Feeling Uncomfortable? Perhaps You Should Be.
When was the last time you felt uncomfortable? Not in the sense of sitting on the ground for too long until your butt went numb. I mean uncomfortable in the sense that triggered a natural, inherent reaction. Perhaps it was a discomfort of fear or a social anxiety. Whatever it was, I want you to think about it now. Got it in your mind? Ok great. Now, I want you to reflect on why you felt uncomfortable. Was it external elements beyond your control like a blizzard hit your base camp or was it something that could have been avoided like an awkward dinner party with an ex? Whatever it was, the atmosphere you were surrounded by most likely had an influential role in the sensation of discomfort. How does your surroundings ultimately affect your experiences and how can we translate that into the outdoor society?
I recently wrote a piece for Outdoor Project discussing the power of female mentorship and the impact having strong women role models has had in shaping my life. In the article, I shared a background of my upbringing as well as the fact that I currently have a support system that I know is there whenever I'm about to fall. Combining my fortunate scenario with continuing education of outdoor skills, I feel confident to step beyond my comfort zone to explore my personal limits and beyond.
Yet, through guiding and instructing, I've learned just how uncommonly lucky my upbringing was. Over the years, I've used that realization to fuel my passion of teaching and educating. Recognizing oneself in another can be the most effective way to feel connected and relatable. Often my clients are scared, nervous, worried, anxious or downright convinced they cannot do something. Using a comforting approach, relating to them on a personal level and listening to their concerns are often remedies for success by the end of our outings.
But what if you were to take 300+ individuals, most of whom do not know each other, put them in the outdoors together and say "here is a free for all to learn as much or as little as you want of things most of you probably know nothing about!"? Surprisingly enough, such a scenario can be a recipe for something beautifully inspiring.
Over the weekend of August 18-20th, I attended the REI Outessa at Mount Hood, OR. As a rookie for the Outdoor Program of REI, I came to the event to help out as concierge instead of instructing. It was a last minute decision and I carpooled up the night before with two strangers I'd found through the event page Facebook. Arriving at such an event was nerve wrecking even for myself. I knew no other REI employees, no event staff and no vendors. Not even to mention knowing none of the hundreds of women about to attend. I got checked in late in the evening so everyone working was half delirious. I decided to cut out to bed early and hope the first official day would be more lively. And man, it sure was.
Throughout the weekend, women were connecting and including on a level I'd never seen anywhere else. If someone sat alone, others were quick to join and start conversation. If someone was nervous, others encouraged and cheered on with hoots and hollers of positivity. No drama. No clicks. No bullshit. Simply beautiful.
Conquering fears, stepping out of comfort zones, feeling vulnerable ... these are all challenges every individuals faces. Can surrounding oneself by a supportive atmosphere be the difference for going beyond the intimidating barriers? Outessa proved the strength of having a tribe who encourages and educates as a cohesive group in a positive atmosphere can empower oneself to do things perhaps not before thought possible. Let us take the lesson learned from such a weekend and not only apply it to ourselves and other women, but also to other facets of your life. If we all acted the way I saw at Outessa, the outdoor world would be an even more inspiringly beautiful place.