Have you ever made bad decisions, lost your way, wanted to give up on life?
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
(New to this series? Start here.)
That unforgettable September afternoon, my 22-year-old son and I began an unimaginable adventure by hiking the stunningly beautiful Green Gardens Trail in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. As the scenery was superlative and the afternoon not yet spent, we chose to continue along a less-travelled, more rugged loop trail back to our car instead of returning the way we came to complete the linear, nine-kilometre hike shown in the trail guide. What were another 10 kilometres or so instead of the four and a half straight back? We had only a sketchy map, but the route we had seen on the map board at the trailhead seemed straightforward enough.
We didn’t know exactly how we lost the trail, but we knew for certain we were no longer following it as we recklessly climbed on all fours up a muddy cliff above wild ocean waves crashing on rocks below us. Eventually, after our surprisingly successful ascent and working our way through dense undergrowth, we happily recaptured our trail, only for it to shortly thereafter shockingly terminate at the bank of a raging river. And there it was—the sign for our trail on the opposite bank!
The day was too far gone to find our way back the way we’d come (or, rather, should have come). So, waist deep in whitewater, precariously securing our footing step by tentative step among scattered boulders so as not to be washed out to sea, my son holding his camera above his head, we forded the river. Completely sodden, but gratefully relieved upon reaching the far bank, we hurried on with night falling rapidly, peering into the growing dimness for evidence of the barely discernable path through the forest.
Our formidable adventure had—what seemed in the moment—a celestial ending. Upon finally emerging from the blackness of the forest and reaching the road we’d driven in to access the Green Gardens Trail some seven hours earlier, an angel in the form of a local resident caught us in his car’s headlights trudging along the pavement. The stranger kindly offered us wet, muddy creatures a lift the last couple of kilometres back to the parking lot. Nauseated, exhausted, aching, I was barely able to lift my numb feet high enough to climb into his car.
Today, we laugh about our misadventure. But years later, the memory of it still gets the adrenaline coursing through my blood. The experience has become a vivid metaphor for life.
In my previous blog, I spoke of the empowerment and freedom I’m regaining bit by bit by letting go of redundant, weighty beliefs, thoughts and behaviours that cause me to needlessly expend time and energy making detours along my life journey. That letting go of self-defeating, mental constructs is an integral part of making headway in the direction of loving the hell out of me and becoming unfcukwithable(1). And, as this Gros Morne adventure made clear, so is acquiring the Triple-A GPS (or compass, or Wayfinder, if you prefer).
The three components of what I call the Triple-A GPS are Authenticity, Awareness, and Attitude. When these three parts are working well together, I’m becoming able to hike with greater confidence and enjoy the journey towards fulfillment no matter what obstacles or challenges I encounter.
Authenticity means being comfortable in my own muddy skin, owning my mistakes, bad choices and wrong turns. It means being real, vulnerable and unashamed, admitting I’m lost when I am, not pretending I’m someone or somewhere I’m not. If my son and I hadn’t acknowledged being lost, how much further would we have pushed on in the wrong direction to save face but in so doing totally lose our way? Becoming authentic is the act of finding my way back to who I was when I started out on my life journey before I began following the way prescribed by others for me.
Awareness means noticing or being mindful of how I’m feeling and acting in response to any circumstance or stimulus. I was aware of how terrified I was clinging to the cliff above the crashing waves, wanting to hold tight— to freeze in the face of danger as my instinctual brain was telling me. That awareness of the primitive urge enabled me to dig deep inside of myself to override it and move one shaking hand above the other. Only with awareness of what is frightening me, triggering me, or shaming me, do I have the ability to choose my response to it.
Attitude means positioning myself to be able to act on my awareness. As Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” My son and I chose not to feel defeated by the raging river and instead chose our way across it. How many times over the years have I encountered an obstacle or challenge and chosen to stay stuck where I was in my victim attitude of blame?
I’m learning, step by step, to employ the Triple-A GPS. It’s an act of self-care. Of loving the hell out of myself. But getting good with it takes practice. And although I didn’t believe it in the beginning, I’ve come to understand that faking my adeptness with the Triple-A GPS is perfectly fine until it becomes natural. I was not courageous facing the challenges of my Gros Morne adventure, but faking courage got me to where I needed to go.
In what ways are you prepared to begin making use of the Triple-A GPS to find your way forward? Get back on track? Are you willing to act as if you’re adept at using it even if you don’t really think so?
If you want to hear about faking it until you become it, read on.
(1) Unfcukwithable: (adj.) when you’re truly at peace and in touch with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity or drama can touch you. (Urban Dictionary)