*Persist* It's not you, it's the straps.
A half hour into a sandy 5.7-mile backpacking hike, J was struggling (see photo below). She was sulking: feet fumbling, head down, arms limp and a yell of humorous (and not) dispair every hundred feet. She pointed out every portion of flat land with tree cover along the way, "We could just tent here. They won't check."
Her pack was no heavier than mine, and I knew that we were in about the same shape too. This was the same woman who told me about mountain biking after dark last week. It just didn't add up. Yet, she was convinced she wasn't going to make it.
Finally, I pulled her to the side and Igor came over to look at her straps. They were completely off. The top of her pack was hanging away from her instead of hugging her. Which means she had the weight of the pack pulling back as she walked forward – it's totally painful.
He finagled for 10 minutes and off we went. J marched on ahead, front of the line, bouncing up and down with each step, and pointing out beauty in the distance. I had a tough time keeping her pace.
This small parable stuck with me.
For so many of us, the response of "I'm the problem" is so automatic that we leave little space for curiosity, resourcefulness and problem-solving. We see something we haven't done much before or set off to try something new and when challenges arise, we figure the problem is us. Before us hovers an immediately unfixable situation with two options: to push forward in pain or quit.
A little pause can be all we need to surface the option that the problem isn't actually us. When all those unconscious reactions flood in, it takes a lot to step back and create space. That little breather is so crucial because more often than not, the solution is simple, available and effective. It's not you – it's just a matter of fixing the straps.
Secondly, J's conviction of ineptitude affected my response. I knew she could physically do it, but her conviction that the problem was her distracted me from thinking it over critically at the onset. Perhaps if I didn't know her as well, her conviction would have left me also believing the issue was within her.
If she would have taken a pause, then inquired aloud with an open mind and curiosity, we may been able to help her think through the pain critically much earlier.
Finally, I think about how she was lucky to be with people who knew how to problem solve the situation and believed in her. What if she were hiking with a backpacker who was a little mean and clueless? They may have led her to believe that issue really was her. That response to her moment of vulnerability could have resulted in the seeding of a belief that she can't backpack. She could have slowly turned away from something she could really love.
When you are caring for a new idea or trying something new, it's so important to know who to have by your side when you take a pause to evaluate and problem solve whatever you are up against. Surround yourself with people who help you to see you are capable and able.
We would have been totally fine if we never figured out the strap situation and for how painful that must have been, J was a total bad a**. This tiny moment out in the sand dunes is such a powerful example of what we see in our day-to-day. The answer to a challenge isn't binary, and it isn't to ignore the pain or never put yourself in a vulnerable situation.
When you come across a challenge, listen to yourself, pause, stay curious, and surround yourself with resourceful people who love and believe in you.
Don't give up, persist. It's probably just the straps.
p.s. I read J this blog post aloud and her response was, "I am the solution!" Damn straight.