I am a pretty glitzy gal. To give you an idea, my perfect day would be getting all glammed up to go check out cool new boutiques and antique shops in SoHo, then going out to a rooftop restaurant to eat amazing food followed by finding a cute local bakery for dessert. I also like predictability (a lot more than I would like to admit). I’m a planner who gets severely agitated when things don’t go my way or unforeseen circumstances arise. In addition, I am the BIGGEST hypochondriac ever— like go to hospital because of an odd bug bite hypochondria—it’s admittedly pretty bad. Because of this, and a lot of other reasons, I am overwhelmingly abrasive to the idea of backpacking but yet, I just came back from a week on the Appalachian Trail (camping and hiking without electricity!!). Now, you may be wondering why someone who relishes in the casual luxuries of stagnant life would choose to go backpacking— I too had these questions— but, long story short, backpacking was my 2021 crucible project.
The idea of a “crucible” was first introduced to me by my late-mentor, Jeremy Richman. Jeremy (kindly deemed Jer) was a man of many lessons and a crucible project was nothing short of a life-changing endeavor that I truly believe everyone can easily incorporate into their yearly resolutions. Jer explained that a crucible project was something that is about 5 steps outside of your comfort zone.
Now, think of comfort as a set of three rings. The first ring is simple everyday activities that you don’t think twice about, for example eating, interacting with family and watching TV. These things are nonchalant and simple. The next ring also hosts things inside of your comfort zone but these things may require a bit more effort and perhaps a little bit of anxiety, think interacting with teachers at school, playing a well-loved sport or going on rollercoasters. The last ring is things WAY out of your comfort zone, with the actual ring perimeter being things you would never ever do— like skydiving, traveling alone etc… The rings are a rudimentary way to measure a complex gradually increasing level of comfort, but I think you get the idea. A crucible is supposed to be something 5 “steps” outside of that second ring of comfort— something that exists within that scary void of the third ring but is still attainable (with a bit of hard work).
Jer explained that each year, one should come up with a crucible project for themselves to test one’s own boundaries (both mental and physical). These projects are a way to expand upon the stagnant limitations that we inadvertently set for ourselves to allow for intentional growth. Jer, and his beloved team, often set physical challenges for themselves in the form of marathons or Tough Mudders (if you’ve never heard of one I highly recommend for a crucible project!!) and would build upon these goals each year.
After Jer’s passing in 2019, I struggled to come up with projects that felt adequate. Death painted a reflective light on my life and nothing felt quite right to not only honor Jer but to push myself in the process. Through this unprompted need to evaluate, I found myself searching for a place to properly think. I knew I needed quiet (from both my life and its obligations) and I needed time. I eventually made the decision to hike on the AT and let me tell you– it was far from the glamour and insta-worthy experience that some make it out to be. But, although I barely made a dent in the length of the trail, I was able to push my body and mind in a way that I truly did not anticipate. I had to carry 45 lbs, the weight of my survival (quite literally), on my back and had to deal with all sorts of unplanned events. I had to climb a mountain through tears because my feet hurt so bad that I thought my body was physically going to break down and set up camp when I was exhausted each night.. Perhaps most importantly, I had to listen to my every thought as it arose without a way to distract myself. This was the hardest thing to do. Where I would normally run from my intrusive and uncomfortable thoughts, I instead had to listen and react. I had to face my fears (in the form of myself) head on and guess what? It didn’t kill me. None of it did.
I am now back to my real glitzy life— spending too much time on Depop and too much money at expensive restaurants. I’m not going to try to make some cliche claim that it changed me but rather tell you the truth. That although you will NOT catch me backpacking again (it was quite hard), I do now know that my body and my mind is capable of backpacking again. That I can survive in the woods, way outside of my comfort zone, that my body can walk 11 miles a day (although really, I’d rather not…) and that my thoughts, the knowing of my mind, are not something that need to be constantly dismissed. That last ring in my comfort zone is pushed just a little bit farther out because I chose to do this and although it was not fun persay, it is invaluable to know what you are capable of because let me tell you, you are capable of so much more than you know.
Everyone is capable of finding their crucible– you don’t need to do some grandeur excursion on the Appalachian trail to push the rings of your comfort zone. Instead, you could try a new sport or put yourself into an uncomfortable social situation. We all know the future is uncertain but, if you choose to test your body and mind, you may become more adept to deal with it. I truly hope that you all will find your crucible and help me continue the legacy of Jer.
All the love,