Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Creating your own path

“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. 


  1. Edward Roob

    Hey Melissa,
    Welcome back—have missed your posts.
    A good one, thanks.

    • admin

      Thanks, Ed.
      Hope you’re well.

  2. Karen Brownlee

    And I hope you took and take pride in finding your own path.
    We all can be reminded of that time and again.
    Congrats on the accomplishment, no matter how you got there!

    • admin

      thanks, Karen, and thanks for all your help! I was really proud of myself. And so glad to be there!

  3. Joyce Bieritz

    Great words and hopeful thoughts. I’m glad you had this experience and lived to share it with us, not that anyone would ever doubt it. Your words and interpretations are powerful and valuable. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • admin

      Thanks, Joyce.

  4. Laura Partington

    Thank you for this window into your experience, Melissa. Love your writing and the pic!

    • admin

      Thanks, Laura.

  5. Ann Whitney

    Thanks for sharing. You inspire me to try things differently.

    • admin

      Thanks, Ann.

  6. Ric Lange

    What a great experience and even better narrative about the impact on you. Thank you for sharing the thrills and the controlled terror. Very well written and so real.

    • admin

      Thanks, Ric.

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