Reflections on our expedition in Patagonia

On our way to the peak of a mountain.

My goal on this expedition was to learn more about myself, and the impact I have on others as a leader. I was also looking forward to a challenging adventure and to getting to know some of my classmates better. Though it has been nearly three weeks since we finished our expedition in Patagonia, it is still difficult to distill all the lessons I learned from my instructors, peers and the mountains. We were encouraged to reflect on what we could take away from the experience and how we could translate these lessons to the “front country.” Here is my best attempt:

Highlight: The views! And the final group debrief where I heard how the experience personally impacted everyone in a different way.

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Lowlight: Having to do several steep descents on loose rocks. Not only did this terrain make me extremely uncomfortable and slow, it made me feel like I was slowing the group down. Other students also found the terrain surprisingly challenging.

“It was a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.  I had no idea we would be crossing thigh-deep rivers, bushwhacking, or hiking the ridges and edges of rocky mountains with some seemingly treacherous terrain.  I had to be much more focused and totally in the moment more than I could ever have imagined and at times I got a taste of survival mode.” Lindsey Pete ’14

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Biggest relief: As the student organizer, I was worried about everyone’s health the entire trip, so it was a major relief to me that there were no injuries or major accidents, on either team!

Biggest disappointment: Though I was anxious about inclement weather, I am (a little) disappointed that we didn’t have to face this additional challenge (aka opportunity for growth).

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Biggest insight: As much as I have learned about myself from this experience and my time at CBS, I still have so much to learn about my strengths and weaknesses.

Biggest challenge: Trying to motivate my team when I was leading them to an unknown destination, an unknown distance away, that may or may not be camp-able.

Biggest surprise: Discovering what motivates, irritates, or scares the other members of my team.

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Lessons from my instructors: Each of our three instructors brought a unique perspective to the experience. After a particularly challenging section of bushwhacking through dense, thorny forest, one of my instructors told me he loved bushwhacking because it reminded him that “there is always a way,” both in the wilderness and in life. Another instructor, in explaining how happy she was with her simple yet fulfilling life, reminded me how little I need to be happy, and how important it is to make time in my life for opportunities like this expedition that allow for adventure and reflection. My third instructor read The Station by Robert J. Hastings to us, which was a reminder to me to enjoy the journey in life without worrying so much about the destination.

Sooner or later we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all.  The true joy of life is the trip.  The station is only a dream.  It constantly outdistances us. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad.  Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.  Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today. So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough.

-Excerpt from The Station, by Robert J. Hastings

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Lessons from my peers: Kim Issa ‘14, who called this a “once in a lifetime experience,” noted that “you become very close to the 12 people in your group, the type of closeness it takes years to build in a normal setting. The feedback they give you will be honest and new to you, which is constructive and refreshing.” I couldn’t agree with her more.

From our daily debriefings, I learned that, among other things, I’m not as clear a communicator as I had thought I was. I often assume information is shared when it is not, or project my feelings and motivations onto others. I knew I was indecisive, but wasn’t fully aware of how to manage this, or that I even could manage it, until talking to my peers. I learned that I should trust my team, ask them for help, and then delegate roles more quickly to explore options. I also learned to accept that decisions can only be judged as good or bad once action is taken, but to be confident in my decisions once they are made.

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Lessons from the mountains: This experience was yet another reminder to me that most of my worries are futile. I was worried about blisters, joint pain, being cold and wet, and being the slowest team member. Either I didn’t have control over these circumstances (weather), and therefore they weren’t worth worrying about, or they weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. I can’t believe I wasted so much mental energy worrying about how I would feel when my boots inevitably got wet. When they finally did get wet, my feet were neither uncomfortable nor cold.

 One student put it perfectly:

“It is remarkable how petty stresses of everyday life (e.g., “Will I get a call back from that company?”) can trouble our sleep, cloud our judgment and paralyze our decision-making. Yet, when facing a much more real danger (e.g., “Will I tumble down the mountain if I slip on the next rock?”), we find the strength to set unproductive worrying aside and focus on the next step. If we can face real dangers with calm and resolve, why can’t we do the same for the fabricated ones?” – Anton Chtcherbakov ‘14

Overall, as one would assume, this was a truly amazing adventure and learning experience. I am so grateful that Columbia Business School offers opportunities like this for us to work on our leadership skills.  I am thrilled that I had the opportunity and ability to participate. Not only did I make new friends and learn about myself, but I got to do so in one of the most remote and beautiful regions in the world!

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