When Self-Perception Gets in Our Way, or Lessons I Learned on the Side of a Mountain

Each year I take a 24-hour break from my family to go on a hiking adventure with a great friend of mine, who also happens to be named Jessica. In years past we have hiked a 14,000-foot mountain and braved 60 mile per hour winds on rocky terrain (definitely thought I was going to get blown off the mountain that time). Each year has pushed me past my comfort level and has left me feeling exhilarated and strong. This year I was kind of nervous about the hike. I wondered whether I was in good enough shape. I wondered if my body, which has been feeling a bit creaky, was up to the challenge, but I set off with Jessica knowing that I had a great friend by my side who would support me no matter what.

As we set out, the sun was rising, the moon was setting, the light was soft, the air was brisk, and it felt like the perfect day for a hike. I felt strong and confident… and then I looked up along the trail and saw the peak we were aiming for.

See that pointy peak in the distance? Yup, that is where we were headed.
See that pointy peak in the distance? Yup, that is where we were headed.

I had a moment of panic and thought, “there is no way I am going to be able to do this!!” As we walked I silently started to prepare myself, and my ego, to know when it was time to say I couldn’t go any further
(I have been known to push myself too far—Jess still teases me about how I fought through altitude sickness to make it to the top of the 14-er, insisting that I would make it even though she wasn’t sure it was the best idea).

As we steadily climbed the mountain we talked about everything happening in our lives from family to work to friends to money to food. Then came the moment where we left the trail. That’s, right, so few people climb this peak that there isn’t even a trail to get to the top!! As I looked up at the very steep climb on mostly fallen rock, I had another moment of “there is no way I am going to be able to do this!!” But up we went, slowly and steadily, taking our time and discussing the safest route. As the only other three people we saw climbing this peak went past us, with helmets for protection, I thought, “there is no way I am going to be able to do this!!” But on we went, checking in with each other every few minutes and we continued to go higher up the mountain on the most technical climb of my life. As the clouds started to gather and the possibility of rain became a reality, I thought “there is no way I am going to be able to do this!!” But we made a safety plan and kept on going.

Looking up...
Looking up…
Looking down...
Looking down…

And then we made it! We were at the top! I (we) had been able to do it!

It was a wonderful, honestly, spiritual moment as I looked down upon mountain lakes you would never know are there and across peaks that most people will never get to see from above.


In that moment I was truly able to take in the accomplishment that I, with support from a great friend, had achieved and that is when one of those moments of clarity struck. It occurred to me that there was a great life lesson staring me in the face. So much of the time our perceptions of what we are capable of are completely off. We sell ourselves short. We become convinced, often times before we even try, that we can’t do something, when really we can, we just need the right conditions. For me, in this case, it was the support of a great friend that I felt comfortable enough  to be open with about where my limits were, it was the strength of my body but also the humility to go slow and take the time I really needed, it was the weather that held off, it was the determination that I wanted to make it to the top, if at all possible. It was all of those things.

That is where real change lives—in those moments of fear, of discomfort, of pushing boundaries. Change happens when we take the leap with the supports we need in place.

Sometimes those leaps are physical, like climbing a mountain; sometimes they are emotional, like starting or ending a relationship or communicating your feelings to those who need to hear them; and sometimes they are practical, like committing to cooking more or making time for physical activity. No matter the leap, though, the change can be profound and the outcomes extraordinary.

Are there leaps that you need to take? Share them in the comments! I’d love to be able to support you as you take yours and I continue to take mine.

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  1. Moving and inspiring piece Jessica. Thank you! I find that fear is always what holds us back, keeps us stagnant and eats at our well-being. Compassion for self, others and a little risk taking with humility and surrounding yourself with the right people for you are always the sure bet. Its never easy taking that first step- trust me, but it’s worth it.
    For me, fear is a matter of being honest about my feelings. About going through the process of feeling, if that makes sense. I tend to bottle everything up until I explode. Not good for anyone.

    1. Yes, Shannon! I 100% agree with you! Honesty with ourselves about what we are really feeling is so important to allowing ourselves to take those risks and face those fears. Glad it spoke to you! 🙂

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