A Wilderness Guide Ponders Cicero

Long plane rides allow me the time to expand my mind through reading, but it was recently expanded far more than expected. I came across Cicero’s “Six Mistakes of Man” and I was struck by the relevance of these six simple principles written by the famous Roman orator over 2,000 years ago.

If only humankind today took the time to seriously ponder these six mistakes as they are profound!

Six Mistakes of Man

“The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others;

The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected;

Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;

Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;

Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study;

And attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.”

Being a wilderness guide and adventure travel company owner, I have the privilege of seeing my clients on their best days and their worst days. I’m totally fascinated by individual and group dynamics that play out on our trips…and using the Six Mistakes of (Wo)Man to highlight some of them that can be useful to bring back to our daily lives:

1.  The illusion that personal gain is made up of crushing others – Thankfully, this is rarely an issue on Call of the Wild trips.  Competition is low and support is high on all female trips.  Yet, many in the world believe that one person’s loss is another person’s gain, and their goal is to be the one who gains.  I have even been working with Wild Women, a competitor out of Canada, to collaborate on running trips and sending each other clients wherever possible.  We do this because we believe the market is not finite and we can grow “the pie” by supporting each other.  This kind of collaboration is pretty rare among competitors, but alliances that address customer needs and desires in our market will result in increased business and more happy women across both the United States and Canada!

Where can you focus on growing “the pie” in your life instead of taking what you believe to be your fair share?

2. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected – This may be the most common and most detrimental habit that I witness on my trips. The worrying among many of my female clients can be intense. It seems we are practically trained from birth to be worriers!

They are worried about packing, training, where to go to the bathroom, what the weather will be like, how their bodies will perform, how they will interact with the group, etc etc. These are all valid things to worry about in terms of thinking about them and preparing, i.e., read your packing list thoroughly and check items off as you pack them. However, worrying incessantly can be counterproductive. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have come before you and survived (and maybe even enjoyed!) the trip you are about to take.  🙂

If you lay awake at night worrying about whether you packed everything, you will be sabotaging precious sleep that is critical for physical performance. Once you have done all of your preparation (read your materials, tested and packed your gear, trained, and arrive for the start of the trip), it’s time to relax and let the trip unfold, much like life.

Most of the time, the things we worry about rarely actually come to fruition. And other things, unexpected things, happen for which we may or may not be prepared. We have to be in a good frame of mind to face these unexpected things and work through them!

What are you worrying about that realistically cannot be changed and corrected?  Would it not be more productive to expend that energy on changing those things that can be changed and letting go of the rest?

3. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it – I can’t tell you how many times I have heard women say, “Oh, I can’t do that! I’m too old!” Age is truly but a number. I have MANY clients in their 60s and 70s who take their health and activity seriously and who are disciplined enough to train for our trips which require training. Many have recovered from serious illnesses or injuries.  It makes me so sad to hear a woman in her 30s say, “Maybe if I was active when I was young, now I just don’t have time to get in that kind of shape. It’s too late for me.”

Then I head out hiking with several of my friends in their late 60s and early 70s who have simply made it a priority to stay active for decades. As a result, over half of my clients for Kilimanjaro this year (the highest peak in Africa at 19,340ft) and they are prepared! I held a free training weekend for them in late July and all passed with flying colors, including passing some young people on the trail as we marched on with our slow and steady pace. It’s never too late…truly.

Think about what you want that you currently believe is impossible…is it truly impossible? Or are you unwilling to put in the work to make it possible?

4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences – Travel is a fantastic way to remind you to let go of trivial preferences. Foreign cultures have all sorts of ways of doing and being that are different, even downright strange, to us. Treading lightly in another country increases your flexibility about customer service, sense of time, even standards around hygiene.

This is one of the best perspective resetting aspects of adventure travel for me. So much is out of our control and we must be flexible and go with the flow of the new culture. I have to sit back and feel this flow, letting go my own preferences and for a short period of time, adopting the preferences of another people. Sometimes I’m not the biggest fan of other ways of life and it causes me to develop a greater appreciation for the way I live at home, but other times, I realize that my preferences may truly be inferior…
I was recently irritated by a mountain hut owner closing their doors at prime lunch time when my group was wanting some hot drinks on the trail. I took a pause and shifted my view of their decision- perhaps we really should shut down our establishments to have a dedicated mealtime with friends, family or employees. Isn’t that important, too?

What are you holding on to that in the grand scheme of things really doesn’t matter? Is fighting for your trivial preference really worth conflict or unhappiness (both your own and that of others)?

5. Neglecting development and refinement of the mind, and not acquiring the habit of reading and study – The world has yet to bore me. The varied flora, fauna, weather patterns, geology, cultures, languages, religions around the planet are never ending and several lifetimes of dedicated study would be grossly insufficient.

Travel provides me the opportunity and the motivation to learn more about all of these things. I believe that this keeps my mind supple and engaged. I have been working hard on my Swahili to prepare for the next 5 weeks in Tanzania and Kenya and I know that my Amharic language materials have already arrived in my absence. No sooner than this trip is over will I begin to work on my likely most difficult language yet, this most spoken language of Ethiopia.
Keeping your mind engaged and active has many benefits beyond just being a more interesting person!  Studies have even shown that activities that keep your mind challenged (like languages, reading, puzzles) can even stave off the onset of diseases such as Alzheimers.

Find something that inspires and challenges you and never stop learning!

6. And attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do – Who is to say that “we” are right? I know I have been wrong before and will likely be wrong again in the future. To live with such conviction that our way is the only seems quite radical! As you travel around the world, the way in which people live is so varied, you begin to realize there is no right way. There are far to many ways to live, to believe, to love!

At the same time, there is deep universality in the experience of joy and sadness, of love and grief, of loyalty and betrayal, that you begin to realize the only, but powerful, common factor is that of being human…not the right or wrong way to live and believe. We must each find our way and give those we love the space to find their own way.

The next time you feel yourself becoming judgmental about another’s “way,” take a deep breath and recognize their right to find their own path.  You cannot compel another adult to live as you do unless against their will.

From 2,000 years in the future, I send my sincere gratitude to Cicero!  What do you think of Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man?