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two women hiking in a valley
by
Shelli Johnson
,
May 2, 2021

Do You have a Pebble in your Shoe?

Ignored, small things fester and become larger, leading to more suffering.

The concept of self-care is thrown around all the time lately, but it’s real, and we do need to prioritize it. It’s not that we don’t know that taking care of ourselves is valuable and that it will improve our life and performance. We know that.

It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.
– Muhammad Ali

We have our backpacks on, and we are at the trailhead. My adventurers are chomping at the bit to get the party started. Everyone has done so much to get to this point, and the anticipation is palpable. But first, before we get going, I need to give them an important instruction.

“As we start up the trail, if you get a pebble in your shoe, or a piece of sand or a pine needle in your boot—or if something doesn’t feel right—please speak up. Speak up, and we’ll stop and make the necessary adjustments.”

This is critical advice; most of us will get something in our shoe or have something that doesn’t feel just right and so often we don’t speak up. We tell ourselves it’s no big deal, and we can manage it. We tell ourselves it’s just an annoyance, and if we ignore it we’ll soon forget about it. We keep it to ourselves. We don’t want to interrupt the group’s progress by causing the whole train to stop.

But it’s a big mistake to ignore the issue.

I should state upfront that I am personally guilty of all of the examples I'm going to share. On many occasions, I have been the one who remained silent.

Before long, the person with debris in her shoe has a full-blown blister from where the pebble was grinding into her foot. Every step is now torture. The journey for that individual has become one of suffering rather than adventure. It's devastating for the person with the blister, and it's hard for others to witness such suffering. The blister affects not only that person’s performance and experience, but that of the entire group. Not only is our pace, and that person's level of enjoyment, impacted, but now we have to be wary of infection and take measures to help prevent the person from needing to be evacuated, which is costly, not to mention challenging since we’re in the remote wilderness.

I’ve been on adventures, both as a customer and as a guide, where it starts to rain and someone doesn’t want to take the time to get her raincoat on. It's a hassle, and besides, she doesn’t feel cold. In fact, the rain feels good. So she thinks no harm is being done by not putting her rain gear on. The threat, however, is real. Stages of hypothermia can set in when a person gets wet, and then cold. A person who gets hypothermia is not going to have a great experience, and not only will it affect her experience, but it threatens the experience and success of the expedition and the group, as well.

One of my first major backpacking adventures involved big mileage days, a too-heavy backpack, and an ambitious mountain climb, all at higher altitudes than I was accustomed to. I often didn’t feel hungry, so I ate very little. High altitudes can decrease one’s appetite. Boy did I pay the price for that. I climbed the mountain, but it was hell, and upon descent, I suffered from major dehydration that left me feeling faint, dizzy, and weak. My head pounded and I started heaving and vomiting stomach acid. My partner that day, thankfully, was kind and understanding, but certainly, my suffering impacted his experience. My actions (inaction rather, not eating enough) affected us both.

Obviously, I’m using these anecdotes as metaphors for self-care and for communication in general. The concept of self-care is thrown around all the time lately, but it’s real, and we do need to prioritize it. It’s not that we don’t know that taking care of ourselves is valuable and that it will improve our life and performance. We know that. But all too often our lives feel so full and busy that we tell ourselves we’ll get to it later, or we can’t inconvenience those around us. We tell ourselves we'll start tomorrow.

Many of the wonderful humans I work with, coach, and know, are generous and compassionate and tend to put the needs of others before their own. Women, in particular, so often put the needs of others before their own, and sometimes we’re lucky if we’re even on the bottom of our list of priorities.

Self-care can feel selfish for such selfless, giving people but it’s not; it’s essential.

Do you have a pebble in your shoe right now? What is it? Imagine for a minute what it would feel like to have it be gone. Are you feeling out of shape, unhealthy? Are you nursing a grudge? Are you secretly wishing you could make X change and are too afraid to say so? Is there a fear that’s keeping you awake at night?

It could be an illness, a resentment we carry with us, a heartbreak, an addiction, a health concern, a dark secret we’re keeping, a conversation we’re needing to have that we’re not having, something we’re needing to do that we’re putting off. Fill in the blank. This pebble is making our journey—our life—more difficult.

Don’t ignore it. In my experience, it never resolves itself. Ignored, small things fester and become larger, leading to more suffering.

Unless we tend to it, we proceed at our own peril. When we take care of ourselves, everything is better. Everything!



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a woman outdoors in a cowboy hat

Shelli Johnson, 51, lives on the frontier of Wyoming, and is a life and leadership coach, writer, keynote presenter, and adventure guide. She is married to Jerry, and they have three sons. Shelli owns Epic Life Inc. and offers a variety of Epic programs that bundle coaching with a guided Epic adventure. She has programs for women, couples, leadership teams, and custom groups, including a new program Shelli is offering, called Epic Midlife Women, geared to women in their 40s and 50s. To see a personal invite from Shelli, or for more specifics about the program, check out this page.

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