4 Years as a Beginner

When I first packed my bags and moved to the mountains, I had high hopes of how my life would change. I was going to become a svelte, beautiful, strong, athletic mountain woman. I was going to hike every weekend, and climb most weeknights. I was going to learn to mountain bike and scale ice waterfalls. It was going to be amazing.

Turns out, no matter where you go, there you are.

If you have habits of not avoiding physical exercise, over-commitment to work schedules, lack of funding and strong family commitments, there is only so much time left in your day in which to change your life.

I look back at the past four years and how I stand today in relation to my goals (which are much the same today as they were then) and the dark parts of me want to declare that I have wasted this time.

That I have failed.

That I never stick with anything.

That I am not deserving of achieving these goals that I have set for myself.

The dark places in my head like this last one especially – that I am not worthy of success.

That I am forever to be a half-ass, an un-finisher, a leaver-behind-er, a mediocre.

In case you can’t tell, that is unhealthy brain talking.

I find myself huddling into this dark place like a child hiding beneath the covers. Not because it is fun, but because it is familiar. It sounds stupid when I tell people about it, but this existence in not-good-enough, not-worthy, mediocrity is comfortable, for all it’s discomfort. It is easy to slide into the darkness, pull the covers over my head, curl up on the couch and hide in things that are easy.

The idea of bad thoughts being a comfortable place… it’s a strange concept.

It’s like taking the same route to work every day. Even if there is an accident, you might just stay on that route – you know where you’re going and you don’t even have to think about it. Changing a routine or a habit takes practice.

I’ve been working at this thought-changing process a long time now, but more concertedly over the past year.

For me the biggest step is to realize when I get on that same wrong off-ramp that I always take. The one that leads to the bad thoughts. Instead, I have to choose to take a different route, to change my perspective and my thought responses. To think about things differently. Chances are, the bad off-ramp thoughts are not only unhealthy, they are often inaccurate.

You know what?

Those four years have NOT been a waste.

I have fallen in love. Twice. I have changed jobs four times. I have changed careers three times. I moved. I bought a car. I kept a garden. I learned to run a 5k in 50 minutes. I adopted a dog. I said goodbye to a parent. I made new friends, lost some old ones, renewed with long-lost ones. I traveled around the state and around the country.

It has not been a waste.

The truth is that I have not been stagnant. I have hiked a lot more than I think I have. I have had a lot more adventures than I think I have.

Here is the more accurate truth:

For four years I have been a beginner. 

I have been a beginner hiker. A beginner rock climber. A beginner dog mommy. A beginner home owner. A beginner IT professional.

A beginner adult.

I’m taking steps this summer to move beyond being a beginner, to move beyond my apprenticeship and into journeyman status in a lot of these areas. It feels right. Unforced, more like – yes, ok, now we’re doing this. Less ‘striving’ and more acceptance.

A lot of this I am learning on the trail. In hiking, running and life there comes a moment where you can either give up or you can push through. When I’m out on the trail, whether I’m hiking or running, this happens about the mile and a half mark. Runners call it “the wall” but there is no corollary in hiking. In four years of hiking beginner trails, I’ve only recently begun to recognize when it’s happening. I thought that I kept wanting to quit early on in hikes because so many of the Southern California beginner hikes that I take require an initial climb of at least a mile to get up and out of ‘civilization’ before you can level off into a lovely journey.

Turns out, a mile to a mile and a half is just how long it takes me to warm my muscles up. Most people warm up in the first half mile. It takes me significantly longer. I’m not sure if that is because of my weight, or just my physiology, but I tend to think the latter. When I think back to when I was running before I put on a lot of weight, I still struggled during the start of any run.

I’ve learned how to start. It’s time to learn something new.

I am officially declaring the beginning of my apprenticeship in this thing called life.

(h/t to Prince)

I’m moving beyond learning to start. Now I’m learning to keep going.

I was preparing to write this article and started thinking of and enumerating all the hikes I’ve taken and adventures I’ve had over the past several years. I know the Inland Empire like the back of my hand, between my living situations, my work and my adventures. I’m always advising people who want to start hiking, and visitors from outside the area, of good local beginner hikes. If you’re interested in starting hiking, I’ve compiled this list of resources into an eBook of 57 Beginner Hikes in the Inland Empire. It’s available for free if you want. I’ve done the majority of the hikes myself, though certainly not all of them.

I feel like putting this eBook together was the senior project for my beginner phase. I’m looking forward to having an exciting and challenging summer of adventure.

What are your plans for the summer?

By | 2017-06-09T12:49:51+00:00 June 9th, 2017|Uncategorized|10 Comments

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  1. Maria June 9, 2017 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Lovely to see you writing again! I enjoy these posts so much 🙂

    • Susan June 12, 2017 at 8:08 am - Reply

      Yay! Thanks so much for your encouragement, knowing folks look forward to my writing inspires me to do more. Love ya chika!

  2. Mary Alice Long June 12, 2017 at 9:06 am - Reply

    Susan, we are all beginners. Each moment bring something new that we can play with and create fro we are all beginners. Each moment bring something new that we can lead us to playful action and creativity. I like your metaphor of warming up on the trail. I am an avid hiker, one of the ways I play is outdoors and in relationship to nature. Thank you so much for your inspiration and I’m sure a lot of people will take advantage of your free e-book. Let’s all get out there and hike and discover new vistas!

    • Susan June 12, 2017 at 9:34 am - Reply

      Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping by. I think that there is the ‘beginner mind’ that we cultivate in each moment which allows us to be playful and approach situations with flexibility and without expectation. It’s super important to happiness, IMO.

  3. Bethany ~ twoOregonians June 12, 2017 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    I love your analogy of warming up at the beginning of a run. I’ve never been much of a runner, but this year (for the second time in my life), I’ve tried getting out there again. As a beginner, I still think about that first mile/mile and a half as a challenge all on its own (rather than a precursor to the challenge), but I think it’s exhilarating when I feel like I’m bumping up against a second wind. I’m right here with you, pushing through and setting my sights on goals that seem to always hover off the horizon. Thanks for sharing the inspiration to keep going.

    • Susan June 12, 2017 at 1:07 pm - Reply

      Yes, the second wind is amazing! Getting there… omg. So hard. I’ve been purposefully running the 1-mile to 2-mile distance recently to work on dealing with this initial phase. It’s annoying though!

  4. Angie Reyes June 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    I’m so happy to see that you are writing again. I just tried to download the e-book and said I couldn’t because I was already subscribe.

    • Susan June 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm - Reply

      I’ve had that problem with my email subscription service. It will be with this week’s letter for those who are already subscribed. Thanks!

  5. Julia June 13, 2017 at 3:55 am - Reply

    I too often feel like I am a forever beginner. I’m not sure if that will ever change for me, but I’m learning to get comfortable with it (for now at least). Lovely post, Susan… Keep going!

    • Susan June 13, 2017 at 7:46 am - Reply

      Thanks Julia! I think to some extent we are always beginners in some ways.

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