I am from Colorado and grew up just south of Denver. Like most Coloradans I spent most of my childhood in the outdoors. I don’t mean exclusively the mountains but also the parks, yards and fields around the city. Colorado has a unique climate where the sun shines on most days regardless of the temperature. The weather mixed with wide open spaces and a close proximity to the mountains fosters an outdoor lifestyle. As a kid I never considered the benefits of this arrangement, it was just my life. As an adult I see how the outdoors changed me and turned into one of my most valuable tools.
The first time I realized the power of the outdoors and its effect on me was in the Fall of 2012. I was 29 years old and working in Washington, DC across the street from the White House. I had been afforded a rare career opportunity which would require a sort of “fake it till you make it” brand of work. I love this term because early on in a career I believe folks have to take risks in order to learn anything of value. My goal was to secure a position a bit over my head, work as hard as I could, fail fast, fix my mistakes faster, take any task in the office and hope the stars aligned. I achieved the first goal by securing the position. I was excited, focused, willing to do anything and harboring an enormous amount of stress.
After a few months in this position I was moving the ball down the field but starting to recognize a dangerous short coming that could derail my path. I continued to find myself in a scenario where my mind would shut off when things became intense. I simply couldn’t think when folks started yelling and wanting deliverables immediately. This was a problem because this situation occurred often. One afternoon around 3 o’clock the intensity rose and my mind went blank at an important time. I had to find a solution, quickly. So I left the office, purchased an espresso from Starbucks and walked across the street to Lafayette Park. Lafayette park is an old plot across the street from the White House lined with old park benches, fountains, hundred-year-old oak trees and red brick paths. It was an 80-degree September day and the sun had lowered in the sky casting long shadows over the park. There was an old man smoking a cigar and reading the paper on a bench. Squirrels chased each other around and birds chirped in the canopy. The fountains splashed and turned gold with the sun. Tourists rested in the grass and kids chased soccer balls. The leaves waved in the breeze and in that time, I felt the stress leave my body. I felt like I did as a kid, lying in the fields behind my house, watching the clouds go by. I became aware at that moment how in the middle of one of the busiest cities on earth, I was in the outdoors. In that space I might as well have been in the Rocky Mountains, nothing was different. The grass, the birds and the benches existed as they were. They did not have stress or anxiety or judgment. They didn’t like me or hate, they didn’t accept me or cast me away. They just were, they existed.
I went back to my office feeling lighter, calmer, more in control and able to think again. The realization was the outdoors exists as it is and it is everywhere. I didn’t need to be on top of a mountain or on a remote beach to find the outdoors. I didn’t need a $900 jacket or a back-country hut. I just had to walk outside, in one of the busiest cities on earth, find a park and see what had been with me the whole time.