Hiking – Reflections That Will Take You to Greater Heights

By

Joyce Tan

28th Nov 2019

8 min read

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As Sir Martin Conway once said:

Each fresh peak ascended teaches something.

True to the saying, there is always something new that I learnt with each fresh peak ascended. Although many times, the biggest ‘mountain’ for me is getting out of bed at the wee hours of the morning, yet it is so rewarding when the hike is completed.

Your body reacts to the happy hormones released and heaves out a sigh of satisfaction and anticipation for the next hike – and the cycle repeats. Apart from reaping the many health benefits from this activity, the jungle has also allowed me time for personal reflections. Here are ten of my reflections from the jungle:

1. Clearing cobwebs

Imagine this, you start off very early in the morning for a hike and you’re leading a group. Suddenly, you stumble into cobwebs as you walk through the trails. The most natural reaction is to wipe it off your face and move on.

Similarly at work, leaders are sometimes hit with unexpected ‘mess’ and they have no choice but to clear the mess or straighten it up before moving the team forward. Sometimes the mess is what the previous person had left behind or it could be something that others have just created. Either way, you’ve got to clear it before you can move ahead.

2. Staying humble

Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence – Nemann Bull

Stay humble and ask for directions if you’re unsure. I remember leading a group of people into this jungle that I had not been to in a long while. I had last visited this place two years ago and I remembered back then, the route was pretty straightforward and easy and there was no possible way to get lost. Lo and behold, halfway through the trail, I realised I wasn’t quite sure anymore.

The trail looked somewhat different from how it used to be and I doubted if I was even on the correct trail. I had no choice but to put on a huge smile and ask the ones who were already descending if I was going the right way.

Sometimes as a leader, we do get a bit lost, unsure or stuck. I have learnt that as a leader, I do not need to have the answers to everything. It’s ok to ask and seek out assistance from other groups/individuals who can point me in the right direction.

3. Maintain composure in times of crisis

Be like a duck, paddling and working very hard inside the water, but what everyone sees is a smiling and calm face. – Manoj Arora, From the Rat Race to Financial Freedom

On one of my hikes, I remember panicking when I got lost on the trail three quarters of the way to the peak and we were all very exhausted. Little did I know, my group members were actually observing me and they began panicking as well and wondering if they needed to hike an extra kilometre to back track to the right trail.

That’s where I learnt how important it is for me not to wear my emotions on my sleeves but to remain calm when faced with a crisis. Many times, it is easier said than done, however, the calm face of a leader and honest conversations with team members during a crisis puts the team at ease and enables them to work together towards a solution.

You may be interested in: How You Can Remain Calm Under Pressure

4. Having the right tools

Having the right tools such as a pair of hiking pole, gloves and proper hiking wear comes in handy during a hiking trip. They are essential in making long hikes more bearable and comfortable and equips one with the confidence to overcome difficult terrains.

For example, a hiking pole is useful for when you’re going up or down the hill and through muddy or slippery terrain. It helps maintain your balance and can alternatively be used as a saving tool for your friends especially when your hands aren’t long enough.

Similarly at work, do you have the right set of skills and correct mindset to do what you’ve set out to do?

5. Regular maintenance on the journey

For every long hike, 5 hours or more, I always advise my group members to pack enough fluid and bring along some lightweight, healthy, high in protein and carbohydrate snacks such as nuts, raisins, eggs, trail mixes, bananas or granola bars; these will replenish your energy, keep you satiated longer and give you the extra boost that you need throughout your journey.

Some may say, what about chocolates and sweets? Well, while they’re good for a short burst of energy and gives you the sugar high, most hikers however find themselves feeling tired and sluggish again once the high wears off.

Regular maintenance of our body and mind during a work week is essential and important to keep us going through the tough times. Sleep, adequate rest, exercise, healthy balanced meals and recreation time with family and friends are like nuts, raisins and eggs on our journey.

Read: Beyond The Salad Bar: A Psychologically Healthy Workforce

6. Fresh perspective

For almost three weeks I was trekking this same trail to familiarise myself with the routes and to not get lost. One day, I followed a friend in on a different route, and here I am admiring the beauty of a new trail only to realise at the end of the trail, it was the very same one I had been hiking for the past three weeks, just done in the opposite direction. Sometimes in life, we are so bogged down by our routines that a reverse is necessary to gain a fresh perspective.

7. Having a mentor

I remember a time when I was tasked to lead a group of children through the jungle for a treasure hunt activity. However, before I could lead the little children, I first must learn the routes. I am thankful to have one leader who was familiar with the trails and she guided us (a few other leaders and myself) for the many weekends leading up to the actual event.

During each hike, she would assign one of us to ‘take the lead’ whilst following closely behind, gently reminding us if we were going the wrong way or affirming us if we were on the right track. Having a mentor is beneficial and helpful at any phase of your working life. Whether you’re an executive, a first time manager or a senior leader, a mentor can guide you and nudge you in the right direction.

Read also: Identifying The Right Mentor For You

8. Empowering others to lead others

There were times that I could not make it for my weekly hikes and had to cancel the whole outing altogether and I often felt guilty about it. So for the times that I could be there to lead the group (I usually have a consistent group of regular members), I would select one person to take lead. Similar to my mentor, I would gently remind them if they were heading the wrong way, or affirm them if they’re on the right track.

Over time, I managed to work myself out of my ‘job’ and build successors so they in turn could lead and empower others to do the same. I now feel less guilty too whenever I can’t make it for the hikes. I have the peace of mind knowing that there will be someone else just as capable to lead the group.

As a competent leader, recognising your team member’s potential to lead is vital. They can be empowered to take the lead in small projects or assignments while you can move on to other more important tasks too.

This may interest you: 4 Things Successful Leaders Do To Empower Employees

9. You are only as fast as the slowest member in the group

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together – African proverb

On any hiking trip, there will always be a mixture of fast and slow members. As a leader, it is important to assess the group and recognise members who may require more attention. The leader may also need to set an expectation – that we’re in this together as a team, regardless of the pace and that it’s not a race to outdo one another.

That said, depending on the situation, there may be times where the leader will need to split the group according to pace. If the leader is confident that the fast members are empowered enough to move ahead first, the leader can then stay behind to coach and guide the weakest member along.

Being once slow and unfit, I remember feeling very encouraged when the leader of my group stayed behind with me and some other not-so-fit ones to keep us company and motivate us to keep going. He allowed the fast ones to go ahead, settling on a midpoint to wait up for the slower ones. I’m sure this scenario isn’t any different from work. Just remember that as a leader, you are only as fast as the slowest member on your team.

10. Press on! Each step forward is one step closer to the top

When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top. – Anonymous

I will never forget my hiking adventure up Mount Kinabalu, the third highest mountain in South East Asia. The final quarter of my journey was a two kilometre rocky and slippery climb. Although I was immersed in the beauty of the rocky terrain, the air was so thin that it made me sleepy and tired; each step forward required tremendous effort.

The final 50 metres to the peak was the hardest to conquer whilst fighting off the sleepy spell. With the peak in sight, and 50 challenging metres of steep, rocky ascend in between us, I could taste victory and defeat at the same time.

How often are we at this juncture of almost tasting victory but feeling defeated all at the same time when our project is nearing completion? The final mile is always the hardest. But with the right mindset, determination and attitude, paired with a team of encouraging members, the goal will definitely be achievable.

I pressed on, with a good friend by my side, equally exhausted, encouraging each other to push on; one step at a time, reminding ourselves that we’re almost there! A goal we set our eyes upon; pushing us beyond our limits. Reaching the peak of Mount Kinabalu was the sweetest and most rewarding moment of our lives.

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves – Sir Edmund Hillary

The author, Joyce, with her good friend Lisa, at the South Peak of Mount Kinabalu, famous for its print on the RM 1 (Ringgit Malaysia 1) note.


To tie it all in, hiking is a wholesome activity fit for anyone and everyone. You can choose to take it easy, or challenge yourself by going the difficult path. I am grateful for friends, strangers turned friends, guides, and leaders for the companionship and all the meaningful conversations shared on our hikes. The greenery has its way of making everything beautiful.

Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better – Albert Einstein

All photos are from the author’s personal collection.

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