My Life-Changing, 7-Day, Action-Based Learning Experience in the Wilderness
In his book The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho quotes, "When you can't go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward."
The canyon is a great teacher; that was the first of many lessons it taught me. As I reflect on my transformational seven-day backcountry backpacking trip in Utah's Canyonlands during InterMission, an undergraduate action-based learning course at the Ross School of Business in partnership with the National Outdoor Leadership School, I am in awe of the myriad of life lessons I learned.
Lessons learned in the canyons
In May, I embarked on the backpacking journey with 15 passionate and dedicated individuals from the University of Michigan community, including other Michigan Ross students and instructors. Trekking through the sandy, rocky, and hot drainage systems within the canyons, we were met with challenges every step of the way and we had to find a solution to overcome these challenges as a team. It was not only a great experience, but it allowed me a chance to personally reflect on my tolerance, stamina, and ability to push myself to my highest potential.
From the very first day, I was trusted to make good and impactful decisions — decisions that may seem menial but actually affect the entire group. I found out being trusted is empowering. It is a non-vocalized way of believing in someone's capabilities and decision-making framework. It is saying that you, an autonomous human, are valued for what you have to offer.
Through the winter-term course, my peers and I were challenged to be more authentic, center our purpose, and improve teamwork and collaboration by embracing change and growth — authentically leading ourselves and others in ways no matter how large or small. To achieve this goal, we explored personalized pursuits of purpose, perspectives on leadership styles, and giving voice to our values in service of a meaningful career and life. Our one-week wilderness expedition's technical and mental preparation was seamless after the rigorous introspective and leadership lessons we learned through the coursework.
Although planning our seven-day hike seemed like a breeze, taking the hike was much harder than I anticipated. The forever-changing canyon was much like life itself. Due to the challenges faced along the way, our plan was constantly modified to accommodate our circumstances. For example, sand and rocks would often sneak into your boots while you were carrying a 40Ibs bag on your back in dry heat. It is an experience that I found will test a person emotionally and physically. Although I was faced with limited food, water, and the blazing sun, I had never felt so clear-headed and energized to tackle whatever was thrown at me when I fully accepted that there was no way back.
The canyon also reminded me of all the things we tend to take for granted. Out in the wilderness, it becomes up to you to learn how to simply survive. In doing so, you quickly realize that so much of our day-to-day lives back at home are actually a luxury that is often forgotten as such. Cohabiting with 15 other individuals for seven days not only allowed me to build high-quality connections and forge amazing friendships, but it also proved to me that despite coming from different walks of life, we were not so different after all. Whether it was daydreaming about the foods we would indulge in after our trip or sharing our favorite childhood stories, I found so many reasons to feel connected and part of a community of empowering and inspiring people.
Leaving the canyon on the chartered school bus that we drove in, I remember looking back out at the beautiful red rocks and reminiscing on how fast the seven days went by. Oftentimes, we operate through life through milestones, thinking of the end and not savoring the moment. However, it doesn't take a trip miles and miles away to be grateful for the basics (like food and water) and the good things we are privileged to have. Realizing that living in the moment with people we care for and giving them our full attention opens doors for better connections and is truly what makes life worth living. It just takes a bit of perspective, and (maybe) a class you signed up for last minute, to see that.