Why do we enjoy change in our lives? Is it the excitement of something new? Do we seek opportunities that challenge us? Or is it just part of our life development process? Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed exploring the different challenges that are presented to me in my life. I just turned 40 and for many, that is a “mid-point” review time where we start to evaluate our past, present, and future – but in a different way.
Forty was not one of those “wow” or “oh my God” moments for me. Over the past 40+ years, I’ve been very fortunate to have had three dream homes, comfortable transportation, close family and friends, and career opportunities that kept my mind active. Even during periods of time where jobs ended because of layoffs or business closings, I never worried about not having another opportunity to find a new job, pay bills, or even survive. As I went through a divorce and dealing with the slow death of my father, my biggest challenge was dealing with the impact of not having control over these situations. When we are young, we feel less in control and then more in control and then into adulthood, we feel that we have the most control in our lives. I think that is why we feel life “flies by” due to our ability to select and control our activities. When we are not in control, time seems to “slow down,” or at least it did for me.
The picture in the blog is from one of my many trips to Switzerland. This picture was in Murren overlooking my favorite town, Grindelwald. My friends, students, and family are probably tired of hearing about my Switzerland story, but it represents a major “change” shift in my paradigm. In this photo, I was reflecting back to 2009. I had just lost my job the previous year and my dad had passed away from prostate cancer. I was teaching part-time and had an opportunity to participate in a study-abroad program with students and faculty in Europe. The debt from going through a divorce and losing a job was tough but I was able to take some money out of my 401k for this trip which I thought would be a good way to get away from my problems. So, I went.
I spent two weeks exploring various countries and cities in Europe. After the business trip was over, I spent some time alone traveling around the countries that I felt a deep connection with. I found a small town in the Alps called Interlocken and hopped on a train. It was a rainy cold day and my luggage was heavy from the goodies that I was taking home to my family from the countries I had visited. The small winding trails near the train station took me through cow pastures, steep drops between mountain chalets, and eventually to a small $15 a night hostel. I was only one of four people in the Mountain Hostel at the bottom of Jungfrau mountain, the tallest mountain in Europe. But, something about this place and time became the perfect stage for a life-shaping experience.
Early in the morning after chatting with a computer science academic who was staying in the hostel with me, I had a chance to fulfill a bucket list item. I wanted to “hike in the Alps” since hiking was one of my hobbies. I took off with my walking stick, my camera, and my fancy GPS. I started around 2500-3000 ft but ascended to around 5000 pretty quickly on the trail I was on. I saw no one on it. It was a warm day in May and the snow was melting. Dad had died in March so Spring was in the air and I felt free, yet alone. As I kept going up the mountain, a flood of oxygen and memories rushed in. I remembered my college years, picnics with family, movies, riding horses with dad and mom, and watching them dance at the Eagles club. The tears started to flow. I couldn’t stop. I was in the most beautiful place in the world, and I was 10,000 miles from home, with no job, lots of debt, alone, and somewhat lost.
After 7 or 8 miles of hiking, I came to a large snowy patch that covered the trail. There was no obvious way to go. All I could see was a ton of snow, trees, and mountains in the background. Fortunately, I found my location on the gps, which I was mainly using to measure how far I was walking. As I zoomed in, I saw a tiny logging road 1/3 of a mile from the trail, but I had to traverse through the snow to get to it. If I found it, I could eventually connect with the ski resort at the top of the mountain and ride the cog train back to Grindelwald. If I didn’t find it, I would have to go back down the way I came up and it was getting dark. So, I hiked through the snow and found the trails to the top of the mountain. I had to drink melted snow since I had finished my water in the rough section of hiking in the snow field. The views were amazing. I felt a spiritual validation during that trip which helped me cope as well as gain hope. That was the purpose of this trip, this experience, and this outcome. I needed to be humbled in my life and to recognize the importance of change. I needed a place away from distraction where I could deeply focus on what had been building up the past two years.
After the trip, I returned home as a different person, a stronger person, and someone who didn’t fear the many things I feared in my life till that point. I lost my fear of worrying about small, irrelevant things that create stress. I lost the fear of failure and not having enough. I realized that I could live an amazing life with very little and that having so much “stuff” was only causing stress. I recognized where I was wasting time and energy on things I once thought gave me pleasure. I lost the fear of death. Many of us are afraid to take risks in life and we chose the easy or simple path versus the ones that cause us to open our eyes and push us beyond our comfort zone. And ultimately, I gained a deep appreciation for the impact change has on our lives and that there is no such thing as “bad change” because whether it be bad or good, there will always be the opportunity to change your perception.