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If you’ve ever had a bad day or found yourself in a bad situation, you’ve probably wished you could just get the hell out of there. And I’ve given that exact advice before — get out. Sometimes it’s simple and easy to follow that advice. If you’re in a place that doesn’t seem safe or a situation that feels wrong, sometimes you can just leave.
But other times, it’s not so easy. Sometimes you have to hang in there while you try to figure things out. There are some problems you can walk away from, and others that you have to face. Often we’ve come so far, literally or metaphorically, that it would be more of a struggle to turn back or alter course. Sometimes you have to embrace the suck for a while and accept that out is through.
This isn’t a plucky, “Never quit!” post. Sometimes we should quit — quitting can be the right choice. But even when it is, sometimes you have to keep going before you can stop.
Out is through, on the trail
Let me give you an example. Last year I taught a backpacking class in the Bighorns. It was great fun, but also challenging. Part of the process was that the students were split into smaller groups, and each group had an opportunity to lead the entire class. They selected the destination, the route, when we would depart, where we would establish camp, our pace… They were running the show, I was just there to make sure that they didn’t walk off the side of a mountain or burn down the National Forest.
On our last full day, the leaders of the day chose a route that I thought might be challenging. It was doable, but hard. For some of the students, it was very hard. As we came down the side of a mountain and folks were getting tired, they came to the realization that our route didn’t leave anywhere for us to stop early and set up camp for our final night. The trail was lined with trees and boulders along a steep downward slope. We simply had to keep going.
A lot of the students wanted to call it a day, but we couldn’t. They wanted out of the situation, but there was only one way out — through. They had to go through the hike down the mountain to get to a place where we could set up for the night. With as far as we had come, there was no other option but to stick it out and keep going. Out is through.
I had assessed everyone’s skill level and ability by this point — I knew the group was capable of this trek. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t difficult or uncomfortable. It was hard! There were grumbles on the way, and I pointed out that there was only one way out of the situation — through it.
That’s not what any of us want to hear when we’re in the middle of a situation we don’t want to be in. When we’re tired, hurting, or frustrated. But the reality is that sometimes there is no quick solution, no easy out, and no short cut. Sometimes the only way out is through. That’s true on the trail, and in all areas of life.
But once you’ve made it out, you may be grateful that you had to go through it. At the end of the backpacking class, a lot of my students told me that they wouldn’t have believed they could go as far as we did on that last day. If there had been an easy out, they might have never found out what they’re really capable of. That’s true of all of us, on occasion. Sometimes we’re stronger or wiser because of the things we endure. This applies in all areas of life as much as it does on a backpacking trip.
So if you find yourself in a situation where the only way out is through, don’t despair. You can do this, and when you come out the other side, you may discover you’re capable of more than you thought.