Continuing our guest post extravaganza this week, today I present one of my favorite people in the whole world, Joanna Young of Confident Writing. To be honest, I can’t remember how long Joanna and I have been friends (although she still needs to learn how to eat pizza correctly). Somehow, though, we just hit it off right away, and I highly recommend Confident Writing for your daily “must read” list.
Joanna is a writing coach who is all about, not just writing, but writing with voice, with style, and most of all, with confidence. She also co-hosts a series of writing retreats on the beautiful Italian island of Sardinia with Emma Bird. If you’re serious about writing, it’s definitely worth spending your vacation on, I’ll tell ya.
The Obstacles In Your Path
by Joanna Young
I love to walk. Above all else, I love to walk in the west highlands. Not up mountains (not yet anyway) but around headlands, across moorland, through ancient woods, along the side of a loch. Most times I walk by myself. I enjoy my own company and love the peace, space and opportunity to lose myself in my own thoughts. I don’t feel nervous, don’t take risks, and enjoy the solitude.
Except when something stands in my way. Something that will stop me in my tracks and make me wish, wish, wish that there was someone else with me who could tell me what to do.
In Mexico it was a fierce, barking dog who stood in my way. In the west highlands it’s not dogs, but cattle. Sometimes up close, and outrageously large. Sometimes a distance off, but with heads lifted up, watching me. (Why do they all turn and stare like that?) Sometimes it’s highland cows which while photogenic are scary when in the same field.
And sometimes it’s the ominous site of a bull.
I had one of those moments when I was on holiday a few weeks ago. It was a damp, misty day but I was out on a woodland, glen and lochside walk. For the first few miles I was happy as could be: looking at wild flowers, taking photos, enjoying the view.
Five miles into the seven mile walk and I was starting to flag a bit. The mist was coming down. My mobile phone signal had long since disappeared. I hadn’t seen another person for at least an hour. But at least it was only two miles to go.
That’s when I saw the cattle. Just off to the side of my path, a bull standing clearly amongst them. My heart sank. What to do?
My internal dialogue went something like this:
“I don’t want to walk past them. I’m miles from anywhere, no signal, no one knows I’m here”
“They’re probably harmless though. The bull’s probably happy enough with all those cows. The farmer wouldn’t leave a dangerous animal by a right of way.”
“It’s not exactly a bustling thoroughfare though is it?”
“I know, but I’m tired. It’s five miles back. It’d be almost dark by the time I’m done. I’ll walk past and pretend not to be scared”
So I walk, fast, though not so fast as to draw attention to myself. Heart beats faster.
“Hrmmmph” blows the bull through his nostrils.
Is he talking to me? I daren’t look up. Looking down I notice my bright red rain jacket. I surreptitiously pull it off – does this make it more or less likely I’ll be noticed? I stuff it into my bag. Is that waving a red rag in bull speak?
I walk faster. How quickly can I get through that gate before he decides to come after me? Can he barge through the gate? How will I get to safety?
But of course, I do. The bull puts his head back down and I scuttle past.
As I scuttle, I’m thinking: why do I do this, why did I think this was a good idea, why don’t I have a whistle, why am I walking alone, why would I ever want to walk off the beaten track again.
Until the next time I’m tempted by a trail, that is.
Because fear fades with time and distance, just as it makes obstacles (especially of the hairy, horned variety), larger, scarier and more aggressive when we’re living in the fear, right up along side those obstacles, or walking bravely past them.
When I look back at my risk assessment I know it wasn’t rational. I was more afraid than I probably needed to be. But I let other factors like tired legs and pig-headedness over-ride some of my natural caution.
I guess that’s why a second pair of eyes is what I wish for when obstacles – or highland cattle – stand in my way. To let me know if I’m being unduly reckless, or too much of a fearty*.
The parallels with other aspects of our lives aren’t hard to find. Things we’re scared of loom large, off-putting, telling us to go back – when perhaps we should keep moving forward.
But maybe sometimes we need a second perspective to say: look, that thing really has got horns, there’s no shame in going another way.
How about you? How do you take stock of the obstacles you find in your path? Do you try and get out of their way – or walk bravely past?
Joanna Young is a writing coach and proud author of a book of Short Walks on Skye. You can read more of her work at Confident Writing: a blog packed full of writing tips and virtual coaching to help you write with confidence. If you’d like to see some of the photos from her walks in the west highlands you can follow her on Flickr.
The photo Are You Looking at Me? isn’t hers: do you think she was going to stop and take photos?
*Scottish term for being a scaredy cat