Can You Sit With Your Fear?

So many of us run kicking and screaming away from fear. We feel it, it freaks us out, and we turn away to go right back to doing whatever it was that was safe and secure, or stay with whomever it was that makes us feel comfortable.

Mountaineering and, even more so now, entrepreneurship has forced me to face my fears head on. And I’ve realized it’s a quality that is not recognized or lauded as much as being “fearless” – giving the impression of having no fear at all.  Being fearless is the AMAZING quality that’s highlighted again and again as valued above so much else in our culture.

Obviously, I’m not advocating running toward an avalanche, jumping out of a plane without a parachute or leaving a perfectly good job without some sort of plan…but if you think about the potential reward, could it just maybe be worth it to face your fear?

Can you sit with fear? Feel it in your bones? Let it give you goose bumps? What if you really examined your fear instead of running away from it?

My biggest fear is financial insecurity. Hands down. I don’t come from money, have very little living family, and have been self-sufficient since the age of 17. I am far more afraid of being broke than I am of anything I face in the mountains or in the spotlight.

The margins in the adventure travel business are low and the business challenges are high (permits, staffing, natural disasters, government shutdowns, etc), and I have not yet been able to pay myself a salary for running the company. The financials are on steep upward trajectory which is great, but there are still bills from the last 3 years to be paid.  My biggest and best option is selling my home which has appreciated since I bought in May 2012 and cashing out the equity.

I have been ruminating on this for MONTHS. Just tossing and turning and flipping the idea over and over. I could not come to a decision because it felt like giving up on part of my dream of creating the lifestyle I envisioned here in Bend.

However, I had an illuminating conversation with my friend, Kevin, when I was telling him about all of my big dreams and goals for 2016 – giving a TedX talk, scouting Ethiopia for Call of the Wild, climbing Mt Noshaq in Afghanistan with local women, and climbing Everest. Selling the house could help me keep the business dream alive and accomplish ALL of those things.

Then Kevin innocently asked me one key question, “What’s holding you back?” I only had a one word answer for him, “Fear.”

Fear of becoming homeless and a ‘bag lady.’ 

 Fear of never being able to qualify for a home loan again. 

 Fear of not knowing where I’ll be living in a month or two. 

 Fear of giving up on my dream vision. 

 Fear of feeling like a failure because I could not get COTWA profitable enough to sustain me financially. 

 Earth shattering, soul quaking fears for me.

But once I uttered that word, “Fear,” as my response, it made me realize that that was a completely bullshit reason for holding myself back from the potential reward on the other side of facing my fear. It became so blazingly obvious what I needed to do.

The wheels are now in motion.  The house is going up on the market. I’m making some last minute improvements and the roofers are banging on the ceiling as I type.

What could you potentially be accomplishing if you sat with your fear and REALLY examined it???

Are you surviving or thriving?

Many people are intrigued by my departure from the corporate world to follow my passion of making adventure travel for women, but I’m going to take us a few years back to one of the hardest climbs that clearly demonstrated the value of following my passion.  I’m including the video from this talk.  It was done with amateur videography equipment so apologies that the audio is not the most awesome.  Regardless, you might get a kick out of the live version as well.  🙂

Mt McKinley, or its native name, Denali, is the highest mountain in North America and is known as a “mountaineer’s mountain.” Even those who have climbed both Everest and Denali often say Denali is tougher.

Denali - West Buttress and West Rib routes visible

Denali – West Buttress and West Rib routes visible

Bye bye, link to civilization for the next 3 weeks!

Bye bye, link to civilization for the next 3 weeks!

It’s 20,320ft which is high, and as you may know, as you go higher, the air pressure drops making less oxygen available. However, it’s location close to the Arctic Circle makes it feel higher as well because the air pressure also drops as you go further north. You are dropped off by ski plane at 7,800 feet and have 13,000 ft of glacier and vertical relief to climb to the top of this formidable mountain.

It’s intimidating when you are dropped off as you are on your own for 21 days. You worry about your physical preparation, skills, logistical planning. As you look up around the Kahiltna Glacier and see these intimidating peaks all around you are only 9k ft high and realize there’s over 20kft of climbing because you nearly climb the mountain twice.

IMG_3979The typical routine is to carry heavy loads up higher, dig caches 6-10 ft deep, bury your cache, and head back down to sleep at a lower altitude to recover. The total load I carried was around 120# split between my backpack and the sleds dragged uphill every day. There had been a volcanic eruption of Mt Redoubt earlier in March.  As a result of the heat-absorbing ash that blanketed the glacier, it was less stable than usual so we chose a night schedule. That means that we slept during the day, would wake IMG_3983around 10pm and be climbing before midnight each night.

Sometimes people tell me vacations sound like their worst nightmares. 🙂

But I was in heaven. It was the most intense, isolating, scary, committing thing I have ever done, and John kept saying he was surviving but it seemed like I was thriving.

It made a difference later after we made our way up to our final camp. We had to dig out a platform and build walls made of snow blocks. It was hard work as we were now above 16,500 ft which felt like digging at 19k ft. You would pull three strokes of the snow saw and have to lean against the rock to catch your breath.

Location of our high camp

Location of our high camp

We came down to recover and witnessed an accident up high that proved to be fatal to the two fallen climbers. It made me nervous and we decided to take a rest day and head up the fixed lines, our descent route, to familiarize myself when I was unexpectedly shut down by incredible pain upon each inhalation. I was debilitated. We waited three days and each day tried again but the pain only got worse.

Unhappy camper at the ranger medic tent

Unhappy camper at the ranger medic tent

I got checked out by the ranger medic and we confirmed that it wasn’t anything life threatening. I still had to get myself out of there. A helicopter ride was an option but any self respecting climber will at least try to self-evacuate rather than put others’ lives at risk.

So we packed up from 14k camp and started to head down. I was in excruciating pain the entire time as breathing was unavoidable. But we were hell bent to get all the way down what had taken us 14 days to climb up, we descended in 11 hours.

I kept thinking of John’s words, “In this environment, I am surviving but you seem to be thriving!” It was a good thing that I was so passionate about climbing, about being on that mountain at that time, and about getting my own butt off the mountain. It was the only way I could keep going was to remind myself that I WANTED to be there.

Having the time of my life!  :-)

Having the time of my life! 🙂

Sometimes the paths we take when we follow our passions can seem really difficult. But the reality is that life is really difficult and there will always be obstacles and challenges along the way no matter what.

If you are living supporting someone else’s dream, those inevitable challenges can seem intolerable. But if you are following your own passion, you will always be working toward your personal mission.

Then the question becomes…what is YOUR passion!?!?