Pictures by Dr. Ginny A. Baro, Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, NY
As a young girl growing up on a farm in a tiny village near Haiti in the Dominican Republic, my cousins and I hiked almost daily when we visited my grandfather. We would get lost in the woods for hours, picking branches to make "organic" brooms to sweep the dirt patios evenly each afternoon. Reflecting on those earlier years, I imagine that's where my love for hiking comes from—I had never thought about it that way until now.
A city dweller most of my adult life, except in the last 12 years, I planned trips out of the city to hike only once or twice a year during the summer. Either as a young girl or adult woman, hiking was not something I did alone—there were always friends or family around me. Admittedly, I wasn't consciously aware of my fear of hiking in the woods by myself until recently when one of my friends mentioned that she goes hiking with her friend near where we live now.
It's the end of the summer, and my son goes back to school this week. I decided to take the week off while he's with his father this week on break. Instead of scheduling back-to-back meetings and projects to fill the void, I created space on my calendar. Yes, this time would be different. I wanted to rest.
It was only Day 2 on my own, and for the first time in my life, I decided to do something I had been afraid to do as an adult—I decided to go hiking alone. I wanted to be in nature, to enjoy the beautiful day, and I didn't want to sit this one out.
The morning of the hike, I woke up wondering what I would do for the whole day, and without getting too crazy, I chose a venue that I thought was beautiful and where I would feel safe with other hikers nearby. On this sunny day at the end of August, the perfect location for me was Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY. I finished my breakfast and booked a reservation to hike the Labyrinth—one of my favorite trails thus far. Following the reservation instructions, I grabbed a backpack, an ice-pack and made myself a sandwich, grabbed a multi-grain bar, and filled my bottle of water.
One and a half-hour later, I arrived at Mohonk Mountain House around 11:30 AM, found a cozy parking spot, and made my way into the Mountain House Garden. Only 100 yards from the lake entrance, I noticed the sign for the Labyrinth trail—I was so excited.
This trail is the rockiest and most challenging I've hiked only twice before and always with someone. Today, I felt happy, proud, and exceptional--it was me on the hike, and that was enough. The temperature was about 78 degrees. I felt safe, confident, and energized as I began this exhilarating hike.
The 45-minute hike was even more strenuous than I remembered. I paid a lot of attention along the way.
After finishing the trail in the morning hike with my Self, I made my way down from the Sky Top Memorial Tower and wandered across the flower gardens. I spotted a bench perched on the right side with gorgeous views of the gardens. As I admired the beautiful day and contemplated how I felt during the hike, I noticed my strained muscles. I pulled out a small journal from my backpack and began to write down my thoughts.
From my journaling, ten distinct concepts emerged, which were all connected to my hike. I want to share these ten strategies. These supported me to make it through the Labyrinth trail and to the Sky Top with the view at the Albert K. Smiley Memorial Tower of Mohonk Mountain House.
I intend that these strategies support you on your hike through life and toward your next level of potential as a leader. I can tell from experience that they can also help you navigate any challenges you may be facing today in your career, business, and life.
#1: Lean on Yourself
While hiking, it's essential to be confident in your abilities and your agility. Remind yourself that you're capable and qualified to face the situation in front of you, no matter how hard it may seem. This focus will help you become more resourceful and peaceful as you climb.
#2: Find your center of gravity
On multiple occasions, I noticed that my center of gravity was not always standing straight up while hiking over rocks. Sometimes, to stay balanced and steady on my feet, my body was off to the left or right, knees bent. The nooks and crevices I had to squeeze through required flexibility.
Similarly, as you go through life, figure out at the moment what keeps you balanced—and that may be different from the person next to you. Depending on what you're going through, your center of gravity may feel or look sideways or diagonal. At times, we may need to lean more toward self-care, others toward getting the job done. As long as you're conscious of it, it's okay to indulge and rest, play, and overwork within boundaries.
#3: Lean on rocks and trees
While climbing, it's essential to lean on other rocks, identify the ones that you can use to steady your footing, and launch yourself from one to the other as you move forward. On my hike, I also used the tree trunks and branches I found to help me balance and support my next steps, especially when making my way through tight nooks and corners.
Who are the rocks and trees in your life? These people are there for you. Don't forget to lean on them. They will help you stay on your feet and create momentum in life.
#4: Be mindful
As you climb, nothing else matters. It's essential to pay attention to what's right in front of you, to your thoughts, and to be in the moment to stay healthy and avoid physical injury. There is no other activity that matters at that time other than the climb.
When you bring mindfulness to your work, you are focused on the activity you are currently doing. Nothing else matters at that moment. That's how I am the most productive and the most conscious about the work I'm performing. As other thoughts, worries, ideas come up, notice them and let them go. Stay focused on the activity of the moment, and breathe.
#5: Be intentional about the steps you take—they matter
By steps, I don't only mean literally. I also mean it figuratively. One careless step can leave you injured for the rest of the hike—that can be very painful or even life-threatening, depending on where you are. Watching your next step is part of the strategy, keeping your eye on the ground and simultaneously scanning the landscape to see the best route ahead.
In life, sometimes, we believe that our words and our actions are inconsequential. However, many of us know that words can hurt deeply, and our behavior, the steps we take, can either build or destroy relationships, opportunities, careers, and more.
I recommend that you think carefully before speaking and acting. Ensure you're reflective about how productive your communication and deeds are toward yourself and the people you love around you.
#6: Respect others on the path
As a hiker, you are keenly aware of your surroundings. And as you run into other hikers, you ask for the lead way to pass them, if, for example, there's many of them, as was the case when I ran into a family and group of 9 or more people. As we approached a clearance, I asked, "Would you be okay with me getting in front of the group?" They consented, and I moved on, hopping, skipping, and climbing over the rocks.
On the trail and in life, everybody's safety is critical. As you're making your way to the top, respect those you run into along the way. They, too, are on their journey.
#7: Follow directions
While leaders love to lead, we must also follow. The red arrows on the Labyrinth trail are there to keep us safe and prevent us from losing our way in the tangle of rocks and getting in life-threatening trouble.
The arrows and guiding posts you encounter in your life, including people, are significant to guide you in the right direction. If you don't follow them, you may end up in a hole that you may not be able to get out of. Sound familiar?
There are many directions and arrows in our life that we often ignore. Let's start paying attention, and life will not feel so hard. Other successful people around you have mastered what you're trying to do. Let's learn from them as much as we can and expand on what they've done. This approach leaves you to take quality risks, learning from others' mistakes and using their examples as examples of what to do or what "not to do."
#8: Enjoy the view
At least four times along my hike, I stopped on rocks to sip from my bottled water, snap a few pictures with my phone, which I'm sharing with you in this article, and enjoy the breathtaking views. At that moment, I knew that there was no other time to enjoy that particular view—even if I went back another time, my perspective would be different, as would the weather, the sky, etc. I felt so grateful for being there having that intimate experience with my Self.
This year, my 14-year old son starts freshmen year of high school. Each day, I'm enjoying watching him evolve into a sensitive, astute, and loving young man. I know that view will change too—so I'm taking it all in. Please remember to enjoy your view today. Look for the blessings and the gift in this moment. We're never standing still—and that's okay too.
#9: Acknowledge yourself and your journey
As I acknowledge that this is my first hike with my Self only, I gave myself tons of appreciation. It felt good to conquer this fear, albeit by taking a quality risk—putting myself in an environment that led to a feeling of safety. Although I'm very independent and always have been, I am proud of taking this small step in my adult life.
Acknowledgment is essential. Otherwise, we keep going and forget to be grateful for our personal growth. Even when it seems small, celebrating the small step is a huge step toward our healing and growth.
#10: Coast on the way down
On many levels, the Labyrinth hike is analogous to the first 50 years of my life. In my 20s, 30s, and 40s, in my career, I have been extremely hard-working, giving it my all to ensure that I can provide for myself and my family. You can say I have stretched, strained, faced many challenges, and overcame many of them. After 30 years of hard work, I realize that I have lived and worked responsibly to live comfortably and take care of my personal business and responsibilities. I reached the Sky Top Memorial Tower (highlighted in the picture below).
At the end of the trail, I took in the 360 panoramic views and got to walk down the smooth path. No more boulders, no more crevices to squeeze through, and no more uneven ground. I stopped, sat on wooden benches on the way down to the lake, enjoyed my sandwich and later my snack. I took pictures for visitors and kept taking in the views. You could have pinched me. I even learned about the Eagle Cliff trail from a groundskeeper and hiked that trail too in the afternoon. It was mostly flat ground until I got to the descend, which reminded me of the Labyrinth trail. At that point, the drop seemed like a piece of cake.
As I flow into the next decade of life, my definition of success has drastically changed from the previous ones. The uphill climb of the first four decades—the struggles to get out of poverty and making it in the world—are over. On this leg of the hike, I intend to find joy and fulfillment, contributing and being of service to others, leaving a mark in the world, leaving the world a little bit better than how I found it, and enjoying myself even if only a little bit each day.
Bringing it all together
How are you coasting on the way down, or are you still climbing?