In Partnership with Danner
I used to think that I had no sense of where I needed to go. I was wrong.
In college, I dabbled. I was an English major, then a math major, finally settling into a psychology major, like a marble finding a groove in the pavement. I’d fallen in love with developing photos in the darkroom, but the psychology path was smooth. In fact, the longer I was in college, the more I gravitated towards smooth: I timed my classes for past noon so I could stay up late and sleep in. I sought out courses with multiple choice final exams so I wouldn’t have to write any essays. At every junction in the trail, I took the easy path.
I figured out how to cope before I figured out why it was necessary. Or maybe I was just avoiding discomfort.
One day, my favorite psychology professor stood in front of the class and guided us through a body scan. It’s a meditative process where you slowly acknowledge all the different parts of your body. Twenty-one years old, I felt my cool hands folded on my lap, my thighs pressed together on the seat, my feet resting on the floor. In a room surrounded by fellow undergrads, I finally noticed that my stomach was tight, even in pain. I couldn’t be confident that I’d ever taken a full breath in my life.
If it wasn’t easy, I was scared: of the physical responses to social anxiety, of the shame I constantly felt for not measuring up to some invisible standard I set for myself. Most of all, I was scared to truly be in my body and engage with the world.
So I tiptoed. I graduated from college in 2008, as we entered the Great Recession. I worked at an insurance company for a year after college, coaching salespeople and tracking financial data. I was wholly unqualified and often uncomfortable, but I found myself asking questions.
Next came grad school, a 15 month dual-MBA and accounting program. For the first time in a long time, I started raising my hand in class, an answer burning inside me. First I got an internship, then a full-time job at a big 4 public accounting firm. I worked in window-less audit rooms, solving problems, laughing with my colleagues, and talking with clients who didn’t necessarily like having auditors around. My gut told me this world wasn’t the right fit in the long run, but it was also the right thing for me in the moment.
It’s pretty natural to look back and question your choices. With all the information I have today, it makes sense to wish I’d made a big leap sooner. But if I’m gentle with myself, I see that my internal compass was set all along. Those growth points on that figurative trail were landmarks, signs that I was headed in the right direction. Throughout those years, I was taking photos in my spare time. I was spending time in nature. I pushed myself out and through some of my shyness.
I get the feeling you might have a dream that’s been tugging at you: a project you want to start or a long trail you’ve been putting off hiking.
Gradually, “easy” became relative. And when it was time to go there, to make a big life change and start this website, She Explores, and then our podcast — every little growth point added up. Easy became doing what was right for me in the long run.
Sure, I still make mistakes and I still make some decisions out of fear, uncertainty, and coping with anxiety. But I know myself better now. And, as corny as it sounds, I believe that you’re on the right path, too.
We’re in the first month of the new year, a time for setting goals and looking forward. I get the feeling you might have a dream that’s been tugging at you: a project you want to start or a long trail you’ve been putting off hiking. Maybe this is the year for you to take on that challenge — maybe your path has lead to now.
And if you’re not quite ready yet, that’s OK, too. You’re on your way.
Call it a North Star, a blinking lighthouse, or a feeling in your gut: we all have an internal compass. Where is yours telling you to go?
Editor’s Note: We created this post in partnership with Danner with inspiration from their “Go There” campaign, but our thoughts/words are entirely our own. Danner believes boots are meant to take you somewhere and is exploring what it means to “go there.” Gale’s wearing Danner’s Mountain Pass boots in Smores.
Photos by Gale Straub and Jon Gaffney