Do you put pressure on yourself to be perfect? Contributor Aubrey Moore talks about how she learned to take the experience as a whole rather than keeping score on what she did right and what she did wrong.

Pressure. If there is one overriding emotion I struggle with almost constantly, it’s pressure. Pressure to do well at my job. Pressure to be a better person. Pressure to succeed, and while succeeding, to never make a mistake along the way. Pressure from the outside world, from friends, from family. But most of all, pressure from inside myself. I may be my own biggest advocate, but I’m also my harshest critic.

I had long struggled with unrealistic expectations of my own performance.

Over the years I had graduated high school as swim team captain, as a straight A student, then gone to college where I tackled a multitude of extracurriculars and challenging courses. I joined the Navy after graduation and had become a helicopter pilot, working my way to earn a coveted spot as a specialized instructor.

And while I had always struggled with the incessant need to be perfect, I found that need spiraling out of control in the recent years, fueled along by my Type A personality and a series of difficulties in my life that had blindsided me.

So when I found myself searching for an outlet for my energy, I turned back towards hiking. I had been outdoorsy in my youth, but had gotten away from hiking and camping as I found myself moving all over the country with the military. But, as it does to all of us, the outdoors called to me, and I found myself planning my first solo backpacking trip in the spring of this year.

During the planning process (for what should have been a simple hike), I found myself overwhelmed with the pressure of making sure every little thing went right.

I wanted to be 100 percent prepared and ready, have all the right gear, study my trail map so completely that I could have led the hike as a guide. I even went so far as to practice what I would say to the ranger when requesting a backcountry permit, lest I mess up and sound like an idiot (and yes, I realize how crazy that sounds now). I did all this because I would only consider this trip a success if it went perfectly.

And you know what happened?

I’ll give you a hint. It did not go perfectly.

I made all sorts of mistakes. I studied the route of the map, but not the fact that there would be multiple water crossings (Several of which I ended up having to tiptoe through barefoot, shoes tied around the top of my pack because I had not packed any sandals). I had practiced setting up my tent, but had never hung a bear bag (although I watched enough YouTube videos to consider myself an expert), and it took me about a hundred tries to not only select the perfect tree and limb, but to get the rope up and over the branch without knocking myself in the face with the rock I had tied to the end of the line. It had rained very hard the day before I went out, and I ended up getting soaked from wet branches and grass and a large number of muddy low spots. I spent a portion of that night shivering under my quilt, layered in every dry piece of clothing I had on me.

I wasn’t undertaking a huge number of miles, but I gravely underestimated the elevation changes, and I rolled into camp that afternoon exhausted and shakey from the uphills and the downhills, but also because I didn’t take any breaks to snack and make up for the huge number of calories I was burning.

Mistakes. So many mistakes.

And yet, as I sat in camp the morning after my first night, sipping tea and reading a good book, I was completely content. I felt so at peace with everything around me. I felt tired and sore, but the tired and sore that comes from pushing yourself hard, that comes from a long day of scrambling up hill and surveying mountains from scenic overlooks. I had brought a small notebook and pen with me (packed while begging forgiveness from the ultralight gods), and I took a moment to write down all the little
things I had accomplished so far. I planned a trip. I bought a map. I packed a bag. I got my first backcountry permit. I set up camp, filtered water, cooked dinner. I hung a bear bag (the biggest accomplishment by far). I didn’t end up as a sobbing, huddled mess in the middle of the night, even when a red fox sat outside my tent and shrieked late into the night.

I’m still very much working on forgiving myself for the occasional mistake, and learning to appreciate the journey along the way.

But I’ve been on multiple solo trips since that first one, and I can say without a doubt that first one taught me a little something about relying on myself. That not only could I plan and execute a trip with no help, but that even if I got myself into a tight spot, I could figure it out. And perhaps the biggest lesson learned was how to appreciate the process as a whole, instead of keeping score and breaking my experience down into a series of failures and successes.

The final entry on my notebook list of accomplishments was one that I wrote after I reached the trailhead and sat on the bumper of my car, drinking a Gatorade and snacking on a Snickers.

“I was brave enough to set off on an adventure.”

And at the end of the day, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

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