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Look Up and Look Forward – A Book Excerpt

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(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, a manifesto on living Beyond the Rut. Let me know what you think.)

I’m an ultralight backpacker. That means I don’t put on a heavy, 40-pound base weight backpack before slogging through the woods. Base weight is the weight of the pack minus the weight of water, food, and cooking fuel. My base weight as an ultralight backpacker is less than ten pounds in the Spring and Summer Months and around fifteen pounds in the Winter months. 

Ultralight backpacking is a mindset shift that goes light, depends on skills over gear, and creates a greater sense of confidence for me as I move faster and farther than I would if I packed a traditional loadout.

On one trip, I had nearly twisted an ankle about a few miles into a 28-mile loop. The terrain was rocky, and I was determined to not have to hobble out on a busted leg. My goal was to finish this loop in 24 hours not become a rescue story for someone else. It was at the end of the day when I realized that I was more focused on not getting hurt that I missed out on a swimming hole, a shaded grove, and more. These were all things other hikers told me about later. 

A couple of problems can come out of hiking for miles and miles without looking up just stuck in the groove of the trail, a rut in a sense. The first issue can be veering off-course. You may miss that important fork in the trail and wind up somewhere you did not expect. You get lost, and either need to figure out by backtracking where you went wrong or re-route your direction to get back on track. That had happened to me a couple of times on this trip as well. It’s annoying to have to backtrack, but that is better than dying in the woods, I suppose.

The second is that you can miss the bigger picture. A good hiking trail will have vista views, streams, and wildlife worth seeing for the memories (and survival if we’re talking about mountain lions or bears). The whole point of getting out into nature was to slow down and enjoy nature, and we miss it all when we spend the entire time looking down on the trail. I once hiked with someone who kept their eyes on their phone hoping for a signal. 

On the second day, I took a different approach. I spent more time looking up and looking forward with glances down below to make sure my feet were on the right path and avoiding the major obstacles. By looking up and looking forward, I saw a herd of deer that stayed ahead of me for about a mile, I watched the sunrise, and captured some very beautiful videos and pictures. 

Looking down is important from time to time, but it was when we look up during a hike that the world opens up around us. My friends are often jealous of the pictures of deer, hogs, rabbits, and armadillos I’ve captured. The secret is being able to see them before being seen by them. I’m intentional about looking up and looking forward to when I hike. The added benefit of looking up and looking forward more is that I also see potential hazards as well as opportunities much sooner. 

It’s safe to say that my hiking experiences have been enhanced simply by looking up and looking forward. The same concept has applied to my own life as well.

Looking up at home means seeing your spouse and children in the moment, appreciating their laughter, their troubles, and being there for them much more readily.

Looking up and looking forward at work means taking a step back from the day-to-day grind and spending time thinking through what really matters. You get to collaborate with your team to increase efficiency and effectiveness as you think through the 20 percent of the work that accounts for 80 percent of your results, The Pareto Principle.

Visualization is a form of looking up and looking forward. You are not physically looking at the future of your life. You are, however, looking at where you came from and imagining where that will take you in the future. You get to visualize alternate paths and start decisions on what direction to take next.

What do you see when you look up and look forward in your life? Where do you want that trail to lead you? What do you want to see and experience along the way? What do you actually see as you look up and look around that is worth appreciating?

You may have not asked yourself these questions before. Well, now is the time to do it. One who waits for perfect conditions achieves nothing.