More than two weeks have gone by since completing my Alptitude experience in the French Alps. None of these statements were true a few weeks ago, but they are now:
- I accomplished some physical goals that I considered impossibilities.
- My world of options has greatly expanded.
- I see clear paths to happiness.
- I enjoy hiking up mountains.
I’m a different person than before Alptitude and have met some of the most amazing people in the world. Sound interesting? Keep reading.
Through my professional development fund at work, I’m able to take classes, buy books, attend conferences, etc. This year I wanted to do something a little outside of the box, or in this case, the country.
Last November, a coworker introduced me to The Happy Startup School events. Alptitude is marketed as a week of dreaming. “It’s not a retreat, nor a training camp. It’s not a vacation, nor an unconference. It’s all of those things, yet none of them.” Okay, you have my attention. I applied immediately.
The Downhill Fall
Not only was this was my first trip to Europe, but I was also traveling solo. The journey alone was a mile outside of my comfort zone. Thinking back, I’m trying to remember what my expectations were prior to the trip. I had so much stress about traveling alone to a place where English wasn’t the first language, I never even got to thinking about what I’d do once I got there.
It wasn’t all amazing times and aha moments. When I first walked into the teepee (yes, there was a teepee) on day one, I quickly got a feeling of dread that I didn’t belong amongst this amazing group of people. There were entrepreneurs that were running successful startups, and a few who were selling their companies and looking for something new, brilliant people who found ways to turn their passions into careers…and me. I felt beneath them. My self-consciousness came in full force and I turned into a shy, introverted shell. I felt there was no way I could be on their level.
While we were introducing ourselves, Manuel made a comment that really captured how the rest of my week went, “You have to deplete your physical battery to recharge your mental one.”
On the second day, I hit my low point. We went mountain biking, but not the type of mountain biking this city girl was used to. We rode e-bikes, which have a motor that kicks in as you pedal. The motor helped to propel us up steep and rocky terrain. I was uncomfortable from the moment we set out because the seat was way too high for me, and I basically had to mount my bike like I was horseback riding every time we stopped. I remained in a state of panic as we climbed higher and higher, bouncing all over treacherous rocks. We finally started to make our descent, which I had hoped would be a bit easier, but it was equally, or perhaps more, terrifying to bounce down at higher speeds. I concentrated hard on staying upright and not getting left behind. Near the end I was feeling pretty good about my progress and perhaps got a little too confident. We went over a rocky downhill patch and I hit my breaks a little too hard. I toppled straight forward over my handlebars and landed hard on my elbow. There was blood and pain followed by tears. After a moment’s rest and a check that nothing was seriously hurt, I very shakily got back on my bike and made it to our destination. This solidified my fears that I couldn’t hang with this group.
That was the night I called home to my husband and with tears running down my face, told him I couldn’t do this and needed to come home.
Reaching New Heights
The very next day, I hit my high point. We set out on a hike up a similar mountain path, but this time on foot. We trudged upward through rain, thunder and lightening, hail, sleet and snow. As I planted each foot on the muddy path, I realized that this climb was much different from the previous day’s bike ride. I compare it to marathon training; this was a test of endurance. The sense of fear I had with bike riding was nonexistent, and I was more focused on working my way to our destination. I also noticed something else happening. I had started the morning doubting that I was capable I could make it. As we climbed higher I realized I was actually enjoying myself. My energy and excitement seemed to increase as we worked our way from rain to snow. By the time the refuge we were staying at was in sight I was practically skipping and catching snowflakes on my tongue!
My physical battery was depleted and my mental one was finally ready to be recharged. I had been carrying this overwhelming feeling that I needed to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up by the end of the week. I have a whole page in my notebook listing drastically different career options. Reading it over and over literally made my heart beat faster. While we rested at the refuge, sipping mulled wine and waiting for our clothes to dry, I chatted with Tom. He assured me that I didn’t have to figure out my entire future right then…or ever! My focus needed to shift to small steps leading towards things I’m interested in. No massive leaps needed. They don’t have to be career-related. Just lean into the things that bring me joy, and I’ll naturally move in a direction that makes me happy. The best part is that I’m already doing this! Queue the fireworks in a thought bubble over my head. It sounded so easy, but it was the clarity I was craving. As the feeling of relief washed over me, I already started to plan additional, not so scary next steps that could lead in several directions once I got home.
Recharging My Battery
My work here is done, right? After I had my aha moment, I felt myself relax. The pressure had been lifted. I started to feel like myself again and open up. I thought I completed my self-love mission, but I was just getting started. I also wanted to focus on how I can help the other 25 people on this journey the same way they helped me, but I didn’t know what I had to offer.
Throughout the rest of the week, I continued my process of physical depletion and mental refreshing.
- I jumped off a mountain attached to a man with a parachute and landed on the ground.
- I zip-lined across a massive lake of the most beautiful shade of turquoise…twice!
- I jumped off of a bridge, not attached to anything (landing in water).
- I whitewater rafted through a narrow canyon with massive cliffs on each side.
I also began to recognize my self-consciousness and was able to adjust to fight against it when it flared up. It felt like I was wearing a thick coat for the last 31 years and I’ve just started to peek out from under it. There were small victories throughout the week that had a huge impact. Even as a hardcore night owl, I popped out of bed before 7am ready to jump into that day’s activities. My routine to get ready consisted of throwing on a baseball cap and some hiking boots, rather than layers of makeup and beauty products. I jumped into conversations with gusto and shared my thoughts. They may have seemed minor, but they were steps to a major shift in perspective.
This — and likely some wine — somehow led me to teaching my entire tribe a dance routine completely by accident. Throughout my childhood and college, dance played a major role in my life. Since I graduated nine years ago, I more or less stopped dancing completely. My second aha moment came when someone else pointed out that I appeared so happy when teaching dance. It was what made me light up and completely comfortable and most like myself. So there it is. What I offered to the rest of the group was dance. Dance can be a break from discussing tough topics. It can help pull others out of their own self consciousness. Dance can bring joy. I absolutely loved sharing this with the group.
Now that I’m back home, I recognize that my world has grown immensely and I frequently remind myself of both the physical and mental limits I broke through in the French Alps. I’m slowly working through my list of small steps towards things that bring me joy. Some days it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of everyday life. When that happens, I pull out my notebook filled with tidbits from the 25 amazing friends I met in the Alps and take a few deep breaths. Next step on my list: teach some dance.
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