We were hiking through the Arctic tundra. Snowblind from the intense reflection of sunlight off the snow. The snowfall so deep in parts that when we lost sight of the trail and fell off it, the snowdrifts came up to our hips, stopped only by the stride-jump position we assumed so as not to fall deeper. Yet we found our way back. Plowing ahead, we ignored the frigid wind that pinkened our cheeks and made us see our breath. We arrived at the trail head and raised a hallelujah before making our way home for hot chocolate.
All the above is true, except for the Arctic tundra. I just added that for dramatic effect. In fact, this took place in the Loree Forest in The Blue Mountains last winter when my eldest daughter and I went for a hike one cold January afternoon.
Falling off the trail and landing in the forest. Losing sight of the way forward. Haven’t you been there?
Falling off the Trail
You’ve heard “change is a constant.” In other words, you are always evolving in some way, even without your conscious awareness. Eventually, you reach a point where you see your old self and know it doesn’t really represent you anymore. While you may not know what your new self looks like, you know you can’t go back to the way you were. In that moment, you have fallen off the trail.
When you fall off the trail, you land in the forest. There’s no clear path here. You see trees, squirrels, birds. You hear the quiet sounds of the forest like the creaking sound a fallen tree makes when propped up against another tree, swaying in the wind.
Getting Back Up
Most of you get back up. Resiliency in action.
What’s next is the challenge.
Where do you go?
You can turn around and take the same route back to the trail but, wait. You’ve already decided you can’t go back to the way you were.
Another option: explore the forest. Find new terrain. Expand your point of view.
A third alternative: return to the trail via a different route after resting in the forest.
Finding the Way Back
You have choices. Always. When you’re lost, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision and lose sight of the big picture. Remind yourself in those off-trail moments that you have agency. You get decide any of the options presented or even a fourth one, like turning back because you’ve chosen to examine your personal history.
Use your emotions to guide you back. Logic is great and the project manager in me loves creating structures and processes and paths forward. But first-off, identify how you feel. If you want to get back to the trail, you need to pick a path. Logic got you to a certain point before you fell off. Now you need intrinsic motivation to find your way home, back to yourself. Logic can’t motivate you intrinsically; emotion does.
Getting lost in the forest is often necessary to encourage new growth. You need to feel the emotional discomfort of being lost before you can be found again.
Maybe you feel scared being lost in the forest or frustrated because you’re walking in circles. You may feel sad because you don’t see a way out. As you get flooded emotionally, you will instinctively seek a way to return to homeostasis, your natural state of being. Your emotions act as the catalyst for change.