Lessons from the Trail


Months ago, hiking a marathon through North Carolina was an undesirable, insurmountable idea. At the same time, our annual efforts to adopt the wish of a child facing a life-threatening illness were thwarted due to the pandemic. We then discovered the Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge.

For three months, Sofia and I trained to hike 26.5 miles of the Sauratown Trail. On May 7, we completed the Trailblaze Challenge within our ten-hour goal. It was an inspirational, fun, beautiful, and sucky experience. We captured these Top 10 lessons we believe will serve you well.

1. Endurance is Built – Don’t Hide from the Tension

To endure the hike, we progressively increased our distance and level of discomfort and stress. Just like breaking down muscle to build it up, sometimes we must endure stress to increase our capacity to manage it. Recognize adversity as an opportunity to build greater capacity to manage stress. Build the muscle and watch your ability to achieve goals grow, regardless of setbacks.

2. A Machine Needs Rest – So Do You

Training to manage stress is only possible with rest. We rested and refueled during and between hikes. Are you working non-stop or in a perpetual state of urgent response? Find time in your routine to rest and refuel. This discipline empowers you to be more creative and productive … or to hike 26.5+ miles!

3. Sprinters Never Last – Pace Yourself

If Sofia and I hiked at a sprinter’s pace, we would not have finished. I know the detrimental impacts of an unsustainable sprinter’s pace—I wrote a book about it. We sustained a reasonable pace while hiking. What is your target pace on the trail, in your career, and in your life? Through routines that reinforce your priorities and promote your personal wellness, build the discipline to establish a sustainable pace. Recognize when you need to sprint. You are more prepared to handle surges if you begin at a sustainable pace. At CEEK, we call this pre-crisis integrity.

4. Cotton is Rotten – Equipment Matters

Sofia and I did our first training hikes in cotton socks and sneakers with a water bottle and bag of almonds. A Challenge veteran offered, “Cotton is rotten!” Hiking boots and poles made our journey more attainable. He suggested a backpack, water bladder, headlamp, and bug spray. The equipment he suggested saved us time, effort, and pain. Do not skimp on reasonable equipment that will help you be more efficient and productive. Such investments pay dividends.

5. You Can Always Go a Quarter Mile More

I repeatedly asked Trailblaze Challenge veterans, “How much further?” The standard reply regardless of the true distance: “A quarter mile more.” Don’t let the magnitude of an initiative, goal, or objective keep you from making progress. You can always go a quarter mile more. Embrace the journey and take the next step.

6. Sometimes You Get Wet – Accept Rain

We crossed streams, endured rain, and slopped through mud. Occasionally, we slipped, fell, and got wet. Sometimes we had to change course. At work and in life, things happen that are out of your control. If we came upon a stream, we embraced the challenge. If we were deep in the woods as a storm approached, we accepted rain. Regardless of the circumstances, we chose a positive disposition. How can you reframe adversity? What does accepting difficult circumstances look like? Imagine the impact on your disposition and those closest to you.

7. The Journey Will Change – Embrace the Extra Mile(s)

22 miles into our 26.5-mile challenge, we learned that the trail was rerouted two extra miles due to wet conditions. Though exhausted, we once again chose to accept the adversity. We thought more deeply about the cause we were supporting. In all the Wish family stories we heard, the shock of the diagnosis was followed by a plan. The reality never followed the plan. As you pursue goals or milestones, accept that the best plans will change. Anticipate and embrace the extra mile—it makes the journey and destination all the better.

8. Leaders are Not Always in Front

Challenge leaders marked the trail, set the pace, and guided us from the front. “Follow me,” they’d say. A second group of volunteer leaders led from the back. “You can do it,” they would say. They helped those in need and pushed us forward. Where do you lead from? Consider when it is best to lead from the back. Give your employees, colleagues, or children freedom to explore or the opportunity to set the course. Encourage them and course correct along the way.

9. Nature is Powerful – Get Outside!

The past two years have been stressful. Sofia and I endured loss, stress, and heartbreak for loved ones in pain. Our hikes in nature were therapeutic. At times, we walked in silent reflection. Other times we shared powerful conversation. We saw amazing plants, flowers, tress, birds, and other animals. Research has proven, and our experience validates, the power of nature to reduce stress and enhance cognitive performance. Get outside! Explore the world with curiosity and awe. It’s transformational in the most positive ways.

10. Mission and Passion are Powerful

The Trailblaze Challenge’s last mile is supposed to be the hardest. We were physically and mentally exhausted. This last mile also happens to be the steepest climb of the journey. Despite these circumstances, it felt like the easiest part of our 28-mile hike. Make-A-Wish planted posters summarizing the affliction and wishes of kids facing life-threatening circumstances. These reminders of our Why provided the mental and physical boost needed to complete the journey. Mission, Purpose, and Passion are powerful. Whatever you do at work and in life, connect to a bigger purpose. Let your Why prescribe How you do What you do, regardless of what you do and where you are. Your productivity and personal fulfillment will grow.

Sofia and I hope you find inspiration and value from these lessons. We thank everyone for your encouragement and support throughout our journey. And we invite you to follow along next year as we continue our efforts to serve the Make-A-Wish mission and kids in need. Better yet, we challenge you to join us on the trail and CEEK a Better Way!