“Be prepared for rain” They said. “Take lots of bandaids for all the blisters” They warned. But no one ever warned me about the REAL challenge I would have to face when embarking upon the Overland Track… dealing with my overprotective father. I mean, I’m pretty sure I am a grown woman – 38 years of age would certainly qualify me for the status of Adult. But convincing my father of that and staying firm on my resolve to do the trek regardless of his opinion was actually the hardest part about doing this trek (yes, really!).
When I first booked the pass to hike the Overland Track in Tasmania it felt like it was going to be the hardest challenge I’d set myself to date. It was going to be more than 65km of walking and camping, alone, in the middle of the Tasmanian wilderness, miles from civilisation (even further depending on whether you consider Tasmania civilised. Just kidding Tassie, I love you!). After I made the very impulsive decision to book the trip, only about 12 hours after first discussing it with my husband, I actually thought “Shit, can I do this?” But as seems to be a recurring theme with my comfort zone challenges, the biggest challenge that I had to overcome and the lesson that I had to learn was not the one that I first anticipated.
Even before my Dad freaked me out. I did have some reservations about hiking all that way on my own. I worried whether my knees, my back and my morale would cope with walking an average of 15km per day, for 6 days, carrying 18kgs on my back. But I’d also done my research and over the years I’ve had plenty of experience hiking and camping, albeit with at least one other person. So, while I knew it would be challenging I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t spend the rest of my days living off berries and skinks in the Tasmanian wilderness. So, you can imagine my surprise when I got a text message/essay from my father telling me how irresponsible and dangerous it was to embark on such a venture, especially given that I had a husband, a young child and responsibilities at home (and those weren’t his exact words…)
Actually, surprise wasn’t how I felt at all. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt totally deflated about the whole trip, and I started to doubt myself and my ability to complete the challenge. “Is this too dangerous?” I thought. “Am I risking not seeing my daughter grow up?” “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.” After a little while though I got angry. Angry with myself for doubting my own abilities and also angry with my Dad. I wanted to call him back and shout at him. I wanted to tell him to Fuck off and tell him that I wasn’t a child anymore and he couldn’t tell me what to do.
Anger is my default defence mechanism you see. It tends to come up for me often when I feel most vulnerable: feeling hurt; rejected; or scared. So as you can imagine, comfort zone challenges seem to bring it out in me a fair bit (yup, I’m a total pleasure to be around). But as with all comfort zone challenges, it is in noticing your response to the challenge that you make the biggest breakthroughs. If any of you are familiar with Brene Brown’s work, in her book Rising Strong she introduces this concept as an SFD – Shitty First Draft. She says that “….moving from our first responses to a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours give birth to key learnings about who are we and how we engage with others” I would also argue that recognising other people’s knee jerk responses also helps to bring a deeper understanding to your relationship with them.
Thankfully while I was in the throws of my SFD I resisted the urge to call or text back to my dad and tell him how I really felt – I’m sure it would have been super classy and super eloquent. After I calmed down and reflected on my own angry response I could then reflect on my Dad’s motivations. I know from my own angry, fly-off-the-handle responses that there is usually something else lurking beneath anyone’s SFDs. And even before I called my husband to vent (AKA: bitch) about my Dad’s response I could recognise a genuine fear and concern for my safety. Certainly he didn’t manage his own emotions as well as he should, but we’re all human, right? Thankfully rather than call back immediately and abuse him I could actually approach his response with some level of compassion. So, instead of calling him a wanker (which I SO wanted to do at the time – sorry Dad), I texted back saying “I know you’re concerned Dad, but I have done my research and I will be fine” and then after giving him some time to calm down we had a very adult conversation (who knew!!) about how I didn’t make the decision lightly and without the appropriate research or preparation. I also managed to openly, honestly (and hopefully somewhat tactfully) tell him that I was disappointed in his response and how his assumptions had hurt me.
A few weeks later, after the hike, we met for lunch and amazingly Dad turned to me and said “Janey, I owe you an apology.” Just… wow. I can’t tell you how much this blew me away. The thing is, apologising is hard. It makes you vulnerable – it makes you uncomfortable. But the fact that he apologised showed to me that he’d heard me and taken on board what I said and more importantly that he was willing to be wrong – to be vulnerable – for the sake of our relationship. Heck, maybe it’s my Dad who should be getting credit for this comfort zone challenge. And I can honestly say that from that honest and vulnerable place, our relationship has grown.
One of the greatest gifts that I have received as a result of pushing myself through these comfort zone challenges is how much closer it brings me to other people. Getting to know myself, observing my reactions to things that happen and opening myself up to the idea of improving has meant that my relationships with others become so much more open and as a result, more honest. For so long I operated from a place of anger, blame and fear of being hurt. I put up walls around my heart or lashed out for fear of being hurt first. Unfortunately I know that in the past I may have hurt people, and while it was unintentional, it’s hard knowing I can’t change that now. All I can do, and all anyone can do, is to continue to reflect and learn from our experiences and to continue growing.