If you have ever met me you’ll know I like nice clothes and, of course, great red shoes. I don’t think that makes me shallow; I’d like to think not! But I do like to look smart; it makes me feel good and brings a professional feel to my work. So it was a shock to many of my clients and friends earlier this year when I announced I was planning on doing a sponsored hike with the ladies from Wild Woman Challenge. The aim was to walk the skyline of Snowdonia over a 3 day period with a group of professional women for the charity The Microloan Foundation, a great charity who support women in Africa to start up a business so they can support themselves and their families.
Whilst many were surprised at my plan to carry out this walk, most knew that if I had put my mind to it I would, no doubt, complete the challenge, as I hate to fail and enjoy doing something different. So I started training over the summer months, as its years since I did anything that active other than the odd zumba class. I bought the gear, did a few long walks and was ready to go.
And so it was that on the first Saturday of September 2012 I found myself on a minibus with a group of women looking up at Snowdon standing at 3560ft in a light morning mist and glorious sun. Standing mighty above the village of Llanberis we were all keen to get shifted and started on this our last day of walking together after 3 days of challenges, climbs, walks and lots and lots of laughter as well as a day of personal development and reflection.
But Snowdon was waiting and along with what seemed like hundreds of other charity walkers that day we set off to our starting point. For those of you amongst my readers who are walkers, you will know that what looks like a great day at the bottom can quickly change. When we arrived at the start of the famous Pyg track up Snowdon not only were we lost in the crowd of other expectant walkers, but also in the mist and drizzle which had set in. The shorts, that some had been brave enough to consider, now looked like a daft idea and we all donned coats and hats.
But as with every other morning that week we set off with a spring in our step and much laughter and confidence in ourselves and our guides from Raw Adventures. The guides selected our route for the day and their assistant, the lovely Cluanie, a happy and patient guide as well as an important member of the SARDA search and rescue dogs team, wagged her collie tail with glee as we all stepped onto the footpath for anther full day of walking. Not only had the guides been important in our safety during the walk, but also their company, stories and experiences played a part in our own journeys. Giving us a time to share, a time to listen, and time to reflect.
The walking of 8-9 hours a day for 3 days was definitely a challenge. I don’t think my poor legs have ever walked that much. The ups and downs didn’t help as we took in peak after peak, but this was a choice thing and for some women in the world they have no choice but to walk miles for water for their families, walk miles to get food for their children. I had my water and food tucked away in my rucksack along with my waterproofs in case it rained and warm clothes if it became chilly, so this would be no real hardship. No, this was something I wanted to do, not something I had to do. As each peak revealed another view of a different and amazing landscape in front of us we would all stop and take our customary break, a cup of tea and another half a sandwich, sometimes in silence as we enjoyed the scene, but often with another story to tell about life.
The walking actually became therapeutic in a way. Allowing us all time to consider life, loves, work and our future plans, time to reflect on the past and share our successes. Don’t get me wrong here, it wasn’t just a Sunday afternoon stroll and natter in the park, some parts where harder than others. I struggled with the morning climbs up from the deep valley floor, whilst others struggled with the cold, others with personal fears of heights and climbing and others struggled with the downward slopes and knees that would complain bitterly as we kept up a rather decent pace.
But each of us did all we could plus a little bit more, I guess that’s what being in a group brings, camaraderie and encouragement so when one person was struggling the others would help out distracting or supporting in whatever way they could. I have to say it would be difficult to find a more determined group of women, all working towards their own and some joint goals. It was encouraging to see the desire to help and support others that we are so often told is missing in the workplace and society.
Interestingly, I found that during our challenge the group shared many stories about their lives, family and work and that last day on Snowdon was no different, with us all sharing our experiences some sad, some inspirational and others just normal day to day things. Why does this matter? Well I think this all matters because although we were all doing something different to our usual office jobs, we were never that far from the reality of our lives. We soon realised that we were all busy women, with careers, family and the trappings of day to day life to contend with. But for those few days together up in the mountains of Wales we had a chance to consider our lives and those of others, including the women in Africa we were raising the much needed money for, thanks to the photos and stories of those who had accomplished this year’s Malawi Challenge.
I can’t say if any of us had any life changing moments up there in the hills, no one mentioned it and I know I didn’t but it did give me time to listen to stories from other people’s lives and to hear how difficult it is to do everything, balance work and life, feel fulfilled and have chance to just be yourself. Whilst this is not abnormal for me to hear in my daily work life it did give me time to reflect on the consistency of the problems and regularity of the feelings of un-fulfilment and desires to make a difference, to change things, which people speak about.
Many of the women and men I have the privilege to work with struggle with finding the balance, struggle with accepting work does take up a huge chunk of your life and accepting you are not superhuman. Yet few of us don’t at some point in our lives punish ourselves for not achieving more, being more engaged at work or spending more time enjoying our families. I realise I am luckier than many people as I do have the ability to change the way I work, select what is important to me and reject those time wasting situations.
On returning to my day to day life or family and work I thought I would soon put behind me the experiences from our adventure. But I haven’t, its left me in no doubt that I have been very fortunate in my life and although it hasn’t always been perfect or easy, achieving these things is difficult and few of us manage it. I also realised that I have much to give in supporting women throughout their work and life challenges to find a balance they are willing to accept. I can see that for many having a perfect harmony between family and work is not possible and that various reasons, be they social, economic or other powerful pulls, can mean compromise is the only solution. I also can see that this isn’t wrong but must be accepted with good grace and a willingness to make it work for you.
The lovely ladies from my time in North Wales also reminded me that however grown up we are, whatever commitments we have and no matter how important our job is, having fun, laughing and doing something that makes you feel alive adds to that balance we are all looking for and compromise seems more acceptable when we are having fun doing it.
If you are looking for a different experience or a way of escaping the day to day whilst doing something to help others speak to the ladies at Wild Woman Challenge or consider their Malawi Challenge for 2013. I’m now looking for my own challenge for next year, but I’d love to hear about yours, do comment on my blog post and let me know what challenges you are preparing for and what lessons you have learnt whilst on your previous challenges.