For my STEP project, I traveled with the Outdoor Adventure Center to Australia and New Zealand for a leadership development trip. I explored the two countries and their cultures through outdoor activities like hiking though World Heritage sites and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reefs. For an extra challenge, I took on more adventurous endeavors like bungee jumping to push myself out side of my comfort zone. All along the journey I participated in many leadership activities like leaders of the day and partner projects to shape my leadership abilities.
These group and partner activities challenged my previous assumption that if you want something done right you should do it yourself. On the trip, I learned that you can’t do certain tasks by yourself and often others are needed for their ideas and support. Welcoming this group setting fosters a strong and multifaceted work force that can collectedly accomplish any mission. When we went sea kayaking there were two people sitting in each kayak and the one sitting in the back controlled the rutters to help steer. I was in front while Haley was in the back trying to figure out how to properly steer the ship. Between her adjusting the rutters and me paddling we ended up swerving in every direction for the first few minutes. I had to learn to trust that Haley would steer the rutters while I paddled ahead to keep us moving. Once I let go of trying to control everything we were off in the right direction and quickly paddled our way to the front of the group together. While working together might seem like an innate action I needed to learn to let go of the thought that I had to control everything in order for things to work out. Getting to know everyone on the trip and developing trust and communication with them allowed me to put that need for control and constant concern about things going right behind me and opened a door for me to build connections in the future. I’ve learned that instead of worrying about whether things will work out I need to focus on how to fix what is going wrong and appreciate what is going right. Once I did this I quickly found that my overthinking and stress dissipated and I enjoyed what was right in front of me more.
This STEP project has also helped me appreciate the things and people around me more. Our first day in New Zealand we went on a river cruise throughout the Doubtful Sound. They took a moment of silence out on the lake where the engine was turned off and everyone was quiet for three minutes as we all took in the scenery around us. I was floating in the fog with a 360 view of unimaginable beauty around me. The only thought in my head was pure astonishment at the never-ending mountains; no room for worry and no reason to be. All my problems seemed so insignificant standing next to a towering mountain or laying below an endless sky of stars. Appreciating all the things we saw and did helped me stop over thinking my problems and live in the moment to take in the incredible sights in front of me.
Our trip leader, Spenser, made us define what adventure was to us and Ali said that “adventure is living in the moment despite fear”. While fear of what could go wrong stopped me from doing things before or caused me to stress about them, having the support of the group gave me courage to do things that fear and anxiety held me back from. As someone who hates heights I never pictured myself bungee jumping, and yet when I was on that bridge surrounded by my new friends, all equally terrified and excited as I was, the fear of the jump pushed me forward instead of held me back. While swimming up a river in the Daintree rainforest I began to get winded and with my loss of breath came the loss of faith that I would make it upstream. Spenser saw and encouraged me to keep swimming, believing in me even when I didn’t. I realized it wasn’t my breathlessness that had stopped me from trying but rather the fear of the current and my failure to reach the top. With Dory’s mantra of “just keep swimming” in my head I headed back upstream until I finally made it to rocks with a huge smile on my face only topped by the sense of accomplishment I felt. This new-found confidence and gusto was used as momentum to get me through every moment of struggle on the trip and it is something I will carry back with me to tackle any challenge that comes by way later in life.
I implemented this drive with the new leadership theories we discussed on the trip when I was leader of the day. Working with Ali, we sorted what extra activities everyone wanted to do, guided the group through our Bondi Beach walk, got dinner orders placed, and set a schedule for the day. Whether guiding the group in front or herding everyone in the back, it quickly become clear that leaders and followers are equally as important and that only with trust and collaboration could the group succeed. When we were trekking through the Blue Mountains we trusted that the leaders of the day could guide us through the terrain smoothly and when we made a wrong turn we worked together to find the right path again. I know this was leadership trip but going through this program taught me that leadership isn’t always guiding people but simply taking initiative and working together.
This was the most evident when we went white water rafting on the Tulley River. Our guide was a bit quieter and therefore only Devin and I could hear his commands since we were in the back next to him. The seven of us needed to steer together if we wanted to get through the river smoothly, so we relayed the commands to the rest of your raft so that we were all in sync paddling. This communication was key to getting us safely down the river and it opened the door for some hilarious conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more than during those few hours white water rafting. Getting to know everyone on the trip was one of my favorite things about this program. While the views were amazing they were nothing compared to the people I was gazing at them with.
The days when we didn’t have any wifi connection at all were my favorite because those nights consisted of endless euchre games, mafia rounds, and heart-felt conversations that forged long lasting friendships. Not having to worry about what to post or how many likes we got allowed us to focus on and appreciate the people and things right in front of us. Being rid of these petty distractions like internet and appearances was a refreshing change of pace for me and while I was quick to connect to the internet once we got in range I didn’t have the constant need to always be on it. This trip has given me more appreciation for people, nature, and myself. I never would have thought I would go bungee jumping or that I would trek 23 miles up a mountain range within two days, but having pushed myself on this trip I know I am capable of much more than I initially thought if I just push through the fear and live in the moment.
Working in a cooking group, being leader of the day, and interacting with everyone on the trip helped me develop my teamwork skills. Talking with the natives and guides, visiting local villages, and getting to know the people on the trip helped me gain cultural competence and develop my understanding of others since I got to experience a different way of life. Discussing the various leadership methods, planning our free days, being in a cooking group and leader of the day developed my communication skills. I’ve learned to trust others and communicate more. The activities we did like bungee jumping pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the courage and confidence to push through things that initially seem challenging. Where I might have backed away from difficult things at first, I now dive head first into those situations and make the most of them.
I have a stronger appreciation of others, nature, and myself. I’ve learned not to get caught up in the distractions of the Internet and appearances and not over think things but rather live in the moment despite fear. I now push myself to take initiative more while utilizing and working together with others by using the leadership theories we discussed. This will allow me to work better in groups at school, create more meaningful relationships in life, and be a better leader in my future career. Overall, I have gained confidence and courage in myself as a leader, developed communication and trust with others, and gained an appreciation for nature and other cultures.