It has now been over two weeks since I returned from India, and I am still thinking about my time there. The month of May feels like a blip in my life. The normal flow of time diverged for thirty days and took me on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime adventure that continues to shape my perspective on problem-solving and team-building. Ten days in the wilderness gave me experiences that cannot be bought—experiences that have fueled growth in my confidence, emotional intelligence, and leadership.
I attribute much of this growth to the responsibility we shouldered for our own survival on the trek. We cooked for ourselves, set up our own tents, purified our own water, carried all of our own gear, made decisions about where to camp, navigated rain and snow, located trails, and asked villagers for directions with minimal Hindi. These kinds of challenges were exactly why I signed up for the program. I used to see myself as someone who struggled to learn practical skills and follow instructions. I do tend to be thorough and algorithmic, which can make me slower than the average person, as I am often unwilling to proceed without feeling confident that I know something perfectly. I repeated this exact sentiment to Gaurav several times during the trek.
However, I eventually started wondering why I thought of myself this way. I did not just survive the trek—I thrived. I smiled, laughed, dealt with challenges, and developed new skills on the fly. My peers offered generous compliments about how well I handled the trek, and I received a perfect skills evaluation from my guides. All of these signs urged me to adopt a new self-perception. I might still be a perfectionist, but I am capable of so much more than I previously believed. I can bake a pizza on a slanted meadow with sheep flanking me on all sides. I can tie knots while freezing in the rain. When situations demand quick action, I can accept that perfection is not possible and still execute.
All I needed to achieve this realization was a set of circumstances where I had to figure things out on my own. There was often not a single correct solution to the problems we faced. Rather, I needed to find something—anything—that solved the problem, and then I needed to be confident in my solution. School has rarely given me opportunities to develop this skill, as I am trained to work for hours in pursuit of one answer.
However, I have noticed that tackling challenges under ambiguous conditions is extremely important in the workplace. I frequently use creativity and critical thinking to decide what a successful solution to a problem could look like. No one will tell me that one approach is right or another is wrong. I have an outcome to achieve, and I must be self-assured and prompt in the steps I take towards it. Even if my approach turns out to be sub-optimal, I can always learn from the experience and improve.
Executing quickly and efficiently also depends on not being too afraid of failure. Once I accepted that I was going to fail repeatedly in the wilderness before I started doing things right, my skills and my happiness improved. I want to start applying this mentality in the frontcountry, too. The only true way to fail is to do nothing at all. If I over-analyze situations and criticize every possible solution, I will never give myself the opportunity to learn and grow.
I can apply this self-reflection to leadership. If I want my followers to be creative, I need to make them feel ambitious and empowered to take risks. I like leaders that convey a clear, compelling group purpose while also leaving time for fun. Having a strong goal motivates team members to work hard, but leaving space for welcoming, light-hearted activities shows that the stakes are never so high that the group should be scared of experimenting and taking action. I felt this way on the trek. While we had a clear purpose for each task, Vipul and Gaurav would always exude fun, playful attitudes that made us feel comfortable to try new things.
The last key learning I wanted to share from India also has to do with welcoming others, but in a more literal sense. I had heard that Indians were quite hospitable, and this expectation was corroborated. I learned from Vishal that a common phrase in India translates to “Guest is God.” Every time we asked to use a meadow or piece of land for shelter, we were greeted with warm nods and smiles. Any time we needed water, we were shown streams and rivers. This kindness deeply touched me, and I want to share it with others this summer.
I suppose I have reached the end of my blog posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed putting my journey in writing, and I want to keep blogging about my trips in the future. This collection of photos and blogs will ensure that I never forget the crazy month I spent in India. Here is to many more adventures!