The weather was beautiful as I headed out with a friend to the trailhead one afternoon. My hiking backpack loaded with snacks, water and medical supplies was on my back, and a light breeze coasted over the mountains
We parked on a sleepy little side street, applied our sunscreen and entered the trail marked by dirty pink ribbons. After climbing sideways through a few switchbacks we made it onto a small clearing. We could see the ocean, mountains in the distance, and our destination straight ahead: the summit at the end of the trail.
The Peak Ahead
From where we were standing the peak appeared to be an hour or two of solid hiking. There was a small forest at the base of the hill we would need to climb – and along the way we would face elephant grass, cactus, rocks and good old fashioned heat: there was no shade anywhere once the clouds gave way.
Undaunted, we set our sights on the peak ahead and started hiking.
After hiking most of the way the obstacles we had encountered started taking their toll – our arms and legs were (and actually still are) scraped up from the elephant grass, thorny plants, rocks and the occasional branch or tree stump. With sweat in our eyes and vog (volcanic fog) scratching our throats we trudged forward making steady progress.
A Rough Patch
We came across a portion of the trail that looked particularly difficult and taxing – a brutal, steep hill climb through some dense, tall elephant grass. We were sure to get cut up, likely get lost inside it, and there was no way that any wind was penetrating that thick grass forest. Just standing next to it we could feel the heat emanating out of the grass. It was a short section, but uncomfortable and difficult.
We were unenthusiastic about conquering this section of the trail, so we took a step back and surveyed our options:
- To the left, a steep fall off the ridge and certain doom.
- To the right: a steep fall of the ridge into cactus plants, certain pain, and uncertain doom.
- Straight ahead – suffering, but hopefully eventual triumph
There was only one way that we could reach our goal: we had to climb through that elephant grass hill. It was either that or retreat.
After gathering our breath, we buckled down and began to push through the grass.
It took a a very long time – we could see the ribbons marking the trail ahead in the distance, and every step required concerted effort and (optional) grunting and yelling. Finally I punched my hand through the last of the grass, grabbed some tree trunks and pulled myself up the last few feet of the hill – the salt from my sweat burning in my scrapes.
After crossing the elephant grass forest, everything else was easy and we reached the peak at the end of the trail. Along the way I remember thinking at that particularly taxing section:
This is the bridge – and I must cross it.
This Is The Bridge – And I Must Cross It
That phrase has helped me through some difficult challenges in my life. Just as we had to choose what we wanted to do when faced with the thick elephant grass forest, in life we often come across situations that really only have two options:
- Retreat and accept failure
- Realize that this is the bridge – and that we must cross it.
I define a bridge as any type of experience or path that will take me from where I am to where I want to go – or need to be. Very often I’ve seen friends and colleagues see a bridge in front of them, and then get stuck. They know it’s there, but are afraid (or simply in denial) of the chasm that exists.
I think part of this is because they don’t realize that a bridge is just that – a connection. It’s a temporary situation, but one that must be endured to get to the other side. I approach bridges with the mentality of “This too shall pass” – the difference being that we choose to put ourselves in situations that I call bridges.
In my life I’ve encountered a few difficult situations – but simply realizing that I had come to a bridge, and needed to cross it, has made all the difference.
Crossing My Bridges
Here are two example of bridges I’ve encountered in my life – where I could have retreated, but chose to instead push forward.
Lifting Weights In College
When I entered college, I weighed 114.5 lbs – at 5’11. I decided I wanted to gain some muscle, and convinced some of my friends to come down to the gym to lift weights with me. When we got there, I learned that I was much weaker than all of them, and significantly less muscular than all the college athletes also training in the gym.
I was a little intimidated and considered giving up on weight training, or perhaps put it off until later – and that’s when I realized I had come to a bridge – and I had to cross it. Until I gained muscle I would always be the smallest guy in the gym. I decided I could either give up, or just accept the feeling of awkwardness & discomfort – and cross this bridge.
So I continued to go to the gym, in spite of my awkwardness. One of the regulars there, Jarius gave me some advice and helped show me proper form. Another friend of mine, Justin, helped to keep me motivated and we discussed nutrition. It was a slog, but eventually I was no longer out of place in the gym – I felt like I belonged.
Making New Friends In Los Angeles
I moved to Los Angeles in 2003, and I knew only a handful of people there. After being there for a little while I started to feel a little homesick, and missed my friends and family. I considered moving back home – and that’s when I again realized I had come to a bridge – and I had to cross it. I could either retreat back to the safety of home, or I could push through the awkwardness of learning my surroundings and making new friends. It was a temporary situation that I could change if I chose to. So I did – I stepped out of my comfort zone, and for the first time met random people through Craig’s list. I actively organized social events, and made friends with strangers everywhere.
I have always loved the culture and music of big cities, but by the time I left Los Angeles I enjoyed that as well as a healthy social circle – cultivated one person at a time through music, tennis, running and networking events.
Neither of the above two cases were easy for me – I had to work hard to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. The important thing I realized however is that in each case, I was simply on a bridge – and had to make steady, dedicated progress to get to where I needed to be. As long as we continue to put one foot in front of the other, we’ll eventually cross our bridges.
Progress Is All You Need
Oftentimes when discussing goals and motivation we’ll talk about peaks and valleys – times when we are very motivated, and times when our motivation and passion fades. I think that one mistake we make however (and I do this as well) is believing that our progress with our goals is tied to the way we feel.
We believe that when we are highly motivated and feeling great that things are progressing quickly – and they often are. Conversely when things are difficult, we feel less motivated, and it feels like very little progress is being made due to obstacles we encounter on the way. We think that we’ve hit a valley, and get discouraged. This is where I think a change of perspective is in order, because against difficult obstacles, sometimes slow progress is the only kind of progress you can make.
Instead of viewing difficult situations as a valley, I mentally change my perspective and tell myself this is a bridge – a crossing, and that going through this is the only path to the other side, so I might as well get on with it.
Our progress through the elephant grass was much slower than walking through a golf course fairway, but nobody would expect us to go any faster. So when things get difficult, and progress slows, I like to step back and see what I’m doing wrong – and in some cases, there is nothing I’m doing wrong – it’s just the nature of the task at hand.
That’s when I remind myself that:
- I am responsible for everything I want in my life
- I’m still making progress.
- This is the bridge – and I must cross it.