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In Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes how the profound challenges to help us identify our purpose in life. What role do you see challenge playing in outdoor adventure education? How can we use challenging outdoor adventure experiences as a way to facilitate people’s discovery of their own personal goals and/or purpose in life?
Outdoor adventure and experiential learning are all about challenge and how it affects people; it helps them to reflect, change, and grow. A challenge can come in the form of something physical, mental, or emotional. I believe many people think that outdoor adventure only focuses on physical trials like climbing, backpacking, or kayaking, but mental and emotional challenges are just as important as these tasks. How can you climb without trusting your belayer? How can you kayak without facing your fear of rapids? Or go backpacking without digging a cat hole? The only way to overcome these anxieties is to confront them, to jump right into the experience and embrace it! Feel the fright and the adrenaline, the excitement and the freedom (and the relief if a cat hole is involved).
When you are faced with a challenge, especially one that pushes your limits, you sometimes behave differently. I’m not sure how to explain it… but there is occasionally a moment when you feel absolutely drained – like you can’t take one more step or your arms are about to fail you – but if you have the right mindset you can pull the strength you need from a part of you that is not commonly used. It’s like a small reserve of superhero power that hides in you until you really need it (I like to think that this cache of awesomeness is stored in your heart!). This moment of greatness is the time when you are bravest, strongest, fiercest, and most confident. The more you use that “superhero power”, the more comfortable your body gets with it, and challenges will become easier to confront because you know you can do it. In my past experience, challenges have taught me how to believe in myself. There have been many times that I wasn’t mentally prepared and eventually gave up instead of pushing on, and I always reflect on those times and think “I totally could have done that”. But sometimes when I’m feeling especially awesome, I have surprised myself and done some pretty fantastic things. For example, I used to be terrified of heights and rapids, and now I love both! I enjoy testing myself and feeling the rush of excitement!
But all of these exhilarating challenges will be almost pointless unless you can reflect and develop a new understanding of yourself. It is important to look back at what happened and analyze how you felt throughout the encounter, what goals were reached, what might have frustrated you, and how to take this experience and apply it in the future. During an event when a participant is being challenged, leaders should be supportive, encouraging, and understanding. I believe communication would be very important in a time like this, to ask the person how they are feeling during the encounter and reminding them about the benefits of challenge, also that they are free to push themselves as far as they feel comfortable. But sometimes you have to know when it’s good to push beyond your comfort level, and when you might have pushed too far. This should probably be discussed before anything stimulating happens – when the participant is calm and open minded. It is our role as leaders to teach our participants the physical, mental, and emotional skills that are necessary to undergo a challenge and learn from it.
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