Each July, the Foundation sends Fellows on a week long Outward Bound exhibition. The seven day outdoor experience challenges Fellows as individuals and as a team to face the unknown and confront their fears, all while surviving in the wilderness. Since returning from Outward Bound, we wanted to share a few reflections about the experience.
We woke up at 4:00 AM, and my first thought was, “I can’t believe they’re making us do this.” It seemed unnecessary and torturous to force 20 sleep-deprived young professionals to hike up the canyon wall before sunrise, all after two long days of travel. I held my tongue, remembering our leaders’ advice to “go with the flow,” to buy in and anticipate a method to the madness. So, we scaled the steep and rocky trail in silence with coffee in hand, our headlamps focused only on the feet of the person in front of us. Two hours later, there we were: all 20 of us, atop a canyon wall along the Colorado River at 6:00 AM. But as the sun illuminated the expanse below, I no longer doubted the intentionality of the morning’s challenge. The sunrise was breathtaking. I felt overwhelmingly peaceful and fresh. With every second, more of the landscape became visible, revealing the vastness of the environment below. I couldn’t help but ponder the immensity of the wilderness before me. In that moment, I challenged myself to remember how small I felt atop the canyon wall, to maintain perspective in my every-day life. Later, after the group reflected on the experience, I realized the value of this activity to the team. As a unit, we rose to the challenge. We led, supported, and relied on one another as we summited the canyon wall. The sunrise inspired and struck us all in unique ways. Sharing this experience with my coworkers sparked a sense of unity, exposing vulnerabilities and building trust. And as my world continues to pick up pace, I hope to remember and employ these moments of clarity.
When I think of our week rafting through Cataract Canyon, certain memories float easily to the surface. I remember sliding in mud, floating in an eddy, turning a raft upside down and leaning it against a sand bank to create a slide. I remember learning how to do a trucker’s hitch knot and the satisfaction of getting the rope perfectly taut. I recall sleeping under the stars, delicious dinners always made more delicious after a day of paddling in the hot sun, roller coaster rapids, and gathering around a fire to listen to soft guitar melodies. I remember funny conversations about the junk food and showers we would have when we returned to “civilization.” These memories make me smile, and I recall what a wonderful week I had on Outward Bound. When I sift further, more memories arise. I remember watching my boat mate get heaved into the raft after falling out during one of the rapids. I remember trying to comfort a teammate after he shared a painful story about a death in his family. I remember my short stint as “captain” of the raft, during which I tried timidly to call out strokes but my voice didn’t carry over the rushing rapids. I remember waking up in the middle of the night during our solo-experience with my heart beating fast, convinced I’d heard some wild animal prowling behind me. These memories, while not light and cheerful like the first set, spurred great growth. I learned the power of team: that we can pick each other up when we fall down, that we are stronger when we encourage and support each other. I realized trying something unfamiliar, even if you fail, is worth it. I discovered ways I want to grow as a leader. I learned, as the Outward Bound motto goes, “there is more in us than we know.” The quotation continues: “If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”
Before embarking on our Outward Bound journey, I honestly had relatively low expectations for the week. I anticipated the course forcing leadership upon you in unnatural ways that would likely never be applicable in real life and then making you reflect as a group for hours about these unrealistic experiences. However, once we chaotically piled onto the rafts and began our trip down the Colorado River, I started to realize this was not going to be a run-of-the-mill “leadership development” experience because the primary focus was not on honing our leadership skills. Sure, this was a major part of the course, and it was clearly an anticipated outcome of completing Outward Bound; but the focus was on the team and, much to my surprise, having fun exploring the beautiful landscape around us. Because of this mindset, I spent hours floating eddies (nature’s own version of a lazy river), slip ‘n sliding through mud, and chatting with my new coworkers about television shows, life, and the apparent benefits of being a male when camping. So, while we honed our leadership skills through various duties and challenges, the leadership development was the not important takeaway for me. What was important to me was we became a team. We are comfortable with each other and more capable to work together because Outward Bound gave us the opportunity to get to know our coworkers without the time restraints and professional stresses of everyday life.
I think I was the most wary about Outward Bound coming in. I had never been slept outside, let alone spending a week on a river and taking on white water rapids. In spite of my concerns, Outward Bound provided me with the confidence to turn my anxiety into strength. I learned a lot about how to manage and maintain a team while under pressure but mostly I learned how to manage myself while in uncomfortable conditions. This is a valuable asset given Fellows encounter high expectations and new situations throughout their time at the Foundation. These uncharted waters are exciting but sometimes uncomfortable. I appreciate and am honored to share Outward Bound and the next two years with the Fellows. I feel more than ready to tackle the next challenges that come my way because I know I have such a great team supporting me.