“There’s always a smaller step,” said Mike, the RMI guide for the Torres del Paine Trek. I was the least fit and shortest person in my trekking group. We were on the uphill portion of Gardner Pass. The difficulty had not been overstated in the trek description and I was struggling with every step. The hike was steep. Tree roots, large rocks, and erosion created an almost impossible steeplechase for my 5’ frame. At the front of our team were the long and lean marathoners Mark and Malina who cleared the hurdles with ease. Next were Jim, Missy, and Carlos, all in great shape. And then…there was…me. I wished I could turn back the calendar and add in more miles of running and hours in the gym. But there was no going back, and no slag van to pick me up. I had to get over the pass to get to our next camp. Saving face didn’t matter, getting to the next camp did.
I looked for those smaller steps, to the right and the left of the main path. I couldn’t just follow the footsteps of someone in front of me. I had to find my own course. The hike was not just a physical endeavor but a mental puzzle. Sometimes there wasn’t an easier step and I had to ungracefully hoist myself up. In the end, smaller steps didn’t make the hike easier. They made it possible.
Off the trail, I sometimes get stuck trying to follow the established path and do life exactly like everyone else. I forget to notice the very real differences in our backgrounds, abilities, interests, life experiences, current contexts, and temperaments. I replay past decisions, creating scenarios in which I am better prepared and navigate the current challenge with ease. But do-overs are never really possible. We always start right where we are. And, as I learned from our guide, there’s always a different step. There’s always a way forward that fits who we are. We may not be at the front of the pack, or even follow close on the heels of everyone else. But we’ll find our way.