Captured Moments: Lessons from a Day in the Woods

Thank you, Elizabeth, for capturing your moment and sharing your story.

(I think I need a Ken in my life.)

* * *

While I was in college I trained to lead wilderness trips.  It was the most extraordinary educational experience I’ve had as eight of us emerging adults worked with two instructors.  We focused on philosophy, environmental sciences, and skill sets necessary for traipsing through the Northwoods of Wisconsin with a bunch of teenagers.  One of these critical skills was orienteering.

In short, orienteering is the art of using map and compass to navigate through terrain without set trails.  Our training included running a course where we had to find seven flags hidden in the woods over the course of two hours.  I was nervous on the day of our ‘exam’.  Nonetheless, when it was my turn to go I eagerly checked the master map, marked the locales of the flags, and was off.

Lost In The Mountains

I spent an hour and a half futilely looking for the first flag.  By that time I was sobbing, soaking wet from a quick downpour, and utterly defeated.  With profound dejection I returned to the starting point and informed my lead instructor that I was quitting.  I was going back to base camp for a hot shower and, implicitly, to wallow in my failure.

Thankfully Ken, my instructor, was far wiser than my 20 year-old self.  He sat me down and reflected to me what he observed—being the human mirror that clearly showed me myself.  “You are not a quitter,” he said.  “And if you do choose to quit, you will never trust your skills.  How will you lead other people’s children if you don’t trust yourself?”  Then he went a step further; he helped be analyze where my error had been.  It turned out that I miss marked my own map, hence leading to my fruitless search.  

At that point, Ken went a step further: he took off his clean, dry long-sleeved blue corduroy shirt, and had me step to a secluded spot to replace my wet garment with his dry one.  Then he started the clock again and sent me on my way.

Having corrected my perceptions of my surroundings, and of myself, I found that first flag within five minutes.  I then proceeded to find the next six in the following two and a half hours.  By the time I got my hot shower I was exhausted but utterly elated.  I was also the recipient of a life lesson that has helped me keep going over the following three decades.  This is what I learned that day in the woods:


Sometimes life hurts.

When it hurts that badly it’s ok to cry.

Then comes the time to stop and take a deep breath.

It is critical to find a trustworthy mirror to help assess mistakes and assets.

Through doing so new direction can be planned.

Then, it is time to keep going. 

Tricia Lott Williford

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  1. Valuable because lessons were learned. How many times have we refused to see lessons in the circumstances life presents us?

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