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How to get bent out of shape (and other lessons from the trail)

My walking companions, heading off after a lunch break at a public hut

Three More Unexpected Life Lessons from my Tasmanian Hike

A couple of newsletters ago, I shared three lessons from the Overland Trail in Tasmania.

  1. Let the Leech Suck You
  2. The Puddles Aren’t Deep*
  3. Your Boots Are Always Damp

But you didn’t think I could go offline for six whole days and spend 10-12 hours a day walking and only come up with three lessons, did you? Pfft!

Here we go…

1. Hold your poles lightly

I reluctantly rented walking poles from the hiking company. They’d recommended them on the packing list, and I was trying to follow the rules. But honestly … I thought these were something that old people used to walk around parks.

Surely, as someone deluded into thinking he was still young and vigorous, I wouldn’t need these fripperies.

Turns out, I loved my poles. They helped me balance, and rescued me from falling more than once. They helped me sound out the depth of the puddles (as you’ll know, not all puddles are shallow). They gave me a rhythm to my walk, a Charlie Watts backbeat to my Mick Jagger swagger.

But by the end of Day 2, a number of us had hand ache. (Foot ache, leg ache, bum ache too … but we could track the source of those pains).

Many of us were gripping the pole so tightly and for so long we were actually bruising our hands.

My lesson: With support, rely on it as lightly as possible. There are times for the death grip, for sure. And if you’re someone not much good at getting support, then be brave and reach out. But much of the time, you can maintain a light grip. You’re getting balance, but you’re still relying on your own strength and resources as much as is appropriate.

2. A quick kill is being compassionate

We started Day 1 of the walk with 11 of us, and finished with 10. “Janet” (her real name) had arrived liberally waving red flags from the start. She was 15 minutes late to the 6:30am minibus rendezvous that was to take us to base camp where we’d get our gear … and was seemingly oblivious to the group of us she’d made wait. She found it hard to step up into the minibus (and we were about to climb mountains). When we got to base camp, we heard that she wasn’t bringing a beanie/touq, but instead a red cashmere beret.

But those were just hints. The real trouble came when we started to walk. After our first 90-minute push, we waited an hour for her to catch up. After the second push, the same.

And on the third push, one of our guides walked her back down the mountain. They’d given her a fair shot at it, and they’d made a fast decision that she wasn’t going to be able to do this walk in a way that didn’t compromise the group and the experience.

My lesson: Give people a decent shot, but if they’re not working out, then call it fast. Especially helpful if your bias is towards loyalty or away from conflict.

3. Try and get bent out of shape

The walk I was on was a twist on the usual hike. It was called “sacred geographies”, and it was walked flavoured by the idea of a pilgrimage. Two of our party were founders of this contemplative non-denominational church and had walked quite a few of the Camino trails.

Before we set off one day, Sarah read out a passage from Tim Winton’s autobiography Island Home. He’s writing about Australia:

Over great passages of time, the land has always made people anew. Many of us are startled to learn how different we are from our immigrant and convict forebears, for this is the place that eventually renders people strangers to their origins. It retains a real, ongoing power to bend people out of shape, to transform them.

(Tim Winton is one of my very favourite authors. His writing is deeply about landscape and country, and he makes bare the pain and confusion and unarticulated grief in being a man in a way that is extraordinary to me.)

My lesson: You’ve heard me say many times, “we unlock our greatness by working on the hard things”. That’s because the hard things break the status quo, and break us out of the comfort of our Present Self. Growth means getting a little bent out of shape. And bent into the new shape of Future You.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.