Lessons From The Wilderness

I spend a lot of time outdoors, both in group settings and alone, and while I wouldn't say I'm a natural leader, I do have a couple of bedrock principles that I try to rely on when it comes to working with a team.

I think they're worth thinking about, whether you're setting out on an adventure or just going about your day to day life.

1. Carry Your Own Weight

I mean this metaphorically as well as literally. What it comes down to is this: Nobody but you is responsible for your own happiness/comfort/survival.

It's shocking how many people show up at a trailhead with inadequate equipment and/or no concept of the path that lies before them, relying on their companions to have done the homework.

From my point of view, self-reliance is the absolute, number one, bare minimum quality a person needs to have in order to set out into the wilderness, even if they're just joining in with more experienced friends.

It's not okay to say "I'm just letting [friend] do all the planning. If we get hurt, it's his fault."

The best adventurers I know take pride in the preparation. They send me pictures of their kit, three months before we hit the trail. They pack and repack and repack again.

They go over topographical maps and route guides, scour Google and YouTube for images and video of the tricky sections.

They know what to expect before they get out there, and they bring the proper equipment to help them out of any potential problems, no matter how unlikely.

Because the thing is, freak accidents are going to happen. If the temp drops below freezing and you're caught unprepared, it's not going to be much consolation to know that the weather forecast didn't call for snow, or that your buddy didn't warn you to bring long underwear.

You're the one who's got to deal with being cold. So take responsibility.

Transposed into a more familiar setting, if I don't look both ways before I step into a crosswalk, I'm responsible for what happens next.

Legally, maybe the driver who hits me is on the hook, but I'm the one who's going to have to learn to walk again.

If I'm invited to a dinner party, and I'm a vegetarian, it's up to me to confirm that there will be a vegetarian option served.

If I don't, I can show up and feel kind of good about complaining that the host has forgotten about me, but I'm the one who's going to go hungry.

I guess what I'm saying is that that satisfying feeling of righteous indignation isn't going to be much comfort when you're freezing to death.

So take it upon yourself to prepare. Don't rely on others to carry your weight for you.

2. Be A Sail, Not An Anchor

Nitpickers. Know-it-alls. Gossips. Condescenders. Judgers. Chronic complainers and self-styled victims.

Sounds like a hell of a party.

We all know people like this. I've even dated one or two. They breed negativity and have a deleterious effect on crew morale.

They drag a group down, instead of propelling them forward.

The thing is, negativity is contagious. But so is positivity. And even if you're the least experienced in a group of adventurers, if you bring a positive attitude to the table in periods of hardship, you are a valuable member of the team.

Studies have shown that maintaining a sense of humour, caring for others, and keeping busy are keys to survival in the face of disaster.

My strategy in the wilderness is, first of all, don't ever complain. Make the most of the good stuff, and endure the tough bits like a dray horse.

(I.e. carry my own emotional weight.)

Second, I try to look for ways to put wind in other peoples' sails, in particular the less experienced members of the team.

There are going to be people who aren't at your level of experience or physical fitness. You can judge them and make them feel bad, or you can look for ways to encourage them.

Notice when someone's busting his ass, and cheer him on.

If someone makes a contribution (e.g. gathers firewood, sets up a tarp), make a point of recognizing her efforts in front of the group.

(Not, like, in a weird way, obviously. Just find a way to let them know their effort is appreciated.)

Make people feel like they're a part of the team, like what they're doing is important and appreciated.

We're out here to have fun, after all. And if you can foster a welcoming environment, everyone has fun, and the less experienced people will want to come out with you again.

Be a person who is not only fun to be around, but who works hard to actively include and encourage others.

And under no circumstances, ever, put anyone else down. If you can't get along with them, endure. Don't be the poison in the well.

(And as far as dating people who are more anchor than sail, it took me a long time to learn that if someone isn't putting the work in to make themselves happy, it's not my responsibility to subvert my own needs to take care of them.)

These sound pretty simple and I guess they probably are. It boils down to accepting responsibility and maintaining a positive attitude at all costs.

I think this is essential for enjoying adventures in the wilderness, and they're pretty damn good rules for living your day-to-day life, too.

Stuff to think about.