I was probably ten years old. On a backpacking trip in the White Mountains with my father and uncle, we hit the trail with high spirits. that is until we saw the trail snaking forward. We'd seen the incline on topographical maps before the trip but hadn't bothered to check the scale. A 45 degree incline of rocky trail stared down at us, but we put one foot in front of the other and soldiered on. Then, it started to rain...
A Change in Circumstances
At first, this was welcome relief. The cool rain helped temper the exertion and we were able to pick up the pace. We covered our packs to keep our clothes and gear dry, but didn't bother with rain gear for ourselves. We had been so hot, why bother? But soon my pace began to slacken. I needed to stop more frequently. I didn't want to slow the group down, but soldiering on got harder. We sent my Uncle ahead to scout the trail and hopefully get started on making camp while my Dad stayed with me and helped me along. My pace got slower and slower until eventually I sat down on a rock by the side of the trail, looked my Dad square in the eye and said "I want mom."
Mom's Not Here
In the present day, as a father of two myself, I think I can appreciate just what that situation must have felt like for my Dad. Alone, on the side of a mountain, far from home, with a kid who's now visibly cold. I think it would be pretty easy to lose composure in that situation, but my Dad didn't. After a breath, he looked at me and said, "Well Matt, unfortunately Mom's not here. She a long way off back home. I know you're a tough kid, you don't give up easy. I think you're starting to get a little hypothermia. It hits your spirit first."
The Way Forward
At that, he took the poncho off his pack, letting his own clothes get wet, and put it over me. He took out a bag of trail mix and told me to eat some and sit for a bit while he got out a dry shirt for me to wear. "I think with some food, a little rest, and getting dry you'll feel a lot better. Here's what we'll do. When you're ready, I'll carry my pack up the trail a ways, while you stay here and watch yours. I'll come back and then walk up to my pack with you and yours. We'll leapfrog like that until you feel ready to carry your pack again, sound good?" I nodded. After a couple of minutes he picked up his packed and went up the trail until just out of sight. Then he came back and got me. We did that for at least a couple hours, making slow but steady progress, until I felt better and was able to carry my load again.
I think about that experience at least once a month. I often compare elements of financial planning to climbing a mountain. I often tell my clients that things go wrong when you're on the side of a mountain, and it's my job to help you get through it. When I say that, I'm thinking of that experience, cold and tired deep in the White Mountains. But thankfully I wasn't alone. My Dad was there with me to shoulder the burden and until I could take it myself again. So when I tell my clients about the importance of having help, of having a guide and companion on a long and potentially perilous journey, for me that is a lesson deeply learned from a formative experience in my youth. I'm thankful I was able to have that experience, and especially thankful to have my Dad there with me to show me that valuable lesson. To show me what leadership looks like first hand. It's not barking orders, or getting frustrated, it's keeping your cool and figuring out how to get things back on track one step at a time. I hope to always be so cool under pressure and measured in my thinking under stress.
If you'd like to talk more about the importance of a help on life's journeys, contact me. And in the meantime, understand that you never have to be cold and alone.