I feel like part of being human is dealing with the ebb and flow of life.

There’s a cycle of stress followed by calm.

There’s chaos followed by order.

There’s disappointment followed by good news.

Failure followed by success.

Last night I attended a lecture given by Cheryl Strayed at the University of Wyoming.

Her words spoke to me.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to her lecture.

I couldn’t find a babysitter for my kids so I considered removing the event from my calendar where it had been highlighted for several weeks.

Then just an hour before there presentation I received some bad news.

Some really bad news.

Usually, bad news prompts me to ask myself, “What can I do to make this better?”

In this case, there was nothing I could do except cross my fingers and hope for the best.

It was like being punched in the face, I choked back tears, I struggled for oxygen and found myself wondering why.



Why can’t things just be easy for once?

I felt this incredible weight crash down on my shoulders and with a heavy heart, I loaded my kids into the car headed for Cheryl’s presentation.

After all, my dear friend and fellow outdoor adventurer, Ashley was waiting in the audience and she’d saved us seats.

We found Ashley, slid into our seats and I sat next to my friend.  She told me about her recent spring break trip to Zion National Park and camping in the snow with her children. I told her the bad news. She said it’d be okay and all turn out just fine. I believe her.

When Cheryl took the stage the packed auditorium went silent.

I didn’t know what to expect, would any of us even be able to relate to her?

Sometimes we imagine people like Cheryl to be larger than life, unapproachable and arrogant.

I found the opposite.

Cheryl was real.

A real woman, with real struggles and real triumphs.

A woman not afraid to talk about her own weakness and vulnerabilities on a public stage.

One part of her presentation really stood out to me.

If you think back to the book ‘Wild’ you might remember the part where Cheryl is in her motel room trying to stuff way too much gear into her backpack.

When I read this part of the book I found it amusing and I wondered why Cheryl didn’t have a better packing list.

As Cheryl talked about this experience I realized that I had misjudged her.

On the surface, this event was about the size of her backpack and everything she was trying to cram into it.

But, as Cheryl explained it, this experience represented so much more.

There she was, alone in a motel room with a pack she couldn’t lift.

But she had to.

She had to pack all her gear in it.

She had to hoist it onto her back.

No one could help her lift it up and carry it.

She was alone.

There was nothing she could do except hoist up her pack, walk out the door and put one foot in front of the other foot.

She had to endure.

All of a sudden I wasn’t alone in the audience.

I wasn’t the only one trying to lift a heavy pack by myself.

The auditorium was full of people who all were suffering from the burden of a heavy pack.

But no two packs were alike.

I stopped to think about that scenario, as humans we want to help each other out.

We want to lighten the load that our friends are carrying.

But sometimes, that load has to be carried alone.

We can’t share the burden with others.

We shouldn’t share that burden with others.

We need to do it.

So, the cycle continues.

Stress. Calm.

Chaos. Order.

Disappointment. Good News.

Failure. Success.

The key to dealing with it all is exactly what Cheryl did.

She found the strength to hoist her pack onto her back and walk out the door.

I’m finding that strength too.

At the end of the day, we have two choices.

To leave the pack on the floor and not even try.

Or to struggle to find our inner strength and give it our best shot.

It’s the struggle that makes us strong.

There’s power in that.

But, it’s up to us to find it.

Thank you, Cheryl.

For showing that to me.

~Rebecca, HLAW Founder



3 comments on “What I Learned From Cheryl Strayed

  1. Yes, so much yes! My pack is awfully heavy at the moment. And yes, there are only two choices – carry it and keep moving or give up. Giving up is NOT an option, so I will carry my pack.,with a smile on my face when I can muster it. Somedays it feels a little lighter and others it feels so heavy. I keep reminding myself though that its about the journey, not the destination. And if the journey isn’t always pretty, that’s okay because the journey is teaching me a great deal about life,making me appreciate things that I might have taken for granted in an earlier stage of life, and making me stronger one day at a time. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Later in the book, she meets a person who helps her lighten her load by shedding extraneous, unnecessary weight. Sometimes we are carrying too much, and it takes another set of eyes to help us realign the load.

  3. This is a very good metaphor. I would add the companion metaphor – thinking about the packing list question – that sometimes we add things to our pack that we shouldn’t be carrying. Yes, there are heavy things we have to carry. Self-reflection (like a well-researched and well-thought out packing list) can help us see what we have assumed we “need” to carry that we really don’t.

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