Let me set the scene for you.

I’m in the jungle. I mean the real jungle in Costa Rica. I’m surrounded by strange noises in the dark. I can only see what my small head lamp is illuminating on the trail ahead of me, except for an occasional small light on the path. It is raining. I mean raining. It is more like there is a giant bucket above our heads that is pouring water on us that only laughs when it sees our feeble attempts at staying dry. Of course, it doesn’t help when the giant frogs jump right in front of my path and I react by flailing my arms in ridiculous directions which allows more buckets of rain to drench me further. I laugh to myself, the way the victim in a horror movie laughs right before she is attacked by the creep hiding in the closet. I mean, what else can you do? I’m soaked, jumpy, tired, and maybe a little lost.

And I paid for this retreat. I decided, while sober and of sound mind, to travel to Costa Rica alone to meet 27 strangers on a business retreat for a week. Really? I did this to myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew down deep inside this was going to be a challenge for me. I began to become really frightened about 2 weeks before the trip. I played a game in my head, letting different scenarios play out of my canceling. I could say I wasn’t up to it. It wouldn’t be a total lie. I have some physical challenges going on right now that could easily give me an out. No one would argue with me if I simply said, I just couldn’t do it. But I’ve already told a few people I’m going. I’ve already paid. Back and forth I argued with myself, until eventually it was just too late and I set my alarm for 3:30am to catch the first flight out to Costa Rica.

I hate early mornings. I’m not one of those rise with the sun folks that sings while they watch the sun come up. I’m nervous around a lot of strangers, I much prefer small one to ones with people I am getting to know. This shows up any time I go to an event and I have to fight the urge to hang in the back unnoticed. I don’t hike. I really don’t enjoy it. My idea of a hike is a walk around Manhattan and stopping into a cute wine bar mid walk. I’m a meat eater that has never seriously eaten vegan food for a week. This retreat was serving 3 vegan meals a day with no meat or dairy in sight. My suspicions were confirmed on day 1 that I had a roommate. My only roommate for the last 30 years has been my husband. We have grown accustomed to each other’s loud breathing (snoring?) and I didn’t know how I would sleep with someone I didn’t know across the room. Arthritis from an old surgery on my back and hips is beginning to impact my ability to walk without pain and hills and unsteady terrain only exacerbates it. This was high in my mind as I packed a rain slicker, hiking shoes and bug spray.

These are just a few of the reasons I resisted this trip. When I say it challenged every aspect of me, I am not exaggerating. I was out of my element in every way.

But those of you who know me a bit, may be surprised by my fear. Don’t I preach about challenging your identity and the stories that you tell yourself? Don’t I ask you to question yourself when you say “this is just how I am”, or  “it is in my DNA”? Haven’t I talked about how we use these phrases as excuses for not pushing ourselves just a bit out of our comfort zones?

Well, yes, I do. I do say those things. And I believe them. It is just a bit different when, as they say, the rubber meets the road. 

There is that moment, you know? Where you are scared, confused, and more than a bit unsure of yourself in this new situation. That moment where you find yourself having a serious discussion with yourself inside your head. Part of you is screaming “run”!, while another part is trying to help you stay calm. The fear of the unknown begins to rise up even stronger and you begin to doubt yourself. That is when the argument with yourself can get a bit nasty. You begin attacking yourself. Maybe you aren’t strong, smart, capable, or determined, enough. You want to give into the fear and quit, but there is that voice that tells you you are a quitter, a big talker, a fraud. So what do you do? Step into your fear and risk failing or avoid it and fail before you even try?

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments during my jungle experience that quitting was definitely something I wish I had done. When I rubbed a blister on the arch of my foot that screamed at me when I took another step or when the thought of walking up one more hill evoked a string of expletives in my head. 

But then a funny thing happened. I settled in. I stopped imagining what could happen and wondering if I could handle it and I just did it. I ate the vegan food (some of which is still a mystery to me), I hiked down and further down to a waterfall that took my breath away and then I hiked back up. I talked to strangers everyday until they weren’t strangers anymore. I noticed the beautiful toucans that greeted us every morning during breakfast with spirited noises. I sat in silence watching the sloth hang upside down from a tall tree, neither of us moving for several minutes. I walked into the ocean covered in clay and symbolically washed away any pain I was holding onto. And I cried. Well I did a lot of that but I cried when it was over. I cried because I was proud of myself. I faced many fears and even though I was scared, I did it anyway. 

A growth mindset tells us we can learn. It reminds us that we can improve. It helps us walk into a situation of not knowing and be ok with it. We greet life with curiosity and we challenge ourselves to learn. A growth mindset is not already knowing how to do something, or having no fear when you try. A growth mindset allows you to feel the fear, and then do it anyway.

And now? 

Well…what’s next?


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