Last month I made a brief statement about being consistent rather than constant with regard to the quality of our output. With whatever we’re doing or making we should be working toward producing something that’s not only good once but good across the board despite facing any adversity during the process. This isn’t to say that everything needs to look or be the same or that we have to create a masterpiece every time. But so long as we invest an appropriate amount of skill and effort into a thing, the output over the long-term should be of similarly good quality.
I suspect that most people probably understand, to one degree or another, the difference between being consistent versus being constant. But I do think the two can easily be mistaken for one another in certain contexts. Take, for example, the mantra or life practice of always moving forward.
The approach of always trying to move forward in life is something that many of us embrace, right? This idea that we don’t want to be living in the past or that we don’t want our pasts to absolutely define who we are today. So we tell ourselves, “Always forward, never back,” as if whatever’s back there will eventually drag us into the abyss if we’re not habitually monitoring our thoughts and choosing wisely.
But with that philosophy, if we practiced being consistent rather than being constant or always moving forward we may find it easier to be flexible and resilient. And learning resiliency allows us to live life to the fullest because it enables us to respond and adapt to an ever-changing landscape (i.e. being in the moment).
We often view resiliency as primarily this ability to bounce back or overcome some great tragedy. However, I also see resiliency as the ability to take some hits and incur some damage (that’s not necessarily life-altering) and still carry on with our lives. Basically, we learn not to sweat the small stuff.
Consistency and being constant can get a little muddled when talking about always moving forward because, again, always sounds a lot like constantly. How realistic do you think it is to always (or constantly) be moving in the same direction? In my mind, there’s just no way to sustain that because we’re eventually going to be faced with an immovable object or an unstoppable force? And if we’re not paying attention, there’s a good chance that we’re either going to crash into it or it’s just going to smash us to bits.
So what are our options?
Well, in every conflict (and I’m using conflict in its broadest sense) there can really only be one of three outcomes. You’re either going to succeed, fail, or partially succeed/partially fail. That’s it. There are degrees of success inherent within that third outcome. However, we can generally assume (considering that argument) that two thirds of our life expectations will result in anything ranging from a minor to a catastrophic letdown. Those aren’t very good odds, but to that I’d ask (based on the words of Frederick Douglass), “Without struggle, where’s the progress?” And this is why it’s critical to learn resiliency. Again, there’s a good chance that 66% of our expectations in life will not be met to the fullest.
All of that said, if we were seeking only to “succeed” we could pad our win column by dramatically lowering our expectations. But where’s the fun in living a life of predictability and, dare I say, mediocrity? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all.
We could have no expectations and live our lives with a completely open mind. Essentially, stop worrying about the outcome and you’ll stop suffering. I love the idea of letting go of attachment to the outcome. In many respects, though, this skirts dangerously close to “the less you give a F@$&, the happier you’ll be” approach to life. But you can’t really accomplish much by being indifferent, apathetic, or without having at least a little ambition.
So, I try to embrace the “turning lemons into lemonade” or the “yes, and…” approach to improvisation to help me consistently move forward. I learn from my failures, essentially transforming them into forms of success. I don’t imagine that’s a ground-breaking concept to anyone, either. But it’s good to remind ourselves that in spite of life often being stacked against us, there are many ways in which to make it work for us.
What I find most helpful when trying to be consistent (rather than constant) is to acknowledge that when moving forward in life, you don’t have to be the train stuck on the tracks. Just because where you want to be is on the other side of an immovable object, for example, doesn’t mean that you have to go directly through it. Instead, change your angle of approach and go around it. Or if that unstoppable force is bearing down on you, yield space by stepping to the side or back to let it pass by or dissipate and then carry on with your journey.
Admittedly, those are simple concepts. Just go around it, move over, or take a step back. But how many times have we ran into that brick wall or felt that wave crash against us only to become trapped in conflict because we were so target-fixated on only moving in one direction? Forward. Literally. Because that’s all we ever planned for. And, oftentimes, the deeper we get into conflict the more difficult it is to see any other options. So we just keep banging our heads against that wall because we’ve run out of ideas.
Recently I’ve been preparing for a guided hike that I volunteer to lead each September. Well, that is when it’s not being derailed by wildfire smoke and Covid concerns (which it has for the last two years). This hike is one of many hosted by the Donner Summit Historical Society as part of their annual fundraising event. I lead the Roller Pass/Mount Judah loop hike which covers general information about the western emigration of the 1800s, historical facts about Donner Summit and the adjacent area in which we hike, as well as an emphasis on Donner Party history itself. By the way, this is just one reason why I’m so delinquent in publishing this month’s newsletter 🙂
Anyway, the Donner Party’s story is a perfect example of trying to move forward in life (literally and figuratively) but ultimately becoming trapped in conflict because they just couldn’t see any other direction in which to move. They only planned to go forward to California so, in their minds, traveling back to the east to safer terrain at Truckee Meadows (Reno, NV) to wait out the winter, for example, was never an option. And this is, for the most part, confirmed by the fact that there are no records or even mentions by party members that they were ever considering this option.
This is all astonishing to me because they didn’t just face an immovable object in the form of Donner Summit itself. They also had to contend with an unstoppable force which took the form of relentless snowstorms all winter long. Again, the further we get trapped in conflict the more difficult it is to see any way out.
But moving forward in life doesn’t have to be restricted to a linear trajectory that you committed to ten years ago, six month ago, or even just an hour ago. Rather, you’d be better served by taking a dynamic approach to navigating your journey. And this often just requires us to take some pauses and make a few directional changes along the way based on the current conditions on the ground.
I realize that those addendums to our life itineraries may feel like we’re not moving forward or making progress because we may find ourselves temporarily stuck in a holding pattern or on a slightly different course. However, by being an active participant in life by making meaningful choices based on the situation at hand (not just because that was the original plan or that’s how you’ve always done it before) is the essence of learning to be resilient and, therefore, achieving consistency in your life.
I didn’t get around to writing another Tahoe Trail Guide article. However, I did publish a hiking vlog on YouTube this past month! If you haven’t already watched it, have a look. During the video I briefly describe my experience (up to the point of making the video) participating in the 2022 Tahoe Wildflower Big Year.
Speaking of my 2022 Tahoe Wildflower Big Year… I officially logged my 500th plant species (last week)! So I met my goal for this year’s Big Year. In fact, I’ve logged 511 species at the time of this writing.
That said, I’ll continue to search for new species until the end of September (at a much lower intensity 🙂 ). Also, I need to invest some time and effort into sorting through the backlog of plant and wildflower observations (photos) that I never got around to identifying. Those observations may yield additional new species. However, I suspect many of them will simply be duplicate species or end up remaining at the genus level because there isn’t enough information (in my photos) to definitively ID them at the species level.
That last bit is one of the challenging aspects of plant identification, especially if you’re a novice such as myself. The bottom line is that you’re just not going to be able to ID everything because so many species are so similar to another, and if you don’t know the diagnostic differences between them you’re out of luck. But this is okay because it just means there’s always more to learn!
Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…
Tahoe Trail Guide is an online resource for hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing in the Lake Tahoe region. In addition to trail data, I offer backcountry “how-to” articles and information about the local and natural history of Tahoe. Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.
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To broaden my audience and get more mileage out of these newsletters, I’ve begun to adapt them into short videos for YouTube. I’ll incorporate short video clips into these recaps since I often capture video of nature when I’m outdoors (but don’t use the footage anywhere else). Essentially, I want to make two different presentations with a minimal amount of extra work rather than just creating a 1-to-1 adaptation of these text and photo versions of my newsletters.
I always look forward to your photos – like revisiting old friends. Just turned 80 and miss Tahoe and friends so please keep hiking and taking pictures for those of us who can’t! Best wishes!!
So great to hear from you! And a Happy Belated Birthday 🙂
You can bet that I’ll keep getting out as much as possible, and sharing those experiences 😉
Take care, and I hope you have a great rest of the summer!