Flashback Lesson in Leadership: Getting Past the Treeline and Out of Fear

On my run this morning, I experienced the gift of a flashback that prompted a realization about the make up of my disposition in leadership, and the revelation nearly knocked the breath out of me with its truthful force. As my feet hit the dirt trail where leaves lay strewn along the path in a skittered pattern, I heard the nearby creak of fragile bark giving way to the force of the gusty wind. The strength of the wind that knocked me back on way out the door this morning and prompted me to take to the tree covered trails had been busy working on the weak branches for hours. At the same time I was processing the debris along the path and its metaphorical meaning to life's seasons, I heard another creak and my vision suddenly swirled while I time machined back to my childhood.

Suddenly, I could feel the fear in my chest radiating out of my throat as I screamed for my daddy with the next  echoing creak of the wood snapping around us. My dad's firm, confident, guiding hand remained at my back as he cajoled me along a narrow and steep path. My lungs felt afire, and fear was tightening my throat, making it hard to breathe. "Daddy, we are going to die." My nine year old brain fully believed a tree would fall on us as we were climbing this trail up the side of a mountain in the beautiful but expansive Alaskan wilderness. 

"We are not going to die. We will get above the tree line soon, and you will see that's it's all worth it. Push yourself past the fear. Keep moving." My dad was not going to let me stop. 

My then brother-in-law, a law enforcement officer working for the National Wildlife Refuge in Kenai had just told us that there had been a wildfire here this week, and the sound of falling trees was due to their burnt and tattered form. If the story scared my brother and sister in the same way, they weren't showing it. 

Though my dad would never put me in harm's way, my child's body and mind could sense it everywhere. Berries we had been warned not to eat. Lessons about playing dead if we came upon a Grizzly bear. Keeping an eye out for all sorts of wild animals. Tromping, stomping mountain sheep with curls the size of my head swirled in my dizzy mind. 

Not to mention the hike and it's physical toll on all of my senses. We were in the thick of the trees where I was certain we would be mauled by a mama bear, crushed by a burnt out tree and certainly left for dead, but my dad kept reminding me to push through the fear. We would be out of the tree line soon, and it would be worth it. 

Every part of me wanted to quit. To run tail back down the trail and wait in the truck. To give into the crippling ache in my side from the exertion and fall down in exhaustion from the heat and sweat. But that was not my dad's lesson. Push through the fear. Don't give up. Believe you can reach past that treeline, and be thankful for the vast beauty of God's creation. 

And we did it. Together. I can still feel the sense of accomplishment that came with that view. Can taste how the Skittles my dad gave me to stave off the hunger and depletion of energy gave me reinvigorated sense of energy to finish the climb. I distinctly remember how hard it was to breathe. How it suddenly felt a lot colder at the top. How we did see a grizzly bear that day, and how the impressive size of such a creature seemed so close, yet we knew it was safely far away. And how I felt absolutely no fear from that height. I felt close to my earthly father and closest to my heavenly Father in all that beauty. In the absence of fear, all my senses could pick up was momentous view which seemed to expand beyond imagination. The beauty. The sense of accomplishment. A euphoria which eventually faded into a simple statement over the years and decades that passed. Yes, I climbed a mountain in Alaska. The Skyline Trail in fact. 

But I CLIMBED a mountain in Alaska! At quite a young age, my friends. 

As I snapped back into reality and the glory of the running trail today, I realized climbing that mountain was an experience that contributed to who I am today. The leader who pushes through the fear of what falls around her and the unknown of what lies ahead. My disposition to act with courage, because though the fear may be present, I know I can push through it and out of the treeline to the beauty beyond. A person who has run marathons because she knows not to quit even when the breathing gets hard and the muscles want to give out. And most importantly, a daughter who has learned to trust the calming and loving words of her father both earthly and heavenly, knowing the feel of the loving presence of a firm hand at my back, and sometimes relying upon that presence to push me up the steep parts. 

And here is the crux of what truly hit me today. My dad helped shape these characteristics in me. He gave me life experiences to be successful and set me up with support to accomplish something not everyone in this world gets to do. He had climbed trails before and several times after, in fact staying in the mountains weeks at a time hunting large game. He could have done it alone that time instead of dealing with a whining child. However, he shared these experiences with me and helped me patiently through my expressions of fear and weakness. As a parent and an educator, I think about all the times we are experiencing life and new learning, and we intentionally bring others with us so that we can guide them with new learning and impact their lives as well. I also think about the times we opt out because it's too hard to carry our own weight let alone the burden of others' fears and what we all miss in those times.

I try to give my children experiences that they will both remember and that will help grow them. Even if they fail, I want them to learn. It is the same in the classrooms I have been in and the buildings I have led. 

Today was a joyful journey to recall an experience I had shoved away as a statement. I once climbed a mountain in Alaska. Then I researched Skyline Trail and learned that it is considered a difficulty level of "strenuous" and blogs like this one have been written about it in more than two decades since I traversed it with my family. I realize it was no small feat even for the act of climbing a mountain. 

And it has challenged me to once again be more like my dad as a leader at home and work. To seek intentionally the adventures. Conquer what others may not even attempt. Give my children these experiences, and push past the fear to experience the joy. To notice when the leaves blow through the trees and be thankful for the memory of how I once felt fear and conquered it. And I can do it again. And again. So can you. 

What about you? Is there something you have done in your life span that deserves remembering? Consider how something you placed aside could have had an impact on who you are today and how that impact ripples around you. 

Push past the treeline, friends. You won't regret the view. 


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