When Things go wrong, Go Right

Everyday we face situations whereby things don’t go as per planned. It’s up to us to get bitter, or get better.

We a lot of experience leading others in the field. One of our primary goalsis to help students navigate through the physical and emotional struggles that happen on a course, and a lot of times simply being out there is a significant challenge in both arenas for students.

Our job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted.This means finding a good balance: comforting the students being pushed too far or welcoming students who have come in with tough past experiences. It also means identifying students who need higher levels of challenge and providing a situation to make that happen, while also finding a way to move the whole group forward as a cohesive unit.

Often times the course itself provides something that spurs the students to move on to that next level of performance. Sometimes that’s an unexpected rainstorm, or a drastic weather change. We would be all ready to roll and set out for our activities for the day and all of a sudden this storm rolls in really fast, and now everybody is drenched. And this is the moment where, as a group you have the choice to either work through it or sulk.  Situations that push students to work together like that, often seen as things ‘going wrong,’  are so much more impactful when they happen naturally.”

“It just ends up being this beautiful metaphor for students to take home, because it’s not so much about that they learn how to wake up in the middle of the night and tighten their tarp when it’s sagging. That’s important while they’re on the course, but what, in the larger sense, does that teach them? Well, sometimes there’s a metaphorical rainstorm and your tarp is sagging, and you don’t want deal with it but you have to get up and take responsibility for what’s happening. That can play out in all kinds of ways: at work, in college, or in heartbreak or unexpected loss.”  

The main things we teach are resilience and compassion—resilience in the face of those unexpected challenges and compassion with ourselves and with each other, because it’s so much easier to get through those challenges together.

Here are other examples of how things can go wrong, for the better

The group missed a turn.

During the senior course, Instructors step back to let the students lead the navigation, let’s say they miss a turn and suddenly someone thinks the group isn’t where they want to be. Some members of the group don’t realize they’re off track, some don’t believe it, and others are convinced of it. Next, the Instructors assess the situation. Does the group need a challenge? Should we let conflict play out? Was the group working together while planning the route? Also, it’s getting dark soon and everyone has carried their heavy packs for hours. People are tired and hungry. Perhaps the students need a hint: “Have you looked at the map lately?” or “Remember how you were talking about that turn off—did you see that earlier?” Instructors manage these challenges in the moment so the situation doesn’t turn sour, all in an effort to let the students “mess up safely”

The bread box is missing

Somewhere between packing the food and unloading it in the wilderness, the bread goes missing. No one realizes it until they start to pull out the ingredients for the first lunch in the field. Now they can get creative. These are the times to remind our students of the quote; ‘If you’re having a bad day, have a good one instead. It comes down to taking responsibility for your perspective and not blaming others, which is a really useful skill.”

People don’t agree.

Conflict can feel uncomfortable, but working through it can be extremely progressive for the sake of the group and for the individuals at the center of it. It’s another representation of any challenge in life. If you’re having a conflict, the best thing to do is create that space where people feel like they’re safe to express how they’re feeling, so folks can actually move through it. That expectation has to start on day one of a course. Ultimately, if there’s a conflict, it means that two or more people aren’t on the same page. Creating the time and space for voices to be heard is another important skill to learn.

In the end we are always facilitating these unique challenges. Even when they are unable to control something as unpredictable as the weather, they are constantly assessing situations for safety, and the need for positive risks and challenges, along with discussions that help students build resilience and develop compassion.

“As professionals in the outdoor industry, we have to balance letting things ‘go wrong’ that we can help our students learn through, while also keeping them physically and emotionally safe.”  

About The Author

NWE strives to create leaders who have strong moral code, a strong sense of ethics, and a value system to navigate the difficult challenges they face in life.

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