“You’re in the wrong classroom; Birding 101 is down the hall.”
“No, I’m looking for Advanced Wilderness Survival.”
Every face in the class swiveled to face me standing just over the threshold of the door. All of them male. All of them with the exact same look of surprise.
“Oh!” The instructor stammered. “Oh, well then you’ll need the textbook.”
“I have it.” I waved the battered copy I’d picked up second hand.
I found a seat at the back and the instructor picked up where he left off.
“This class is no picnic and it’s certainly no vacation. If you’re looking for easy credits you should probably clear out right now.”
More than one person shifted in their seat to look at me. I kept my head faced forward. Any doubts I’d had after reading the course description evaporated under heat of those stares. Well, I sure as hell am not going to back out now.
Advanced Wilderness Survival: Participants will undergo an in-depth four week training on essential wilderness survival skills. The in-class portion will be followed by a two week-long field test. Participants will be dropped off at an unknown desert location and will be required to use their survival skills to rendezvous at the pickup point 250 miles away. Failure to arrive at the rendezvous point on the specified date will result in zero credit. Participants will be issued 1 standard issue army blanket, 1 bottle of iodine, 1 empty canteen and 1 pocketknife.
I wasn’t the only one wondering why in the hell I was sitting in this chair, but I was the only one who understood that I had to be sitting in this chair. For me. Not for anyone else.
I’d failed at several things recently. Including a few things I thought I was good at. I failed Organic Chemistry. I failed spectacularly at my latest relationship. And I’d failed to have my shit together enough to be there for someone I cared about when they needed me most. And I wasn’t there when he died.
You are a coward, my brain said.
No one else can tell you what you are made of. You have to find that out for yourself. And usually you find out the hard way.
My father used to say to me when I was little, “Show me your metal, half-pint”. Which was his way of saying; show me what you’re made of. When you peel away everything else you find out what your metal is. I spent two weeks in the desert, starving and burning and straining and freezing to find my metal.
I learned a few things from those two weeks in the desert.
You can find food if you’re willing to work for it.
You can hike when your feet are bleeding. And you can get up and do it again the next day. And the next.
You can find your breaking point and you can remain unbroken.
Out of 23 participants in the Advanced Wilderness Survival Class, 7 made it to the rendezvous point. I was one of the 7. And I was the most surprised out of anyone, slack-jawed instructor included, because I almost didn’t make it. And I would never, never put myself through that again.
But those 4 Liberal Arts credits mean more to me than anything else I’ve ever done. Because I put myself through the fire, of my own free will and I found out what I was made of.
I found my metal.
Too often we don’t do things because we are afraid. Afraid to fail. Afraid of looking foolish. We don’t stretch ourselves. We don’t do the scary thing that we might actually be good at or really enjoy. We don’t find out, because we just don’t try.
This month I dare you to do something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be something huge or life-changing, it can be something small. But something that strikes at the core of your person. Something that strikes at your metal and makes it ring. If you’ve always wished you could write or paint but were afraid to try, hey there’s one way to start. If you’re the one standing on the sidelines watching everyone else dance instead of dancing. Get your butt out there and dance. Write a poem, sing, try hang gliding, dance naked on the roof, I don’t care…just live. And do it on purpose.
And then tell us all about it.
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