Walk, Rock, Root, and Other Four Letter Words
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Josh and I snuck away for a romantic 4 day getaway on a beautiful mountain in South Carolina, and then proceeded to go walking for 24 hours straight with 2 Navy SEALs, a marine, and a dozenish, or so, other insane people.
We pushed ourselves harder than we’ve ever done before—like ever. It’s called The Unbreakable 24 Hour Challenge led by Ret. Navy SEAL, Thom Shea.
When I first read “Unbreakable A Navy SEALs Way of Life” the part where Thom walks for 24 hours and encourages his children/readers to do the same I asked, “Why would you want to do this on purpose?” I shook my head, and thought Navy SEALs man.
However, I was also intrigued.
On the surface I dismissed it as good for him, but subconsciously, something else was brewing. I closed the book, hit my pillow, and started dreaming that I was walking.
I started as the sun came up and very quickly began to struggle. My knees hurt. My back ached. The sun went down. I stumbled and fell into the dirt, wondering why I was insane enough to try this stupid, stupid thing. Josh appeared, held out his hand, and said, “let’s finish this together.”
Inside the dream I experienced an indescribable feeling while watching the sun rise—something akin to accomplishment but much bigger than that. It was stunning. The possibilities for building the life Josh and I wanted, from the ashes of the old life, seemed…limitless.
Then suddenly I woke up, staring at a ceiling fan realizing I had not actually done any of these things. I felt like crying, my mind had given me a glimpse into something I desperately wanted.
I rose from my bed to start my day. As I put the toothpaste on my brush my excuses began to build their case, “You? Walk for 24 hours? With your knees? Ha!”
The peppermint taste hit my tongue, “Surely you don’t need to do a 24 hour walk to prove you can do something?” My internal dialogue taunted.
“There’s no way my knees could take that kind of pounding. Maybe if I find a way to strengthen them for a few years.” Rinse.
I looked at my mirrored reflection. "Would reality be better than the dream?”
The next day a friend called, “I need a workout partner. Come take water aerobics with me.” My dream and my knees came to mind. Swimming was the perfect way to build strength, "Totally! Lets do it!" A few days later I joined the geriatrics in a water aerobics class—yeah I was that out of shape. The first week I was sore. The second... It's been 10 months, I’ve gone from geriatric aerobics to swimming 4,000 yrd freestyle lap swimming. I’ve pushed my body further than I have in all of my previous 35 years combined. The grind, intoxicating.
The 24 hour walk had become attainable.
During the same 10 months I had reached out to Shea on Facebook. He'd reached back. Challenging me. We'd signed up for his lessons. He began coaching us personally. I was listening to his podcasts each week. His lessons having hefty impacts. I found myself desiring to build, what Thom calls, an Unbreakable Life—a person who lives life with purpose and intent instead of one blowing with the wind of drama. A person willing to lean into adversity, who overcomes obstacles rather than be stopped by them. Someone who recognizes excuses and refuses to be controlled by them. Someone coachable. Whenever I would talk about this desire rising up inside me people, sometimes extremely close people, would negate it.
I had to learn to walk away from people who claimed they loved me but would snipe, “I don’t understand how you have time to do this? I don’t understand why you would? Why does it have to be right now? Can't this wait until you're more on your feet? I’m happy for you but it’s definitely not something I would want to do.”
People who can't see themselves doing what you're trying to do often try to get you to stop doing it with clever reasons that make sense to them. They don't enjoy you rocking the boat because in challenging yourself you inadvertently challenge them, and it's uncomfortable.
Instinctively, I knew that the only way to get back on our feet was to conquer the parts of us that let ourselves get into the mess in the first place. We were being led by the nose by our excuses. Our fears had the driver's seat. None of that was ok. And the biggest excuse, "It's ok I failed to do this thing I felt was important, Jesus loves me for who I am."
Jesus said to take care of your temple.
Jesus said, "you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow after me."
Want to know how to deny yourself? Deny yourself comfort, a pain free sleep, and walk for 24 hours. Easter/Resurrection Sunday might develop a new meaning for you.
Shea was teaching us to do simple things consistently. To practice the basics. Then one morning, he tagged me in a post. The time had come. His 24 Hour Walk on Paris Mountain in South Carolina, “You in?” he asked.
Do I hold onto the idea of the nice cool dream as part of a someday scenario or do I do the hard work to make the dream a reality? What if the real thing isn’t as good as the dream? What a let down that would be. But...
What if it was better?
“In.” I replied.
I was wayyyy too excited for what we were about to do. Josh thought I was sick in the head. "You know this is going to hurt right?" He asked.
"You know this is totally stupid, right?"
"This is totally bat shit crazy! And you're wigging out like you're going to your favorite concert!"
"Is it because you're going to actually meet Thom face to face? Admit it. You're fan girling and when it comes to SEALs there's a certain word for that…" I punched him.
"Ok, I won't lie, that part is going to be cool but truthfully I'm more excited to meet Stacy (his wife). Thom's probably going to yell at me at some point." We both laughed and traveled east and north.
However, exited I was, I hid my nerves well. I might be naive or insanely smart I'm not sure, but I take people at their word (until I have a reason not too). I'd read Thom's words in his book. I'd listened to his podcasts—a vast majority of his 113 episodes. I'd watched from social media as he practiced what he preached. And I trusted him when he said, "you will learn what truly holds you back in life. You will learn how to push yourself past what you think you can't do. You will find resolve." And that promise was what I was so excited to learn. Every time I heard him say it, my dream, how I felt in the dream, would swell up in my thoughts. All I had to do was just show up, walk, and not quit.
I prepped for weeks in advance. Physically completely focused.
But in other parts of my life my focus was blurring. We were experiencing some successes. Some gains in life. We were not struggling as bad as we had been the year before seemingly coming out of the hell we've been in. This new reality, which should be easier, had me stuck. The weight of the absence of stress was crushing.
We were no longer in survival mode and my mind decided it was safe to panic. My thoughts became erratic. My to-do list became unattainable. The changes I was making for my family and the possible outcomes of taking risks began to overwhelm my thoughts. At night I would lie awake and imagine so many scenarios of disaster, embarrassment, of reaching too high and landing on my ass. The worst thought was the one that had me not finishing what I started—something I felt had become my pattern in life. I started college, attended for 8 years, maxed out my tuition loans. Didn't graduate. Don't even work in the field I trained in. I was a pre med who switched to graphic design with an intent to double minor in art history and photography.
I dropped out—I was married, pregnant, and miserable in school and had run out of money. I liked graphic design. I liked medicine. But I hated working in those industries .I didn't want to be surrounded by sick people, who smell bad, treat you like shit, and never let you see your own family. Graphic design moved at a pace I couldn't stand. I liked to be slow and methodical. People wanted logos within 24 hours and they only wanted to pay you $50 bucks for it. I could do it but I hated it. Realizing I had spent that much money and time on what felt like a fools errand was hard—still is.
I picked up photography as a hobby. I spent a lot of money on gear. I took classes. Photography was my form of stress relief. But with the hobby came expectations of those around me to use it to build a career. Using it as a career stressed me out. My husband and I would fight round and round this issue.
Currently I'm trying my hand at this whole writing thing. While also learning this whole dyslexia thing. The oxymornon of these two things still makes me grin. But maybe that's why I like it. Writing with dyslexia is hard, it's challenging, and it makes me focus. One thing that was pointed out to me a few times recently is how my writing is heavily influenced by medical studies, graphic design's intentionality, and photography. I story tell by bringing all these skillsets to bare—my previous ventures not wasted on fool's errands.
During my 5-7 miles of walking a day I would often listen to Shea’s past podcasts. One in particular I really wanted to listen to but whenever I pushed play I would become ancy within seconds. Fidgeting. My mind would go in every direction—except listening. It was Podcast Number 87. Mitigating Risks and Other Four Letter Words. His guest speaker was his swim buddy who shared his insights on taking risks. Risk is a dirty four letter word.
They had soothing voices but they were still talking about things that had me intimidated and overwhelmed. I’d hit pause.
Each time I’d listen to a new episode, #87 would automatically play next. I’d start to listen, grow ancy, hit pause again. Not ready, not wanting, too chicken shit to receive the words of wisdom, for weeks.
Before the walk, Shea mentioned how "some people have a fear of failure. Some a fear of success." Those three little words, fear of success, I felt a knife plunge right into me.
We’ve been climbing our way out of a disparaging hell hole finding a way to stand up again, and in the shadow of this success, I’d lost my footing. I was thriving in the midst of adversity. I had purpose. Total focus. I knew my role. That roll was all gone now that we were making it again.
My dyslexic children are reading—without accommodations. They are passing their tests, self advocating, kicking ass. We’ve done it. I started this cool blog and built it upon those stories of overcoming. Now what?
I’ve been writing a novel for two years. I’ve reached a point in my writing about a Navy SEAL that I need a real SEAL to talk to, bounce ideas off of, ask questions, and I have a real SEAL willing to answer and not a single question would form on my lips.
I’m staring at the precipice of the mountain I’ve already scaled and can’t seem to take the next step. Finishing what I'd began, potentially turning a profit by letting something I've made stand by its own merits seemed scary as hell. I felt vulnerable. This vulnerability has a name—risk.
What was behind me was familiar, the failures, the inaction, it was safe.
The unknown variables of what was before me felt anything but safe.
If I take the next few steps for the blog, make it more visible, what will my kids think when they’re adults? Does taking such a public role put my kids in danger? But what about all the kids my blog has already helped? Back and forth.
If I publish my book and it makes my family money and I somehow flip the tables on my husband as bread winner, what does that do to my marriage? Will he love me for it or hate me? Will he take pride in my accomplishments or feel emasculated by them?
I arrived at the 24 Hour Walk Challenge with these immobilizing thoughts. We climbed up Paris Mountain. Shea encouraging us to stay focused on one thing—walking. The trail, the rocks, the roots. Stay in the moment.
At the top of one trail, Shea turned to me first out of the group and confronted me on my fears, my past failures, and when I say confronted, I mean I had a Navy SEAL call me out in front of the whole group, including a camera that was rolling. It wasn’t fun.
It's still hard to remember what exactly was said, it was a highly charged emotional moment (for me at least), but this is what I remember saying, “I feel like I should be more. More than just a mom. More than just a house wife. And yet I’m scared to take the plunge into more. I have a fear of success.”
Shea recognized that I was right there in the moment being honest and real with him and he backed off. Someone else got on the hot seat. It was a tense, real, honest moment on the walk that I will always look back fondly on even though it was hard as fuck to go through.
When we started down the mountain my knees were throbbing, my joints reminding me that I have a tendency to twist them on unstable ground and I had not hiked up a mountain in over 21 years. I very quickly found myself at the back of the group with Shea's friend bringing up the rear who was quick to engage me after the confrontation. His name was Rob, he was Shea's swim buddy, Shea's guest speaker from podcast #87, the one I kept hitting pause on.
I had to laugh a little because God has a sense of humor. Here I was afraid of success. Intimidated by risk. So much so I couldn’t finish a silly podcast on how to get over it and take that risk. So what happens? God puts the very man from it right next to me on the walk.
“How do you refocus when life blurs your lens?”
“Do hard things.”
“How do you take risks that scare you?”
“Do the thing that scares you. Take action.”
“How do you get so much done when your todo list is bigger than the hours in a day?”
“If you want to go fast go by yourself. If you want to go far, build a team. I don't know what that team looks like for you but it's clear you need one.” Rob said.
While I was processing this, receiving it, I was also processing my excuses, hearing myself utter them, then trying to address them, getting flustered and then hyper focusing on the rocks, the roots, the trail. Getting smacked in the face with branches because I forgot to look up every once in awhile. We took another break and Thom again confronted me on my body language. “What’s got you so beaten sweetheart?” He asked.
This one threw me off. I wasn't letting myself think about quitting. The mountain wasn't going to beat me that day. But I had put on my knee brace, my head was down, I'd slumped my shoulders, hunched my back and was in a weird head space from being uncomfortable at the top from earlier.
Shea listened to me when I said, I wasn't thinking of quitting, but he still had plenty to say about it, "I'm not in your head but your body is telling me you're in trouble so if your head is saying otherwise then head up, shoulders back. You’re not beaten so don’t act like it.”
"Alright." I said.
"Remember the internal dialogue of quitting is seductive. It can sneak up on you."
On the next leg of the trail Josh pointed out that I'd not let the emotions from the confrontation into my thoughts but instead had parked them on my face. So I focused on standing tall. Ignored the throbbing in my knee, the chafing on my skin as I wore the hotter than hades brace to provide stability as we traversed the mountain again.
The original trip literature had said we would, “walk a path with very little elevation.” That particular path the city had decided to close last minute for renovations so Shea improvised—with a mountain.
At one point Thom said, “We’re going to go downhill, stop by a lake, put our feet in the water.” Yay! That sounded awesome. Then he changed his mind and took us off the beaten path, straight up. It was so steep I couldn't put my heal down.
I kind of hated his guts for that.
At dark we switched from mountain hiking to an old railroad line that the city of Traveler's Rest had paved for joggers. It went from Travelers Rest to Furman University and beyond.
My phone said we’d walked 26 miles already, I was tired, and I had to pee. Like really bad, bladder hurts, rocking myself kind of pee. There wasn’t a bathroom in sight. There wasn’t a gas station open. We were walking next to a highway, with cars passing. The bushes were 12 inches high that lined the front yards of homes with their lights still on.
The whole day I hadn’t thought about quitting. It wasn’t an option in my mind to even consider and yet the instinctive need to pee had my mind pleading with my determination to quit and find a bathroom or pop a squat. I really really really didn’t want to squat, not after walking up a mountain. Stupid Navy SEALs and their penises that can pee standing up.
We finally came up on a spot and relief never felt sweeter. Instincts and biological needs are powerful urges that made me realize I was really tired and I needed to be careful with my thoughts.
We made it to the end of the trail and Shea sat us down to break. I didn't know concrete could feel so good. He asked another simple question, “What limits you? Respond by putting your answer into a statement form of, I am…”
Thankfully Shea had already "beat the fuck" out of me so he picked on other’s to answer. Not that it stopped my answer from coming to mind. To be honest, all of us had reached a point that we could no longer give bullshit answers. What came out of us was raw, truthful, and unfiltered.
“I am not enough.” ran through me.
The words hit hard and I was grateful for the cover of darkness. Tears sprung to my eyes and I swallowed the lump in my throat. There are simply never enough hours in the day to clean a house, keep up with laundry, volunteer at the kid's school, swim 4,000 yards, make myself presentable—with dry hair, write a blog, write a novel, work on a group novel, answer the phone and needs of my massive extended family, be a friend that says yes to coffee and lends an ear when needed, be a wife—with shaved legs every night, weekend photographer, daughter in law who remembers extended family birthdays and remembers to send cards, chauffeur who spends 7 hours a workday taking kids to school, tutoring, dr’s visits, ballet, baseball, play dates, social events. Answer messages of friends and strangers alike asking me for opinions, perspectives, or help with their dyslexic children. ALL of these things are important. ALL of them are things I love doing. None do I wish to give up. Yet..
I’m never enough. The list never gets done.
A friend on facebook recently did a shout out and asked working mothers, “how do you do it all?” And I thought, “Gosh, I’m not a "working" mother and I have no idea.” and what’s worse? Society wants mothers/women to supermom, wonder woman, captain marvel it up. And when we say we can’t do it all. We get fussed at for needing help when we "don't work." Not being enough has a certain social stigma that keeps women feeling ashamed.
Shea let us think about our answers on the trail back. Josh and I got to talk about our answers, the ways we’ve let our limitations stop us, how we've both contributed to each other's limitations.
Then we went a little quiet and I made the mistake of looking at my watch. Based on how I felt I figured it was somewhere between midnight and 1 am. It was in fact, 10:17pm. I was so greatly offended by my watch that it overwhelmed my thoughts. How many more hours? 10 more?!?!
Looking at the time pulled me out of the moment. Time is not something we have control over so what purpose does it serve to watch a clock? The walk would be over when the sun came up and not a second sooner.
However, that didn’t stop my inner dialogue from fighting back. Now like I said, I was tired. I'm also dyslexic and when I get tired I stop thinking in terms of words. I revert back to visual imagery, sensation memories—smell, touch etc…
I’d spent the whole day at the back with Rob and he wanted me to try to stay at the front to experience more of the group dynamics. I was being obedient when I began experiencing a heightened sense of awareness, which quickly spiraled into sensory overload. I could hear multiple conversations, but could focus on none. Nor was I in the moment. Instead, I found myself thinking about the sensations of the warm cozy bed that was back at the house we were staying at. The soft blanket around my skin, so tantalizing I had goose bumps forming. The thoughts seductive enticing me to stay inside the memory.
In an instant the noise around me pulled me out of the vortex. I tried to focus on what they were saying, but their convos were just annoying the shit out of me. I was tired of being around so many people. I am an introvert, I do best when I have time to be quiet and alone to recharge. But I was there to experience this group stuff too so I tried to focus. And failed.
The bed, again, broke through all the noise pollution around me. I could feel the softness of the sheets. The sinking sensation of my weight against the mattress. The imagery and sensations enticing me to close my eyes and picture myself there.
Someone's voice rose in pitch. I was out of the memory and pissed off.
Then came a new sensation—water cascading down my skin, hot steam rising all around me. Does anything feel better than hot water on sore muscles?
Then I felt myself prickle with awareness. "I need to shut…" another person's conversation momentarily distracted me.
What was I needing to do for myself again? Something important. Shea had said something super important. A warning. When he was asking me why I looked beaten what was it?
I felt alarmed when suddenly, I smelled coffee. Pipping hot liquid gold. Coffee is my love language. This sensation though had words accompany the images. “You could quit."
Hot shower, warm cozy bed, coffee. It could be mine. All mine. I only had to go to Shea and say, "Thanks. I've learned all I want to learn tonight." And I could be in that bed in 30 minutes or less.
Someone in the group laughed. Again distracting me from responding and addressing my inner dialogue. Then Thom said something. The sound of his voice triggered the memory back on the mountain when he'd warned me, "Remember the voice of quitting is seductive. It can sneak up on you."
I practically threw anchor.
I stopped walking. I let everyone go by. I got to the back again. The quiet. No laughing. No conversation back of the line. I started walking with just my thoughts. The bed’s imagery coming back to the surface again, and I let it. I welcomed it. Drawing the memory in laying in wait ready to ambush my bad internal dialogue, “Yes. That bed is going to feel amazing, AT NINE AM!” I said to myself.
The shower was next and I allowed the sensations to wash over me, flooding my senses. I could practically see the steam around me even in the dark. “The shower is going to feel fantastic, AT NINE AM!”
The smell of coffee. This one had a slightly different twist, “Starbucks opens soon." I heard my bad internal dialogue taunt.
“Coffee will taste better than it has ever tasted before. I can’t wait for the clock to read NINE AM to experience it. AT NINE AM when we will hit Starbucks and not a fucking second before!” I screamed inside my head silencing my thoughts.
In that moment I vowed not to even look at my watch for the rest of the night. The sun would rise at exactly the moment it was suppose to and this walk would be done. Not a single second before. Fuck the bed. Fuck the shower. Fuck the coffee. I didn’t come here for any of those things. I have all that at home. I came here to walk.
I might not have been able to keep up with Shea's 15 minute mile up a freaking mountain with my arthritis damaged knees but I was there nonetheless bringing up the rear like a freaking tortoise. I'd come to push beyond MY limits. To overcome MY head trash. To honor MY word to myself.
My word was I would walk for 24 hours.
Shea took us 8 miles down the trail before asking a follow up question, “If you didn’t have these limitations you named. What would you do for an entire year, unrestricted?”
I knew my answer before he finished the question.
My blog is my heart and soul. It’s my family’s journey to overcoming something really hard. Something that routinely throws obstacles in our path. The blog is a constant reminder of how far we’ve come and where we are going. And an invitation to anyone out there to do the same. To engage dyslexia as a strength. To learn to wield it. Not wallow in it. Not use it as an excuse.
My novel is a passion project. An exploration in finding empathy. Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in someone’s grief with them, told through a warrior’s perspective. It's helped me find my inner warrior by learning from real one's. It's brought me here to this moment.
Sending either into the world means sharing myself, sharing my children, sharing my life each time. Each post makes me feel vulnerable. It’s a risk as the world is more known for chewing people up than supporting them.
Brene Brown says this in her book, Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
In the walk I realized I was totally. ALL IN. However long it takes, is how long it takes, but I would finish what I'd started.
At some point after this moment, my knees, my low back, my feet, stopped responding to the anti inflammatories I’d taken all day long. My feet had water blisters across the top and climbing up my ankles. As one participant remarked, they looked like “patient zero of the zombie apocalypse.”
Walking with severe pain had started somewhere between 2 and 6 am. But in the midst of that pain I’d made a decision, I was going to walk, hobble, or crawl, across that finish line. And no person or thing was going to stop me.
Josh, likewise, was hobbling. His ankles swelling, that swelling causing the shrapnel from an old bullet wound to put pressure on the main nerve to his foot. He too, had decided, come what may, he would finish this task.
Resolve is not something that can be intellectually taught inside a classroom. It must be experienced in order to be learned. That experience becomes your barometer in life: Is this task before me as hard as the task I've already completed? No? Than what are you waiting for? Go do the hard thing. Go do the thing that scares you. Take action against the risk of the unknown.
We finished the walk and Josh and I were both in awe we’d actually done it. The sun coming up at 8 am was indeed full of the promise that life would be what we decided to make it into—the possibilities limitless. The real thing so much better than the dream.
And yes, Coffee has never tasted so good. Shea's wife Stacy had it waiting for us at the end of the 37 miles (give or take), 2,000 ft elevation, 24 hour walk.
For the rest of day we rested our sore tired painful bodies. Each time I ventured off the couch I shook with adrenaline, as if I had a fever. At the point of writing this nearly 3 weeks later I'm still not fully recovered. My arthritis has flared in punishment for pushing so hard. Every single pain first thing in the morning still worth it.
As Josh and I drove home the following day. We began to process what all we'd experienced. We realized something funny had happened along the trail. An answer to one of the questions of risk. Could we handle our roles being reversed inside our family? Could Josh handle being known as my husband instead of by his own reputation?
This is an area men with ambitious wives struggle in. This is an issue many of my friends have divorced over. It’s not an unreasonable fear to have when you like your marriage. When you like your husband and don’t want to rock that boat.
During the night Shea wanted to ask Josh a question but forgot his name. It was dark and he couldn’t point, but Shea knew mine, “Jennifer, what’s your husband's name?”
“Ok, Jen’s husband Josh…” I heard low chuckles.
Josh was totally cool with being known as “Jen’s husband Josh” by arguably one of the manliest men on the planet. Lesser men might have felt emasculated by that, but not Josh. He told me that in fact, he had been called husband quite a few times that day with a smirk. I smiled and a sense of love overwhelmed my soul.
Josh took my fingers inside his own and said, "I want to be on your team. That's what I want to work towards starting now." He kissed my hand and pulled over. He let me drive so he could take out my computer, my book, "Let's work on this together. Let me help you sort out the blocks inside your head. You focus on driving and spit out what comes to mind. I'll type. We'll work through this project together. Because I genuinely think this book could be successful."
He gave me a tremendous gift of trust and together we made it through my mental blocks and bare boned multiple scenes that had me stuck in too much information and indecision. With the goal of seeking Thom and Rob's help too which had also been lovingly offered on the walk. Josh and I worked out small attainable goals for the next month for both of us.
Do I have all the answers after my 24 hour walk? Nope. Not even close.
But what I do know is that somewhere along that trail I laid down my fear of success. In it’s place I’d decided to take the risk to finish what I’d started and send them out into the big scary world.
Somewhere along the trail I laid down my limitations. I AM enough but I also need to build a team to push further into the unknown.
Somewhere along the trail. I told my self limiting thoughts to fuck off with their shit and take their excuses right along with them. For God did not make me so that I could live a limited life in shackles.
This resolve is not the same things as a warm, feel good, pinterest board, fuzzy dream goal of, “if everything falls into place I hope to do xyz.”
Resolve is a goal of, "I will do this thing even if xyz do not line into place. Even if the domino cascade fails. Even if I have to crawl to the finish line to complete it."
If I have learned anything in the past year of following a Navy SEAL into battle with myself it is this: An attainable goal is more powerful than any excuse when I choose to put one foot in front of the other, stay in the moment, and refuse to give that excuse a voice.
Lesson 3 of the UnbreakableLessons.com is complete, I even have the teeshirt to prove it. 10 More to go.