Today, I went on a hike by myself. And I realized something: that typically, whenever I do this, I’m depending on someone else to help me find the way. Whether I’m walking with a group, or following a dependable paved trail, someone is aiding me. Someone is making me feel safe so I don’t have to worry about doing it myself. And you know what? That’s not very brave.
Or at the least, it’s not very in tune with how I’d like to see myself.
As I embarked on this muddy, unsettling brand-new-to-me trail, I realized I was scared. Because there was a chance I wouldn’t find my way out. There was a chance I’d encounter a large animal. There was a chance I’d slip and fall and no one would be there to help me (which, granted, I almost did).
And of course, there were marked trees along the way and occasional signs. I still was not in this alone. But for one of the first times, I found I was really having to fend for myself and think about what I was doing. This was no mindless jog. This was real shit. And it wasn’t even as real as shit could get. In fact, this wasn’t even the wilderness – it was a state park 10 miles down the road from home.
All of this seemed inflated in my mind because I had just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” and it had made me realize some things. 1. I am not a true hiker, 2. I could never survive on a trail like the PCT alone, and 3. I don’t even know that I would enjoy it. Like, at all. I am so not equipped to dig a hole for my own excrement.
But taking these small steps, like walking an unknown trail in the middle of the woods, is still important – even if Henry Horton State Park isn’t quite as badass as the Sierra Nevada. And it’s okay to be scared or uneasy. Because the fear is not the problem. Not facing the fear is the problem.
There are a lot of paths in life that we unknowingly tread. The fear is still there, though maybe not as visceral as it is when one is in nature. We set out for college with a goal in mind – or maybe no real goal at all – and even once we’ve received our proper training, we realize that nothing is truly set in stone. There’s the unknown of finding a job in our field. There’s the unknown of jumping into that job and discovering it may not be the perfect fit. There’s the unknown of discovering a new path. The unknown of meeting new people, of meeting that one person, of embarking on a path with them.
When I moved to Nashville, I thought I had it all figured out. I thought if I went to the right school and got the right degree, I’d get the right job and be happy forever. But that wasn’t how it worked. I had to walk down some nasty untreaded paths before I got where I am today – and even then, I’m still facing fears and learning new things about myself and my purpose every day.
I’m now 28 years old, about to celebrate my 10 year high school reunion. I thought I might be married by now, with kids, working a high-class job in the heart of Music City. But I’m not. And to be honest, I don’t have any fears about sharing what’s become of my life with my former classmates. Because I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how interesting my path has been, unexpected as it has been. Some of my former classmates are now parents, some of them are still in school, and some of them are still trying to figure out what they want and need.
But it’s actually not all that important what we have or haven’t done in the last 10 years. What matters is that we’re all out there trying, forging our own paths, at whatever rate feels the most comforting and attainable. We’re staying the course, wherever that course may lead. And that’s okay. That’s perfectly fine. Eventually, we’re going to find out there was nothing worth fearing in the first place.