This week, due to the variable weather we experienced, we chose to stay away from routes taking us to the peaks of mountains, or to exposed ridges. Instead, we opted for a beautiful, moderate route, in between two mountain ranges. We followed a creek up the lower west range, then took a connecting trail to the eastern mountain, and followed its creek back. It was a great choice. While I most often yearn for the views from up high, this week I was completely content with the beauty of the valley.
The trail linking the two creek beds gave us a bit of a hill to climb, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, the snow we’d received the day before still lingered here, protected by the huge forest trees. From the look of the footprints we could see, only three other people had travelled this way since the storm. One set of larger footprints had traveled both directions across the link, and two other sets appeared to have walked together. While I’d be happy to not see anymore snow for this season, I do love hiking in it. There are so many tracks and footprints, each telling their own story.
As we chatted about some animal tracks we couldn’t readily identify until we got back and set them before our expert, Don, who immediately knew they belonged to a cougar, Lynne stepped in one of the large human tracks and immediately slipped a bit.
“Those aren’t the tracks for me”, she said. “Sometimes the footprints in front of us are perfect and sometimes it’s best to stay as far away from them as possible.”
Just like in life, I thought.
With the deep snow having fallen about forty-eight hours earlier, followed by a warm day, then a cool night, the impression made by the hiker who had come before us had been clear to see and to step into. However, the base of the print, the part Lynne put her foot in, was a solid sheet of ice. Lynne knew immediately this was no place for her feet.
Sometimes in life it’s best to follow the tracks someone else has made. We don’t all need to figure out new ways to solve a formula or make chocolate chip cookies if there is a perfectly good recipe before us. I often love to follow an existing set of footprints when I’m trying something new. If someone else has laid a path for me, I don’t need to break the trail for myself. I don’t need to expend energy thinking about every single step. If we’re starting a new company, or working on our first project, or raising our first child, having a guide with footprints to walk in is so helpful.
On the other hand, sometimes following in someone else’s footsteps makes our journey more difficult. Sometimes the actual prints have turned to ice, making each step slippery at best, and unsafe at worst. Those steps that were once perfect for someone, have become old and outdated. Sometimes others’ footprints are too far apart, or too close together to be comfortable for us. They throw our gait off, and we spend our energy trying to stay upright rather than on where we are going. We find ourselves out of synch with ourselves; even our bodies can respond by getting out of alignment. We have no creativity in this place.
Brenda and I, having hiked many times in the snow, have occasionally found ourselves grateful to follow footprints when the snow has been knee deep and higher. It greatly cuts down on our effort. Yet, we’ve also discovered that even when these footprints are invaluable to propel us forward, sometimes after following them for a time, we’ve looked up only to discover they have not led us to where we had hoped to go!
We all have good instincts when we give ourselves the gift of trust. I’ve found when I trust myself and use all the tools I’ve acquired on my own journey, I can find my perfect rhythm. Sometimes it involves gratefully walking along in the footsteps of others. Sometimes I need to break my own trail. Sometimes I just need to walk beside footsteps that have come before me, or sometimes along side those being created at the same time as mine.
I also know this. Looking back gives me great feedback. It helps me notice my path, see my missteps and offers advice for my next journey. So too, I’ve learned that whether I’m following someone else’s steps or making brand new ones of my own, I need to glance up occasionally to make sure that when I’m finished, I’ve arrived where I’d imagined I’d be.
I also try to remember that someday, these footsteps of mine, might be followed by someone else as they are journeying. I hope to leave some steps worth following.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What footprints am I following?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and for conducting leadership reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to create footprints worth following.