When I trail run with my wonder dog, we occasionally encounter thunder and lightning storms, such as the one building in the background of the above photo. The storm arrived twenty minutes after this picture as we began our descent back towards the trailhead. My mountain canine is not a fan of thunder, and her allegiance to me is quickly tested when it rumbles across the mountains. She considers her option of heading directly back to the car, leaving me to navigate on my own. She always stays close, but I can see the panic in her thought process. No matter my words of assurance, she is fixated on the noise. I, however, spend time evaluating the proximity of the lightning. I am well aware that lightning is the primary threat to our well-being. When we stopped in a dense section of forest to allow the lightning to move out of our location, my running companion thinks it is a poor choice because the noise is still audible.
How might we confirm that we are focused on the right challenges and opportunities? The loudest noise might not be the best area for our focus.
Backcountry skied the other day. The avalanche forecast projected a green day (safe conditions) and the weather pattern has been consistent. My skiing partner and I met at the trailhead in the early morning and found ourselves facing much colder conditions than the previous days and boiler plate snow pack. The snow forming the uphill skin track was concrete and wind had blown across exposed areas leaving a surface that was hard to set a ski edge. It was tenuous to avoid slipping down the slope. We proceeded, in search of the shaded side of our summit and the temptation of soft snow and memorable turns. We eventually found favorable conditions for descending and made a few long laps in colder, softer snow.
What struck me in the moment as we crossed the most exposed gradient that would not relent and blocked a ski edge purchase, was the mindset battle between fear and focus. Fear was easy to access. Look down the 1,500 foot slope and see a perfect sliding surface. No trees to hit, no changes in grade to break an unwilling luge participant. The focus was harder and required purposeful thought: relax the ankles, stay perpendicular to the slope, grip the poles in an offset fashion with the uphill pole requiring a lower grasp than the downhill pole, look for the best line to traverse and seek micro breaks in the snow surface that accommodate a ski edge.
Both mindsets were available to me within micro-seconds. I toggled back and forth between them before settling on focus. However, the accessibility of both realities demonstrated the ease with which an adventure doubles as a panic room.
How might we realize that one individual’s expedition might be the terror that keeps another person awake at night? How might we check-in with our colleagues to confirm that we are focused on the work that matters and not the possible disaster that looms just there? How might we make room for the conversations that recognize danger but does not amplify it unnecessarily?