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Surprising Ourselves with Courage and Resilience

Lauren Barrett is an avid traveler, experiential learner and teacher, and a counselor. Her exciting life experiences have gotten her to where she is today, and we are just so excited to share her beautiful story of embracing and celebrating life's most wonderful challenges. Read our Q+A with Lauren below, and be sure to check out her feature in this month's issue of En Root: Finding Solace Alone in the Wilderness.

This month's theme is all about Independent Travel. Tell us about some of your adventures and why you value independent travel so highly.

I've been fortunate to travel independently in a variety of different settings, beginning with studying abroad at the University College Cork in Cork, Ireland during my junior year of college. I traveled to different areas of Ireland, Scotland, England and France, sometimes in the company of others and sometimes on my own. I found that I liked to be alone with my thoughts in new places, and to challenge myself to make friends.

My national independent travel was largely post-college, when I took several months driving through the mid-Atlantic and areas of the south, staying in a variety of small towns with friends for a period of time, and experiencing the local food, culture and outdoor recreation of places I'd never visited. But my most profound independent travel - and the one that I've chosen to highlight for this feature - was fall 2009 after graduating from college with no real direction, when I chose to spend two months in the Pacific Northwest at the Outward Bound Instructor Training based out of Mazama, WA. The course spanned from circumnavigating the San Juan Islands in sea kayaks, complete with island hopping campsites and freezing early morning put-ins - all the way to 4 weeks in the North Cascades Mountains, not terribly far from an invisible border with Canada, where I experienced the challenge of a multi-day solo at the beginning of their winter season and early snowfalls. The learning that came from being alone with myself and surviving in these places, despite challenge, are what has kept me moving through other challenges in my life. I think back to these moments of survival and I know that I am stronger than I believe, if I can have compassion and patience with myself.

At OutGrowth, we are committed to supporting the growth of future leaders. How do you believe that independent travel can spark our growth as professionals?

Independent travel and solo experiences challenge each of us to rely on not only our knowledge and previous experience, but also our curiosity and problem-solving skills, our ability to think critically about our environment and evaluate internal and external factors in order to make clear decisions. Independent travel can hold the potential for relying on relationship-building, such as navigating a country with a language you don't speak or a complex problem without familiar resources - but solo travel in the wilderness can also tap into our self-reliance and challenge us to have compassion and patience with ourselves as we work to be at home in an environment that can both feel like home and simultaneously dangerous.

Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment that took place during one of your travel adventures.

The most profound moment of my outdoor solo experience was seeing the sun come up after the second night of snowfall and realizing that I'd made it through. So much of that experience was, unconsciously, confirmation for me that I had the will to survive and move through hardship, both physical and emotional. It was an exercise in resilience and it stretched me to know myself more intimately and personally, and to embrace and celebrate that I could survive what I thought previously to be unlikely for me.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?

It was somewhere in this moment of recognizing that solo time and processing time was essential that I began to lean towards how I could help others in times that they needed space to process. After the solo, we had a chance to unpack our experiences alone with each other, and while they were all quite unique, we were unified by the transformation that came through being on our own after being together for so long. It solidified my belief in the power of group learning, and ultimately led me towards combining the helping profession of counseling into and alongside outdoor experiential learning work.

What is a step that each of us can take today to start to venture out into the unknown?

Solo doesn't have to be an isolated, wilderness-based experience in order to be powerful - spending time outdoors by yourself and taking on a challenge can be as simple as a day hike. It's about allowing yourself to access a mindset in which all the other pieces are stripped away and you are relying on your own mind and body. There wasn't anything I learned on my solo that wasn't experiential - I either knew how to do it, or I learned through trying.

If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

To have confidence that I am capable of things beyond momentary comprehension - I never thought I'd build my own shelter and survive in the snow, and I never thought I could sit in the loneliness and come out stronger and not weaker. I'd tell myself to not doubt that I could do something that I'd never tried - to allow myself to surprise myself with my courage and resilience.

What is your favorite quote or song lyric?

From the dearly missed poet Mary Oliver - "Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it."

Based on your experience, what are the top three career competencies that you believe can be gained/developed as a result of independent travel?

Radical self-compassion, unique problem-solving, and a powerfully deep sense of curiosity

What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2021?

Summer is coming and with hope on the horizon for family, friends and communities that I love, I am hoping to spend time in the wilderness, both alone and with the friends that I've missed during the solemn months that we've survived in the past year.

Lauren is a poet, educator and counselor who believes deeply in the power of experiential learning, being outdoors, and ignoring the clock when the conversation gets really good. She is currently a Life Design Educator for undergraduate majors in Public Health Studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she helps students discover and processes experiences that become parts of their living stories. She is an individual with an advocate for adults with ADHD and depression, and you can find her these days on Clubhouse or Twitter in community with her fellow disorganized creatives.


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