September 6th brought two watershed events to my life. Neither really should have taken me by surprise, I knew they were coming.
The first was the Endeavor Team Challenge, 2014. I had done the inaugural event last year, so I had some idea of what to expect. The race is about 32 hours covering 40+ miles while carrying all your gear and nourishment. The race is composed of long hikes, rock climbing, traversing mountains, swimming, strength and mental challenges, obstacle courses, running, kayaking, land navigation etc. The year before, the race had been one of the toughest things I’ve ever accomplished.
The second event on September 6th was my official retirement from my law enforcement career. The shoulder has a complicated history but essentially, I have trouble keeping it firmly in the socket. It is not I had been fighting this for a while but I knew it was coming. It had been a long process but finally an injured shoulder had gotten to a point where the doctors and administrators determined I was no longer able to do my job. It is really fixable until I am much older and it was deemed too much of a liability to continue working.
One of the things I did this year to prepare for the race, was take a map and compass course from REI. I wanted to be more comfortable navigating through the wilderness.
The instructor, Christa, had a ton of information that she passed along, but one thing she said stuck in my head: “Strive for five to stay alive.” She explained that when you think you are lost (Actually, she said you are never lost as long as you have food and water, you are just on an adventure), stop sit down and look for five things you can recognize in your surroundings. These things can be trail junctions, visible peaks, highways, dense forests or open areas, even changes in elevation. Once you’ve identified those points in real life, find them on your map. Five points should give you a good idea of where you are. Her point was that just because you have lost your way to a particular destination, doesn’t mean you are done or need to start over. Stop, look for familiar things you can identify, get your bearings and get back on your course.
This tip came in handy during the race. In both the day and night orienteering portions, we were given maps of the surrounding area marked with points that we were expected to find. During the night orienteering, at one point, I became confused as to where we really were. I thought I should be at one place but nothing I was looking at seemed to corroborate that. I was tired — we’d been racing for almost 18 hours at that point — It was easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed. I remembered “Strive for five to stay alive.”
There it was: a stream, a ridgeline, an east-west running four-wheel drive road, a small reservoir and a marked trail. I looked back at the map, and I found a spot on it that shared those five traits. I realized, that if I was right about where I was, I’d probably also find one of the points I was looking for right over the hill. BINGO!
The 32-hour race was held in some amazing country, the mountains of the Stanislaus National Forest. The serenity begs introspection. The mind is free to wander.
Early in the race the trails were pretty clearly marked, I knew where to go. In my real life, however, I had felt lost. I have had several careers since college but felt I’d finally found where I belonged. The lessons and experiences of my earlier life seemed to set a stage for my job as a cop. My extra-curricular activities involving fitness and combatives seemed to prepare my for success within it. The idea of re-invention was not appealing and I didn’t know if there was really anything else that fit as well. I felt I had lost my way and now I was going to have to make some big choices.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams
But like the map I carried in the race, I too had a map in my life. It was the list of goals and things that I wanted. And while maybe I felt lost, I just needed to stop, breathe and look around for five things I could recognize from that map and find the direction I needed to go. I didn’t need to start over anew. When I became disoriented in the race, I never once thought I should return to the start and try again, why was my life any different?
I had been considering working with a friend as a leadership coach and while I loved the idea, it seemed so opposite, so different than what I was already doing. As I climbed and swam and paddled and trudged through the Stanislaus Forest, I felt more lost in my thoughts and my future.
Strive for five to stay alive
I looked for the things that were important to me in my life.
Somewhere early in my career, someone told me that my job as a cop was simple. Make the situation you encounter better than it was before you arrived. Obviously, this requires a certain amount of self-righteousness, but I always prided myself on being able to step back and see the big picture. I liked being the calming voice of reason in a situation that seemed chaotic to those in the middle.
I also loved the physical nature of the job. I thought keeping myself in shape and prepared was important for anyone who wanted to be a leader, let alone a cop. I didn’t want to lose that drive.
The job allowed me to grow daily as I was forced to face my own fears and anxieties in order to help others with theirs.
Everyday had a new challenge, where else could I find that variety and an opportunity to use my creativity to solve problems?
Cliche or not, I loved the opportunity to help people and watch them grow.
As I examined what is important to me and where I wanted my life to go, it hit me. The opportunity to become a leadership coach exactly fit the map I’d created.
When we find ourselves off track, we don’t need to go back to the beginning. We don’t need to wait for Monday or January or even a life change like a retirement. We just need to stop and look for the things we recognize as important. When you get lost, stop and look for the markers in your life. They are usually there and closer than you thought they were. We don’t need a new motivation, new goals or a new plan. We need to look around, figure out where we are and take another step forward.
The last leg of the race was about three miles. We had to carry a sandbag loaded with six clay bricks. As we came around the corner and I saw the finish to the race I realized I knew exactly where I was: A finish and a beginning.
Strive for five to stay alive. Just start again doing the things you know make you happy and being the person you want to be. When you feel lost, stop, breathe and look around. You are going to find things you recognize, things you are working toward. Use those to plot the course. Get back on the road. You aren’t starting over, just taking the next step toward the life you were meant to live.
PS – My partner and I finished the race tied for 9th (I think about 50 teams started the race). This is an amazing event and challenge. It is probably one of the best run events I have ever been involved in. I would encourage anyone who even thinks it looks fun, to go to the website, watch the videos and sign up. www.endeavorteamchallenge.com