This past summer I embarked on a 26 day leadership expedition run through the OSU Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) in conjunction with STEP itself. We flew out to Fresno, Ca on June 23, spent a few days driving through Yosemite and Sequoia national park, and then spent the remainder of the trip backpacking through the majestic High Sierra wilderness.
This expedition was far and away the most extraordinary experience of my life. At first I was very nervous about disconnecting with society for an entire month. Part of this was due to the fact that the leaders, whether they wanted to or not, gave the impression that it would be very challenging and potentially dangerous. Also, I did not know anyone else going on the trip beforehand and I am somewhat of a quiet guy. I spent the first few days before we actually got in the back-country constantly thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I was also sort of distressed that I would not be able to talk to my parents or any of my friends back home. However, after the first few days in the back-country, all of the worries were quickly pushed aside by the sense of freedom and awe that the wilderness brought. The mountains, the forests, the streams, everything was just absolutely incredible and so different from urban society, or even the natural scenery here in Ohio. I felt completely liberated from the stresses of everyday life, and had hours to just think and take in the spectacular scenery. I had time to reflect deeply about myself and the world we all live in, which led to a much greater understanding of both.
This experience definitely improved my leadership skills and boosted my self-confidence as well. Each person took their turn leading the group through the back-country. We all were basically given full authority of the group for one day and could lead however we wanted. This real-world experience was extremely valuable and allowed me to understand in what aspects I already excelled as a leader and what needed improvement. Each time someone else led, it was our responsibility to evaluate them and tell them what we thought they did well and what we thought they could work on. By the end, we had a long list of good and bad things that you could do as leader of the day. Finally, I think this trip gave me a much greater appreciation for nature and the simple things in life. We were essentially completely free from technology, something that is so commonplace in our current society that many of us fear to let go of it. Our main form of entertainment was simply talking to one another and marveling the beauty of nature.
I think most of these transformations really just came about naturally as the trip progressed. Since there is only so much you can talk about with other people, we each spent a fair amount of time in silence. Whether this was as we were hiking single file behind one another on the trail, or during one of several designated quiet sessions, we all had plenty of time to ourselves to just think and reflect on the scenery, our own lives, or whatever else our mind wandered to. It helped too that once your leadership day was over, there was really very little to worry about, which allowed your mind to meander freely and not become anxious. It was helpful too that everything was so well planned out by the leaders, so we never had to worry that much about where our next meal was coming from or what to do if we got injured in some kind of way. Somewhere along the way it just comes to you that everyone should take a trip like this, to get away from society and just experience the freedom and clairvoyance that such nature brings. You recognize how crucial it is that we preserve such raw beauty so that future generations can experience it too. You eventually realize how simply you can live and how in a lot of ways this actually makes life better than what we are all used to.
The people involved in the trip also played a large role in my transformations. Without feedback from the others, I would have no idea how good of a leader I was and how I could improve. The leaders were especially key as they organized everything and came up with several different leadership theories for us to discuss to better improve our skills. Theoretically, none of my transformations would have happened without the leaders since the trip itself would not have happened. I think just having other people there that I had never met before forced me to be a little more talkative and outgoing too.
Lastly, I think that STEP itself was crucial to my transformations since I would not have known about this trip at all in the first place if not for those weekly meetings. At the beginning of STEP, before one of the leaders on this trip came to one of our meetings and spoke about it, I was pretty much dead-set on using my STEP funds to study abroad in Rome. I was a classics major at the time, so going to Rome would have been an extremely valuable experience seeing as most of what I was studying was related in some way to ancient Roman society. However, when Tyler (the head trip leader) came to our STEP meeting on leadership day and played the “hype” video from the previous year’s trip, I started to reconsider my initial decision. It was very appealing as well that this trip was exactly $2000, and after attending a few pre-trip meetings, I was finally convinced that it was right for me.
I learned numerous things about leadership that I had not known before. These will definitely help me in just about every aspect of my life moving forward as pretty much every career requires some sort of leadership. This trip was very challenging both physically and personally, and the self-confidence I gained from overcoming all the obstacles will definitely give me a positive attitude toward future challenges. Although leadership was the main focus of this trip, this did not mean that everything was constantly a one-man-show. The leader would often ask the rest of the group if any tough decisions had to be made, and everyone contributed whenever a task, such as cooking dinner needed to be completed. Team-working capabilities are very important in many careers, and this trip actually inspired me somewhat to change my major to environmental engineering, which is a field that heavily relies on good teamwork. As an environmental engineer, I will be able to play a part in preserving incredible natural areas like the High Sierra.