March 2, 2016

Overcoming Crisis & Doubt: 2 Lessons from the Hiking Trail.

Courtesy of author, Chloe Leonard
You know those serendipitous happenings in life when an innumerable amount of humdrum events improbably align to make something transpire flawlessly?

My recent trekking trip along Canada’s Bruce Trail had a whole lot of that going on.

It was as though someone had gathered up half a lifetime’s worth of those stars-aligning special moments and crammed them into a short 15-day spread.

I’m talking the kind of perfection that you reflect on afterward and realize that any foresight and preparation would only have impeded the elegant unfolding.

Like the circumstance was greater than yourself—some wonderful intervention by the universe saying, “You sit tight and do nothing. I got this.”

My hiking partner and I were left blissfully awed by all of the supernatural awesomeness we encountered:

Lucky forest refuge during lightning storms, consistent hitchhiking luck along all-but-abandoned country roads, discovery of two trailside, unopened water bottles on a dehydrated afternoon, strangers’ constant offers of food and hospitality for our hungry, bank-broke selves, and a never-ending stream of inexpressibly perfect timing. These only begin to describe our experience.

But the complete story of my time on this trail is not just one of sunshine, rainbows, and magical unfoldings.

My original ambition had been to hike the entire trail—all 900 kilometres of it—and most of it solo. When I reluctantly decided to quit four days in, I found my psyche fragmented. My return home to accept my defeat and failure had sent my head spinning, and I felt utterly debilitated by confusion.

I couldn’t pin down why, but somewhere along the trail I had lost my self-confidence—my certainty in my convictions that previously gave my life a sense of direction.

My bearings were adrift, and I didn’t know how to orient myself or where to take the next step. I couldn’t decipher if this was a challenge to overcome so as to reestablish stability, or if those earlier days of self-certitude had actually been laced with naivety. Maybe this ordeal was the result of false hopes finally surfacing, and now was the time to get real and revise the trajectory of my life.

Without clarity, and in a state of disarray, I occasionally mustered the will to laugh at myself and my self-proclaimed, self-indulgent quarter-life crisis. It didn’t make the crisis part feel any less significant, but it graced me with perspective and temporarily lightened my mood when nothing else seemed capable of the feat.

Though I was still feeling lost, those fleeting moments of ease finally roused me with enough conviction to just start somewhere—anywhere. To take a step, create some momentum and see where that got me. I contacted a friend, and we schemed a new plan for this trail—the 15 days that I’ve come to associate with restoring my faith in myself.

The weeks spent hiking with my friend had their host of challenges and physical torment, but it all thankfully paled in comparison to the beauty that we discovered. We didn’t worry about all the details and fine print; we trusted that the small stuff would work itself out.

And it did.

One woman along the way told us, “That’s how you know when you’re living life like you’re meant to be.” And we knew she was right. Improbable perfection was present, because we were existing in that cosmic flow you can only truly understand through direct experience. Our sense of presence in it was so potent that it was almost palpable—making tangible the intangible.

With the stark contrast of my crisis against these two magnificent weeks, the root of my ordeal finally came into focus: doubt. My psyche had been flooded by doubt, and I had been drowning in it.

Without any sense of self-certitude, I was sweating the small stuff. All the small stuff, in fact. As my mind became overrun with all the “hows” and the “what-ifs,” my chaotic state of confusion was born. My crisis wasn’t about the perceived failure of my trek; the failure was simply the catalyst that triggered me to doubt myself and my choices.

My crisis was that all of my self-confidence that normally guided my actions had been compromised by doubt; that’s why I’d felt so debilitated, so stuck. Only once I returned to the trail (round two) did I finally stop doubting and fearing, opening space for me to find trust again.

Contending with doubt is not easy, and it can be made harder in a society that’s often all too eager to label us dreamers. Sometimes doubt gets the best of us and we have a little five-minute freakout before we can return to our senses. Other times, doubt gets the best of us and manifests into a full blown crisis.

But I’ve learned that either of these scenarios is okay. What’s important is to be able to recover from them. To be able to ground ourselves enough to identify what’s really happening and be able to overcome and reflect on the situation.

Here, on the upswing of my crisis, I’ve realized two important lessons:

1. The monumental importance of trusting in ourselves.

Self-trust fuels our actions. It gives us the conviction and empowerment we need in order to make decisions and chase after our desires. That doesn’t mean we should expect to totally eliminate all self-doubt from our lives. Rather, it’s about being able to recognize doubt so we can keep its levels in check. So we can call it on its bullsh*t. When doubt tips the scale and belief in ourselves starts to wane, that’s when our foundation starts to tremble, when the crisis starts to loom. To achieve the life we aspire to, we must believe in its possibility. We must trust that we, ourselves, are capable and worthy.

2. The value of contrast. 

Only in lieu of a whirlwind of doubt was I able to realize the pivotal importance of trusting in myself. Times were good leading up to my crisis, but I lacked, at least in part, the understanding of why they were so good. We often take things for granted until they are gone. That’s why we require hardships—to learn and to appreciate the inverse. So, we need not feel hopeless when we’re experiencing a low and can’t swiftly recover. Any experience, for better or worse, is still experience. The more experiences we taste, the more informed we are on how to move forward. With struggle there is opportunity to overcome, and with overcoming there is clarity.

It’s been an exercise in overcoming uncertainty to rediscover and reaffirm my faith in myself. “Myself” being my choices, my beliefs, my intuitions and the course on which I direct my life. Round two of the Bruce Trail was a show of the wondrous perfection of the universe, though had I still been wrapped up in doubt, that magic would have evaded me.

Those two weeks exemplify all the beauty to be gained when we choose to believe in ourselves. Hopefully, every time we stare doubt in the eye and willfully persist through it, the more resolute we will become in our actions.

It’s not about never getting lost; it’s about realizing that becoming lost is actually part of being found.



6 Ways to Overcome Self-Doubt.


Author: Chloe Leonard

Apprentice Editor: Bere Blissenbach / Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Author’s Own


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