We can all recall times in our lives when we experienced dramatic growth and learned something significant about ourselves or about life—an “aha!” moment. These moments often occur during challenging times or periods of adversity. One such moment for me was on a men’s wilderness journey, an expedition in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area within the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, close to the Canadian border.
Eight men, with heavy sixty-pound backpacks and large nineteen-foot-long canoes, leaving all electronic devices behind, embarked on a six-day journey into the wilderness. There were many learning experiences during these six days, one of which remains a vivid memory for me.
For this journey into the wilderness, I trained for ten weeks to be well prepared for portages and ready to carry a sixty-pound backpack and a two-man canoe. I had taken the training very seriously, hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail close to my home in New York to build the strength and confidence needed. Despite this physical training, during the journey I encountered an insurmountable obstacle while on a long portage over a high ridge. I had volunteered to carry one of canoes, which weighed forty-two pounds, as well as my backpack, which weighed at least sixty pounds. I set off with the weight of both the backpack and the canoe on my shoulders.
Initially, I found the going tough, but I was making good progress. Then I came to a large rock formation across the path. It wasn’t that high, but it was high enough to make stepping over it a difficult task. With the canoe and the backpack weighing me down, I could not get my foot to the top of the mound, and the damp, sloping sides made it difficult to climb. I made a few attempts, but it soon became clear to me that, without help, this was an insurmountable obstacle. Someone lifted the canoe off my shoulders, allowing me to climb over the rock, but the damage was done. I was already feeling exhausted. I couldn’t complete the portage carrying both of these heavy loads but, with the help of others, I made it to the next lake. I learned a valuable lesson that day—I am not strong enough to complete my journey through life without the help of others, many of whom are recalled in The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership. My appreciation for their help is immense.
Relentless learning requires persistent curiosity. Conscious leaders are constantly curious—curious about themselves, curious about others, and curious about their environment. When coaching leaders, I look for curiosity. If they are not curious, they are unlikely to want to learn. Learning relentlessly is about remaining open to new ideas and insights; checking understanding rather than making assumptions; creating space for learning both individually and in groups; accepting mistakes and failures as learning opportunities; giving and receiving timely, constructive feedback; and constantly growing in self-awareness. What are you curious about today?