Choosing the “Hard, Easy”
Here I sit, starting to write a blog that I knew for months was due today. This was a date I had chosen, and this isn’t my first go around. I wrote a blog a couple months ago too, unfortunately in the same familiar fashion for me, last minute. I remember thinking to myself then, “Why do I procrastinate these tasks and create all of this unnecessary stress for myself. If only I had started this a few weeks ago, then I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to have this done an hour ago. Next time I won’t wait so long to get started.” And yet here I am, in the same position I have been in many times before, down to the wire.
It made me think about a concept that we discuss in the field a lot and have coined a phrase for. It sounds something like this, “Alright G4, are we doing ‘hard, easy’ or ‘easy, hard?'” The most frequent scenario where this might be put to a group by staff is when we are finishing up our hike and know we have finally made it to our campsite because we see the long-awaited view of our supplies sitting at the edge of the road. All of those supplies were kindly delivered by our backup crew and now must be carried into our actual campsite. The staff will ask the group this question and propose the two options. “Hard, easy” looks like picking up the various supplies at the edge of the road with our backpacks still on, tired from a long hike, and carrying everything up to camp in one fell swoop so we can move onto the next activity which is likely relaxation or mealtime. “Easy, hard” means first hiking into camp, putting our backpacks down, and then hiking all the way back to the road to grab all the supplies and make the trip back into camp again so we can have our book to read, or water to cook pasta in.
Another common scenario where this comes up is when inclement weather rolls in, perhaps the sky is telling us that it is about to rain. The “hard, easy” scenario here would be to make sure my shelter is set up and secured, make sure my pack is “bombered” or everything is secure under the rain fly so it stays dry, and making sure I grab my rain coat before I go cozy up to the fire, so when I do have to leave the group shelter, I have something to protect my clothes from getting soaked. The “easy, hard” option would be to wait until it rains and then scramble around in the rain trying to do all the things just mentioned while then having to go by the fire and dry all my clothes out because I got soaking wet instead of just cozying up and relaxing.
I can tell you, from firsthand experience, that after choosing “easy, hard” in the field one time, most always choose “hard, easy” from there on out. Why is that? And why is this lesson more straightforward to grasp and put into action in the back country than in the front country?
The conclusion I come to is that in the back country the decision to wait until it rains to deal with my things means that I will endure the physical discomfort of being wet and cold whereas in the front country my decision to procrastinate on this blog means that I will endure some longer work hours today, still however, in my temperature-controlled home with food delivery on the way. The physical discomfort piece is the big kicker here. Of course, when there is laborious work to do in the aftermath of not choosing “hard, easy” in the back country, I will choose “hard, easy” next time. When there aren’t as many physical consequences to my front country “easy, hard” decisions it can be easier to forget next time around.
The irony is that both are still uncomfortable and impede on my mental peace. And this is the key I need to remember. The wilderness explicitly shows us what needs to be done and rewards us for doing those things to take care of ourselves. In the front country where things aren’t quite as black and white and discomforts can be a bit more nuanced, it is up to me to recall the teachings of the back country and make them a focus so I can still reap rewards like I did in the back country.
I am sure that I am not alone in this struggle. I have heard from previous students and families that these lessons seemed to sink in so easily in the back country and once they leave, they sometimes struggle to put the same lesson into practice. This is life. It can be overwhelming and hard, and it can take everything in us to remember to what we need to do to take care of ourselves. And sometimes we fall short; we forget or we procrastinate. We all have moments where we just can’t do what we know we need to. This is where you must grace yourself with compassion and remember the beauty of the lesson. It was learned, the back country taught it to me, and the knowledge of the benefits of “hard, easy” are now in my arsenal. This lesson will never be taken away. It will always be there, ready to be recalled, and put back into practice.
So next time I have a big deadline coming up, I plan to practice what I preach and do the “hard, easy.” Will you?
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