I took my son and daughter on a hike today. It was a beautiful, crisp fall day, with a clear blue sky contrasting sharply with the autumnal colors. A solitary hawk flew overhead, just out of reach of the canopy of the forest, as we made our way beyond the trail-head. For the first quarter of a mile, we ascended a steep rocky walkway, with a moderately thin rope at our side that was suspended every six feet or so by some old galvanized pipe sticking out of the ground. It seemed harmless enough, this trail, with its strategically placed rocks and zigzag approach to the mountainside. Mildly out of breath, we relaxed for a few moments once we reached a plateau where we sat on some crudely fashioned benches made of tree stumps and flat wood. My kids thought we were done.
Once we had caught our breath, I motioned toward the sharply pitched hillside to our right. “We are going there,” I said, “until we reach the top.” My son, always up for adventure, nodded in agreement and stepped in the direction of the rise. My daughter, just about a year younger, began to question the wisdom of our continuing and then relented. We made our way forward and soon found ourselves staring at a rocky, leaf and tree limb covered terrain. It wasn’t long before we found the casual fall hike had turned into a hard scramble. My daughter grew anxious as she realized how easily the earth gave way beneath our feet. She was scared of sliding backwards down the mountain. I hiked behind her the whole way, assuring her that I had her back.
The top came into view, and the last fifty or so yards to the summit were the most treacherous. My son made it to the apex while we were still staring up at an increasingly sharp incline. We grabbed onto small trees and rock outcroppings, whatever we could grab, as we nearly crawled up the rest of the way, my daughter shrieking in fear. I encouraged her as best I could and soon we joined my son at the mountain’s pinnacle.
Once we were at a point where we could stand and see where we had been, we also realized we had a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the little village below that we had driven through to get to the trail. The look of satisfaction in my daughter’s face told me that she understood why we endured the struggle of just a few moments earlier. We took in the view for a short while, after which I began to lead us back down.
Descending the mountain was actually much harder than I anticipated, and more difficult than our climb up had been. It took my daughter all she had to contain her fear and panic each time she slid a little down the soft and squishy earth. Several times she said “I don’t want to die,” and I assured that she wouldn’t. I was right next to her the whole time and wouldn’t have let anything happen to her. She started screaming, saying she was never going to do this again, repeating how hard it was. I told her that someone famous once said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” She repeated the often-used statement shortly after I had said it.
Finally, the most demanding part of the descent was behind us. My daughter raised her fists in the air once we reached the small area with the wooden benches for the second time. We rested briefly, then once again found ourselves walking down the steep, narrow path with the rope at our side. As we made our way through the last leg, I told my daughter that even though her mind was scared and afraid, her body was able to do the work it needed to do to get her through a dangerous route. Sometimes, I continued, you need to prove to your mind that your body is stronger than it realizes. This was a character test, I said, one that showed just who she was. I told her that she proved to be strong and courageous, and should be proud of herself for what she accomplished. She replied by telling me that she felt stronger than she ever had before, and added that she knew now that she could do anything. It was my turn to be proud.
Sometimes we must endure extremely rough patches in our lives. This has certainly been the case for me at multiple points along my timeline. In our mind, we doubt that we may be strong enough to get ourselves through the difficult situation we may find ourselves in. Our brain believes we are weak, and therefore we respond as though we are weak. What we believe about ourselves becomes our reality. But as difficult as it may be, we have to convince our mind that we are more than capable of pushing through, of conquering our own mountains. We have to leave behind the old, preconceived notions of who we thought we were in order to become the extraordinary person we are meant to be.
I’ve heard of learned helplessness, but what of learned self-confidence? What I taught my daughter today I trust will stay with her for her whole life. What mountain are you afraid of? Go conquer it today. Teach your mind that you are able to climb it, no matter how rough it seems. Do not let anyone, especially yourself, tell you that you are not strong enough or tough enough to do it.