Recently, members of El Pomar's Fellowship Program embarked on a week-long backpacking excursion with the Colorado Outward Bound School near Marble, Colorado. The Fellows crossed rivers, climbed mountains, endured thunderstorms, built shelters, and through it all, developed stronger relationships and a greater sense of compassion and teamwork. Below are several reflections on the experience from some of this year's 1st year Fellows.
“Be in the moment.” Rebecca, our Outward Bound instructor, said it every chance she could. When I am told to be in the moment, during Outward Bound or in my personal life, I am inclined to ignore the suggestion. I plan for the future, and I like to be in control of every detail. On the last day of the trip this all changed. I found myself caught in a massive rock slide while completing a personal challenge run. Luckily, I was able to seek shelter behind a tree and came out unscathed. After the dust had settled, I stood paralyzed for five minutes, overcome by the intensity of the moment. For the next three miles, I could not think of the future or what I needed to do next, but rather what was going on around me. Looking back on this experience, I believe that “being in the moment” does not imply you should never look to the future. Instead, I believe it demands being conscious of each moment.
Outward bound challenged me physically, but the mental aspect of the experience proved the most trying. Although I felt physically strong, I did not identify as the most obvious leader on my team. The terrain wound through Colorado’s back-country. Without a definitive trail, we trudged to higher altitudes while the weather worsened. As a new backpacker and back-country explorer, I felt fearful and uncomfortable. I needed support from my entire team to traverse steep slopes and stay positive. On our final day of backpacking, I faced the task of co-leading our group back to the town of Crystal. I felt unqualified and uncertain of my ability to navigate a forest and get our team safely to our destination. However, I discovered that my discomfort offered the perfect opportunity for me to lead from the back of the group. Instead of placing the role of leadership solely on ourselves, my co-leader and I capitalized on our individual teammates’ rich talents. Drawing on everyone’s energies and skills, we created a group vision. This experience demonstrated the power of acting as both a leader and a follower within a team. We became stronger and increased our success because we trusted the expertise of our teammates and involved them in the decision making process. Though I am far from the most comfortable leader on an Outward Bound Course, I now understand the value of different types of leadership and the importance of empowering others to act even when I am overwhelmed and unsure of myself.
Before leaving on the infamous Outward Bound excursion, I commented to a senior staff member that I was “over the moon in anticipation” for the trip. Without hesitation he chuckled and retorted he would bet me lunch I would be even more “over the moon” to be back once the trip was over. We’re still in limbo over who owes who lunch. When it was cold, pouring rain and I was teetering down a rocky snow-covered enclave, nothing gave me more pleasure than imagining the comforts of home. However, as I sit at my desk in the Penrose House, I am entirely grateful for the ups and downs (figuratively and literally) Outward Bound provided. One of our instructors would periodically exclaim, “Growth happens beyond the edge of your comfort zone!” She spoke the truth. Outward Bound provided the opportunity to build trust, understanding, and mutual respect between coworkers that would have otherwise taken months to develop. As a team, we better understand each other’s strengths, insecurities, and passions, which will prove to be invaluable as we continue to try and extend the Penrose legacy. Thanks to Outward Bound, I was able leave my comfort zone (at least for a small period of time!) and experience great personal growth.