of two perfect red apples, wet crossings at swollen rivers, and the sound of voices singing worship songs along the trail.

Without sharing everything, I do hope to give glimpses into this experience of mine, and how transformative those twelve days were to me as a first-time leader, or "sherpa," as we are called in Gordon College's La Vida. I had been on my participant trip almost two years ago in the August of 2011, and had worked on support staff last August too, so I remembered a lot of the La Vida lingo: "Leave No Trace," "Commitment move," "Be Here Now,""Redefining Success,"and "Servant-leader." However, to teach and be a role model of those concepts is a very different thing entirely, in addition to trying to recall and teach all the hard skills such as tent set-up, stoves, and bear bags. I found it very difficult in those early days to feel confident.

My greatest fear was failing in front of the group. Most of these students were a year or two younger than me, and I felt the pressure to assert my skill and expertise as a leader to them, in order to gain their respect. But from the onset I wanted to be honest with them, so as we all went around that first night and shared our hopes and fears, I told them that I was afraid to fail in front of them as a leader. But I hoped to get past my fears and challenge myself. Throughout the trip my co-sherpa, Stephen, was great about pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and take over with teaching, debriefing, and instructing the students as to what needed to be done.

Owl's Head 
It was during the second day at Owl's Head, the rock climb, that I had to decide if I truly believed what I said. I had given a devotion about "redefining success," in which success is marked by one's willingness to try, not necessarily by achieving one's goals. It was easy to tell the students to challenge themselves and try the rock climb or rappel, as I stood safely at the bottom tying the rope into their harness and calling up encouragement. I was safe, comfortable, until they found out that I had never done the climb called "chimney," a deep crack running up the rock face. Knowing my very limited ability to climb, I stubbornly dismissed their pleas for me to try it. I made up excuses, intimidated by a group that up to that point was excellent at achieving all their goals, and was extremely successful in the typical sense. But I soon realized that to not do the climb would be admitting I wasn't willing to push myself out of my comfort zone, to "redefine success." Just as stubbornly I decided, "I'll do it."

Sure enough, I got maybe a third of the way up the rock face before I got stuck and ran out of time, having to be lowered down. I was one of the few people, maybe the only one that day, who did not complete my climb and achieve that goal of climbing up over the wall of the cliff to where the belayers sat. But surprisingly my kids were still so proud of me for trying, and so genuinely happy that I decided to make the attempt. It was a baby step. I wish I could have magically gained all the confidence in the world through that one act of courage, but I didn't. I had to keep trying, to keep trusting myself and my leadership skills all throughout the rest of the trip.

But I realized something very important about confidence: confident people are not afraid to fail. They go for it, they make the commitment move, knowing they may make a mistake. But from mistakes comes learning, experience, and greater confidence. Similar to how suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. Confidence is just one of the many fruits in my life that I have noticed grow because of this incredible trip.


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