So there I was. Alaska. 10 of us moving up a glacier. I’m in charge on this trip – “the expert” so to speak. With 20 years of doing this stuff, you’d think I was the expert, or at least my ego thinks so. We’re walking up a glacier attempting to complete an ambitious route – 30 miles in seven days with 60-70 pound packs, post-holing with snowshoes on the five mile approach to get to the glacier. We’re thinking positively, and this was the day that would determine if we could do it. Making it up the 2000ft pass and on to the other side.
We stopped for a break. My co-instructor and I looked at the map. He said, “This is the pass above us,” and I replied with absolute certainty, “No, it couldn’t be. There is no glacier there, it looks too steep to be the pass that’s on the map.” So off we went, the way that I thought was certainly the pass. I knew we couldn’t get this wrong, because it would cost us the route, and I was sure that I was right.
We slowly work our way up to the pass that I thought was it. One student asked me, “So on a scale of 1 to 10, how hard is this for you?” I replied, “A 5.” He then exclaimed, “This is a 12 for me!” and I thought in my mind, “He’ll be rewarded when we reach the top!” We continue to climb, with my co-instructor taking over for the finish. As I get to the pass, he is standing, looking rather serious, he greets me. I ask, “How’s it going?” He replies, “O.K. – the pass doesn’t go.” Which means that we can’t get down the other side – too steep and rocky.
My stomach drops, tightens. “No. This can’t be.” I say to myself. I run up to the view, and sure enough, it doesn’t go. My mind races, how could I mess up like this? How could I be wrong? What will I tell the students that just worked so hard to get up here? And they are trying with every ounce of energy they have? I panic for a bit, maybe there is another way? Maybe we can make this go? I run around, anything, any way. But I find nothing.
Whether it’s truth or not, I see the “I told you so” in my co-instructor’s face. He so gracefully keeps his mouth closed, while I internally struggle with what to do next. And then I see what is going on. I have a choice here: I can either punish myself, and pass this negativity on to the group, or I can make it a positive experience for them and for myself. It all depended on what, and how, the words came out of my mouth.
I took a deep breath, and exclaimed to the group, “I F_____ up. I’m sorry, we came to the wrong pass.” I went on to say, “And we can look at this experience in a new light. We can’t go over this pass, but we have some options, which we didn’t have before. Such as taking a day to rest tomorrow and go ice climbing.” Smiles returned to their faces, and many even looked relieved. That option turned out to be what they preferred instead of pushing hard every day and not doing something fun like climbing. I had a sense of relief as well, and let out a sigh.
At the end of the trip, the feedback I received from students was, “Angela was really positive, and took a situation of making a mistake, and framed it in such a way as to make it a positive experience for all of us.” I did this as much for me as for them. We make mistakes in our lives. This is part of being human. And we often do not forgive ourselves for it. It can turn into depression, self-loathing, anxiety, or self-medication to mask the pain of a mistake if we believe it’s a big one.
Throughout the week, I thought back on the experience, the decision making, where I made the mistake, and how to avoid this from happening next time. There was some self-loathing, but minor compared to what it could have been, and would have been 5 or 10 years ago when my ego was stronger and more intact. I’m thankful for the work I’ve done, as it allows times like these to be more focused on learning, and less on self-punishment.
When you find yourself making a true mistake, take a deep breath, remember that you are human – that you are perfectly imperfect, and see how you can look at it from a new perspective. What lessons can you take away from it, what would you do differently next time, and how can you move forward from here? Take ownership if this is warranted. Then take the big step of forgiving yourself, the most important step. You will find great relief in this. Do it for yourself as much as for those around you. This is the reward!
Categories: Conflict & Forgiveness