Beginning to feel the pressure let up as if we are descending an enormous mountain (which we are), a year into the pandemic, I find myself reflecting on my personal growth. My failures and successes, weaknesses and strengths, my dreams, my goals - really considering the questions “What do I want out of life?” and ‘What am I willing to sacrifice?” I am certain I am not alone in this season of personal investigation and excavation (especially given the challenging and traumatic time in our world). All I know is that I cannot stop thinking about mountains. Mountains - and how they can change a person. Here is my mountain story.
Every summer since 1999, my entire family goes on a vacation to the same resort in Vermont. In the summer of 2012, my cousin who lived locally suggested we do something new that year – climb nearby Mt. Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont. A part of the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Mansfield stands tall at 4,395 feet. If you don’t plan on climbing from the very bottom (which will take a very long time), there is a toll road that takes you zig-zag up the mountain to a lot, where you then park your car and begin your ascent to the top from the middle. New York City girl that I am, I am not much of a mountain climber though I do enjoy a nice hike. Also, I was told this was a walking trail with partial climbing a child could handle. So, we took to the mountain. I did not think I was afraid of heights (I am a roller-coaster lover - how could I be?), but I learned that day I was not entirely okay with them - or falling off the face of the earth, for that matter.
As I watched my four-year-old godson darting ahead of the group, breezing by the steep edges and corners without a care in the world, I was petrified of gravity failing me and that I would fall off the side of the planet. However, I did not let on or give in to my fear. I just kept breathing and taking moments to pause and take in the scenic view – and this view was truly breathtaking. We made it a decent way up but still had about the same distance to go to reach the top. As the sun began to set, I encouraged the group to start making our way back to the cars. It was a legitimate suggestion but was definitely laden with ulterior motives born of my fear of plummeting off the side of the mountain. I was not considering the law of gravity that keeps my feet on the ground. I was riddled with irrational fears.
There is something about facing a fear, specifically a mountain, where you are afraid, but you keep climbing higher, step by step, and the higher you get, it is the same distance to get down. Down can be much, much harder. So, knowing your limits is essential, but more importantly, knowing you don’t have to face the whole mountain at once is even more crucial. I came down that mountain a different person. Though I did not make it to the top that day, I conquered my fear and lived to tell.
After this experience, I watched different aspects of my life improve. I became more open to things I would never have done in the past, and I learned that if I remain calm and keep a positive mindset, I could accomplish anything, even in the face of fear. Within two months, I met the love of my life (to whom I am now married), and a few months later, the band of my dreams found me, and I have been the lead singer of Jane Lee Hooker ever since. I’m not saying these things happened because of my mountain experience. But I know it molded me into someone ready, willing, and able to become something new and see opportunities for growth in everyday life.
Bonus: the following summer, I made it to the top of Mt. Mansfield.
As we have learned with the mountain that is this global pandemic, challenges can and will arise in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of seriousness at a moment’s notice. Identifying our different stressors and how we respond to them is the first step in overcoming them. Knowing this, we can prioritize what is most important and develop healthy habits and coping mechanisms. Even so, while we may have all the tools and knowledge at our disposal, these will do nothing without taking ownership of our own success. It is a conscious effort to put one foot in front of the other and do the work - staying focused on our learning and growth in the face of adversity.
Just keep going. And BREATHE.
Becoming or creating a new version of yourself can be challenging and downright scary, but you will always be better for it, even when things get hard, maybe even more so then - if we learn from the lessons. I have recently been facing several challenges, fears, struggles, and unfortunate “life” happenings, as again, I know we ALL are given the times. Though these are exceptional circumstances - life has always been LIFE. It is not always easy. But the work is always worth it. For a while now, I have been trying to find my voice and my “message.” As a singer and writer, this has been completely new and confusing for me, but change is good and the only constant in life.
When I was climbing that mountain, at first, I was the one telling myself I could not do it, clinging to fear. But when I switched my perspective, I began saying to my fear, “Don’t you tell me I can’t do this. I can do this. Now, watch me!” That day I acknowledged my fear, took a breath, and enjoyed the scenery. I shifted my mindset, and in doing so, reinvented myself. I became someone who could now climb mountains and live to tell the story of what a spectacular view it is from up so high. How tiny and humongous we can feel at the same time. The mountain challenges us to our very core. You can’t make it up and back down without going through it. No shortcuts. What you travel up, you must travel down. A positive attitude (and firm footing) are essential. The mountain challenges us to bring the best version of ourselves - Mind. Body. Soul. The balancing act of existence.
I cannot wait until the summer when I get to climb to the top of Mt. Mansfield again.
Here are two photos from the day we made it to the top back in 2013.