My roommate at Wake Forest was a brilliant woman who loved nature. She was a kayak guide in the summers, and went hiking almost every weekend. While I enjoy nature as much as anybody, I did not look forward to anything where physical danger was a possibility. Lynn was driven by it, and finally goaded me into going on a hike one weekend with her dad’s large white dog.
The hike started out predictably, lots of leaves and sticks and a mild incline. Surrounded by trees and birds I thought, this is kind of awesome. Then I saw the big stone. I mean massively big stone. I should have realized the name “Stone Mountain” was a dead giveaway. I searched for stairs that must exist somewhere, worried about the height. Then Lynn said, “We are going to walk up the stone itself until it gets too steep, then we’re going to turn and crawl backwards up the rest.” She had on hiking boots, and I had on old Nikes with worn treads.
I was fairly convinced I would die on this very day. “Are there stairs?” I asked. I don’t know if they didn’t exist yet or Lynn just wasn’t interested in them, but she started going and I had no idea where I was, so I had to follow.
“What about the dog? Should I stay here with him?” I yelled. “No, dogs go up it fine,” she replied. And the dog took off running up that stone and past her just to humiliate me. Lynn had gained some ground, following small footholds. I had no choice but to follow her. And with shaking arms and legs, I did okay.
When we got to the steep part we also found it was incredibly smooth and slick like marble. I was trapped. Lynn happily plopped down on her hands and knees and turned towards me to do the same. Her only advice was “Don’t look down.” I had no idea how to follow this advice, since my back legs were higher than my front arms and I had no option but to look down. I asked God for some sort of temporary coordination and arm strength. We crawled backwards, I sweated profusely and wondered if a will was necessary at this age.
After what seemed like the time it took me to read “Moby Dick,” we got to the top. I looked around like Chevy Chase in “Vacation,” giving two head pumps and then ready to leave. Lynn and the dog, however, plopped down and went into some kind of meditative state. I kept feeling like my ass was slipping down the rock, and I tried to clear my throat and cough repeatedly to get Lynn out of Zen. After what seemed like hours, Lynn said, “Let’s go down. There’s a path.” Thank you Lord, there’s a path, I thought.
Then I saw the path. It was a crevice between two rocks with tree roots sticking out. Lynn jumped down to the first tree root and said, “Hand me the dog.” This was a large dog. This was not like passing her a handbag. “Are we going to pass the dog all the way down?” I asked, yearning for a good television and couch. “Yea,” she said with what was a little disdain. So, I passed her the dog, almost tumbling headlong into the crevice. Then she moved to the next tree root, and we did it again.
About five tree roots down, two angels appeared wearing rappelling ropes (like sane people) and hiking boots. They volunteered to take over dog duty and help us since what we were doing was moderately suicidal. We finally made it down, and I went into my own Zen state of silence, only it was filled with anger and blame instead of calm acceptance.
What did I learn from this experience? Not everyone finds joy in the same way. Some find it while crawling backwards up a stone. Others find it on a small path in their neighborhood. I find it on my couch when I’m decompressing. However you find joy, don’t feel guilty if someone else’s description of it doesn’t work for you. Lynn was smart and in great shape, but I had my own positive attributes.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t let them tell you what is right for you. They don’t know your heart, soul, or mind the way that you do. If you have an active imagination but a less active body, then follow your imagination. If you are a great outdoorsman but not so much with reading or writing, then hike your heart out. But do what makes you happy. I’ve spent years whitewater rafting and hiking and sailing and I didn’t enjoy any of it. My favorite moment was always finding the shore. And I felt great guilt around the happy sunburned people who cheered the whole way down the river.
But I’ve started my own company, created new roles, written blogs and articles, and used my imagination in ways that others might not. And that’s my big rock. That’s my climb. That’s my adventure.
The bottom-line is that you have one thing to do while you’re here on Earth, and that is to be, unapologetically, who you are. You can stretch, you can do things that are uncomfortable, but when you are looking for joy, do what brings it to you. Give your soul a rest. And always remember, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”