The Downhill Slide and Why The Path Shouldn’t Matter

“It’s easier to walk to something than to try to walk on the path.” Jesse’s words floated up to me from his spot only a few feet below. And yet, to me, it looked farther. Because I was scared. I was half-way down a steep hill that was covered in loose gravel. A hill that I had trouble walking down almost from the first step.

Photo via Martin Cathrae (Flickr)

At the top it hadn't looked so bad. Yes, it was a long ways down, but I had just climbed up the other side. And even though I was still breathing hard from the climb and I wished that I was eating a cold Andy’s Frozen Custard for my birthday rather than hiking through the woods, I still thought, how bad could going down be? I knew I would need to step carefully and slowly. I thought I had it. Then came the slow, careful slog down the hill, and the feeling of sliding on the rocks. My fear rising with every step I took.

I had seen how hard this next part was and I was scared. I took a step and my feet almost came out from under me. I saw myself pitching head-first down the hill, tumbling past Jesse and Alexis, rolling over the loose rocks and coming to rest at the bottom. I froze. Not the “wait a moment” frozen, but the “oh, my god, I almost died” frozen. My heart beat in my chest and I shook. I knew what would happen if I didn't move soon. I would freeze up even more. It’s what happens to me when I get scared, especially around any kind of height. I swallowed and shook my head to dispel the image that my mind had conjured. “Just walk to the tree,” he said, his tone soothing. I nodded my head and moved my foot, keeping my eyes on the tree in front of me. I moved quicker than I thought possible, and grabbed for the tree to steady myself.

I looked up at him and he nodded, turning to continue down the path now that the danger had passed. “Just keep doing that.” “Okay,” I replied, trying to quell the shaking in my voice. I moved to the next tree, and stopped, watching as Jess and Alexis made their way slowly down the hill. They seemed to be having a lot less trouble than I was. That’s when I saw it. To the left of the path was a bed of leaves, tree branches, and rock. Though not as much rock as was on the path. I wondered if stepping off the path wouldn't be a better option. I took a careful step, making sure that the leaves weren't covering a hole and made my way much more easily to the next tree. I had to cross the path again to get to the next, but after that I could go around the outside of the path again. Using these two techniques I managed to get to the bottom without tumbling end over end.

We took a break after that. A much needed break. As I sat beside my husband and my best friend on a random log in the middle of the woods, only steps off the path that almost defeated me, I thought about what Jess had said and the way I had made it down the hill.

I have always worried. It’s who I am. I worry about how something sounds. I worry about how a potential client will respond to a quote I've put together. I worry if my existing clients will want to stay, or if this one mistake will drive them to find someone else. I worry if my project management system is enough to handle all my new projects while reminding me of the things I need to do everyday. I worry about not ever being able to fit into that old favorite pair of jeans again. I worry that I will never again run a 5k. I spend so much time worrying that I forget to focus on moving forward.

Instead of worrying where my feet are on the path, and if I’m stepping correctly, maybe I should be worried about just getting to the next tree. Maybe I shouldn't worry if it takes me three steps or a hundred. Maybe I should just be thankful that I got there without hurting myself. After all, what is a path, if not another way to get there. Does the path make the non-path invalid? Or does it just show you another way? Another way to reach that next tree, that next goal, or that next place to stop. A place that I can stop, after looking back at the path (or non-path) I took, and say “Wow, I made it”. And just be grateful for that.