One of the great things about Arizona is the outdoors…there are miles and miles of fantastic hiking trails with incredible scenic views. This past weekend, I went hiking with my buddy John Toccafondi. We are kindred spirits: we have a great deal in common, so we had a great time together. We both practiced dentistry for many years in Westchester, NY; and we both served the Ninth District Dental Association as volunteers. Now we are both practicing dentistry in Arizona. What are the odds of that?
John and I had great fun negotiating 5.6 miles of the “Bulldog” Trail at the foot of Pass Mountain (elevation 1,168 feet) in Mesa, Arizona. I do Crossfit, and I consider myself “in shape.” Believe me, this hike was no walk in the park. The mostly uphill trail is filled with rocks, boulders, cacti and loose pebbles. The terrain makes it easy to slip and fall or twist an ankle. Most of the time our focus was on the ground so that we could prevent such scenarios. We had to stop several times in order to inhale the breathtakingly beautiful scenery around us.
John planned the itinerary, and he used the navigator app on his cell phone that uses GPS to pinpoint our location and determine if we are on the right trail. Even with the fancy technology we still ended up on trails leading to nowhere. (He needs to brush up on his navigating skills!) There was a clearing with three paths emanating from it. We found the right one only after we negotiated the other two.
It struck me that Hiking is a lot like our journey in dentistry. As the famous philosopher Lao-Tsu noted centuries ago, that journey begins with a single step—an intense desire to undertake the lifelong learning experience—for personal and professional growth. That step alone unlocks the brakes and sets the wheels in motion.
Everyone’s journey will be different–it is important not to compare your skills and abilities with others. John is a much more experienced hiker than I. I was amazed at how easily he glided over the rocks. Meanwhile, I ended up on my behind several times. Every professional is at a different level of skill and ability. The point is to compare yourself now to how you were b
efore—to better your own skills and abilities. That is how you measure progress. Just keep going!
The journey is difficult, and it is supposed to be difficult. Beverly Sills once said that “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” Shortcuts are just recipes for disaster—the prize is never around the corner where we think it lies. The price to pay for shortcuts is having to backtrack on the trail that you came from. The path with no obstacles leads to nowhere. And—even with excellent, state-of-the-art navigation tools, we still ended up on the path to nowhere. We were lost in “nowhere” meaning we did not “know where” we were. But we managed to figure it out and backtrack.
It’s important not to get exasperated when you are fatigued and sore. You cannot give up when you are in the wilderness, because that is certain death. Believe you can do it and that you will get there. I kept asking John
“Are we there yet?” and he would answer, “it’s just beyond the saddle area…” This saddle seemingly had no end. When it finally came, it was a surprise. Suddenly we were there!
“The best view comes after the hardest climb,” the saying goes. We were at the “top of the world”—or seemingly, at the top of our world. Several others were already at the summit. We bonded silently. Wow! Before our eyes sprawled our reward—an awesome and breath-taking panorama of the entire valley beneath us. The view is best appreciated in person—pictures somehow fail to capture the magnitude of the experience. And, of course, the view cannot be appreciated without having undertaken the arduous journey.
Of course, my legs were quite sore the following day. Being a Crossfit junkie, I am always sore. I savor the soreness because it is the price paid for incredible achievement. The soreness always dissipates in a day or two—just in time for the next hike!
Drake noted that the journey itself teaches a lot about the destination. When it comes to education, that destination is somewhat elusive. As we near what we thought was the destination, our views change. We focus on new heights to scale once we have contemplated how far we have come.