I get lost a lot for someone who says they enjoy hiking. Like, I probably wouldn’t say I like hiking on Instagram because it attracts people more serious about this hobby. Me? I just enjoy going for walks in pretty places. I’m willing to work for a good view. I’m just not good at hiking, clearly, because the only thing you have to do to be good at it is not get lost all the time.
I can research the hell out of that map, review all the details at the trailhead, and somehow make an error that sends me into an estranged section of a trail. I almost expect getting lost at this point, but it doesn’t scare me or my friends any less. Their first question when I say I’m hiking is, “do you have some kind of tracker on for when you get lost?”
Last weekend, I went hiking in Arches National Park which is a more creative way of saying I got lost in the desert. For this adventure, I even added some fear tactics. At the parking lot, I read a note that said “if you’re scared of heights don’t do this hike.” Right there, rational Kat decided we weren’t going to do this hike. Very scared of heights. Not trying to get lost and be scared in the woods today.
I believe they call these “famous last words.”
I made it a mile in to see signs with arrows. But more than the signs, I paid attention to the other people taking the trail. I sized them up. “Well if they can do it, I can,” tossing aside my fear of heights aside for competitiveness. So I kept following. What I didn’t notice was that I was taking the primitive trail instead of the “easier” trail. About 2 miles into my version of sandy hell with the sun beating down on my head, I made it to a pond where you have to rock climb a very steep wall.
The people I decided to follow were also staring at the pond. “I think we have to go around,” they said as they took a left into a narrow pass between two huge boulders. I followed. “Clearly they know better than I do,” I thought. We made it about halfway when it became a rock climbing adventure instead of hiking. As things got higher and scarier, I paused to consider my options. They kept going.
My options, as I saw it, were break a leg or try harder. This is where old Kat would have felt competitive. I would have felt the need to keep up. But it was hot, sandy, and unsafe. I wasn’t looking to be found by a helicopter today. I like functioning leg joints. I also thought, “well, if they get stuck, they’ll come back. Then I won’t have to do all that climbing for nothing.” Smart, right?
A few minutes later they came back from their dead end climb. I was relieved. We got back to the pond and I decided that would be the end of my hike. Go rational me! I turned around and safely made it back as they decided to follow another hiker up the steep rock.
Following people instead of the obvious signs has gotten me in trouble before. The kind of trouble where I don’t just feel lost in the woods, I feel lost in life believing that there’s a right path I missed. Someone else who will get me out. Instead of self-reflection, it’s keeping up. Trying to figure out if I can do something in comparison to others, then ask myself mean questions like, “well, why aren’t you doing it then?”
Competitiveness isn’t where we should be making decisions from – on a trail or at work. It’ll lead you to dead ends that might hurt you. We should be making decisions based on our own goals and where we want to end up. How we actually want to feel every day. Pick who you follow based on where you want to go. It can’t be some competition or led by the part of our ego that says you can’t just turn around when you feel lost. That’s how people die in the woods and I think that’s where a little piece of us dies at work – when we’re just trying to beat everyone instead of do the best next thing. Ignoring the signs made just for us.
We have to decide for ourselves what’s worth it. We don’t get to be good at life (there’s no such thing), but we can be much better at asking questions. Knowing when to turn around and ask ourselves things like, “are you willing to get hurt? Does that risk feel right?”
Then sometimes it’s as simple as reading the signs, even if you still feel lost a lot of the time.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.